I couldn’t help but notice the ancient rat terrier sitting next to the wheelchair-bound man in the parkway. Both were fixated on the tree service workers trimming the gangly branches of a giant maple in the front yard just across the street. The terrier quickly shifted its attention to me as I approached.
Dogs. They’re such icebreakers.
I asked the gentleman if I could pet his dog and he said of course. A half-hour later, Bill and TK were my new friends.
TK, I learned, was short for “Tiny King”. Clearly, he was quite something in his day but he’s 16 now and well, not the ball of energy he once was. (I understand, TK.) Gray face, cloudy eyes, but still sporting an “I’ve got this” attitude; he was a typical terrier, oblivious to his limitations. He reminded me of my funny Jack Russell, Smudge, who died this year at 18. We used to call her a “little thug in a clown suit”.
TK had stopped me in my tracks, but it was Bill’s story that broke my heart. Grizzled and gray like his dog, he looked a lot older than 61. When he started volunteering details about the devastating auto accident he had been in on Valentine’s Day, I understood why.
Bill and his wife Janet (58) had been taking their younger daughter, a competitive in-line skater, to a skating meet in Indiana. This was a common weekend activity for them during competition season. They were looking forward to dinner with the rest of the team and their families on arrival, followed by the meet on Sunday.
They never made it.
It was about 2:00 in the afternoon when the traffic stopped suddenly on the interstate somewhere near LaPorte. Their almost-new Nissan Altima was rear-ended by a fully loaded semi, crushing the left rear of the car into the driver’s seat. The truck driver had never touched his brakes. “We never saw it coming.” Even now, Bill wonders if the man had dozed off … or was texting.
Their daughter had been on the right side of the back seat and was ejected from the car, suffering only minor injuries, but Bill and Janet had to be extracted from the wreckage by the “jaws of life”. Janet’s head was slammed into Bill’s right arm, crushing one whole side of her face and causing brain damage that leaves her still unable to move or speak six months later. And Bill will never get back anything close to his prior mobility.
The truck driver? Bill says he is probably hauling a load somewhere today. And probably still has no insurance.
Bill shared a lot with me, a total stranger. Lawsuits, attorneys, insurance woes, catastrophic debt, and lives literally altered forever in the blink of an eye. He has over a million dollars in bills on his dining room table right now, he said, and no way to pay them.
He kept saying he would gladly trade places with his wife. “You women have so much more to offer than us men. You’re the light in the room and you make everything click for us. She didn’t deserve this.” And he meant it. He doesn’t care about himself; he just wants Janet back.
I’m sure Bill was lonely and needed to vent; how could I not offer sympathy and a listening ear?
As I gave TK one last pat on his sweet, lumpy head, I promised Bill I would pray for him and his family. He brightened and said, “I’d really appreciate that. I believe there’s great power in the spoken word. God spoke all of this into existence” (he made a sweeping gesture with his badly scarred arms) “and prayer is like that. It works but you have to speak the words.”
I think I know what he meant. A lot of people say, “I’ll pray for you” and they intend to. But they forget or they get busy or life just gets in the way. Bill really does want and need my prayers, that was clear. Empty promises are a waste of breath.
As I walked back home, I prayed for this fractured family. I asked for justice, for healing, and for God’s presence to surround them even in their pain.
I thanked God for that little magnet, TK, too. He was the reason I stopped in the first place and why I will now pray regularly for Bill and Janet and their daughter. God’s ambassador with whiskers.
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