Ten years ago, Jim Fredricks (then religion editor) published my first newspaper column. Then, Reverend Gerald Kline wrote the regular column, but “The Courier” published guest columnist, too. Jim had approved several columns, I’d sent him, and had promised to run one when he had room. Then the tragic events of September 11 occurred. I sent Jim an email the next day and suggested one of the submitted columns would be appropriate should he choose to publish it that Friday. Jim, always generous, published the following column that Friday.
That column is now part of one of my books, a devotional book, “The Stained Glass Pickup.” In memory of September 11, 2001, the fallen, and of all the love-thy-neighbor goodness of that day and in the months to follow, I share my first column from ten years ago, September 14,, 2001:
“If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right” (James 2:8).
When my daughter Sheryle was ten, we stopped at a fast food restaurant in Houston for lunch. The dining room was filled almost to capacity, but we found two seats next to the rest rooms. Near the end of our meal, a teenage male employee began rolling a janitorial bucket and mop toward the rest rooms. The worker, dressed in his uniform of gray trousers and gray and white striped shirt, steered the sloshy contents with the mop handle. Approaching the rear of the restaurant where we sat, the young man began having a seizure. He fell to the floor and knocked over the bucket of water.
What could I do to help? The last time I witnessed someone having a seizure, several friends aided her with a substitute tongue depressor, to keep her from biting her tongue. I recalled that medical aid was now outdated.
Everyone close by stopped eating. The boy continued to have what I guessed to be a grand mal seizure. Within seconds, another teenage employee yelled to the front, “John’s having another seizure!”
At the first cry of alarm, a man stepped away from the crowded lunch counter and hurried toward the back. Dressed immaculately in a white shirt, gray flannel slacks, tie and textured jacket, he looked out of place in the casual,jeans-clad crowd. He calmly asked the other employee, “What’s his name?”
“John,” the employee answered.
On the floor, John’s muscles were racked by spasms, his teeth chattered, and his limbs jerked. The man moved the mop bucket away from John’s thrashing head to avoid him further injury. Then squatting, he placed one knee in the water, bent over John and said, “I’m a doctor, John. You’ll be okay.”
Over and over he called John’s name. He gently coached and assured him, “John, relax. This will be over soon. John, you’re okay. Relax, John. This won’t last much longer.”
Again and again he encouraged the writhing boy. Finally, John’s body, responding to internal signals and the soothing voice of the doctor, relaxed.
The close quarters and activity had confined the other diners and us to our seats. Sheryle and I gathered our remaining food and tiptoed through the puddled water to leave. The last thing John needed was a gawking crowd.
The picture of John and the physician remain vivid in my memory. One was in need of help, one was willing to step into the middle of things—in medias res— and extend compassion. My daughter and I witnessed the royal law that day when two pairs of gray trousers were soaked—one by circumstance, one by choice.
Index card verse for week 36: “We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26).