And Heaven Moves

When you tell a friend who is going through a hard time that your “thought and prayers” are with them, you mean it. But some would say that your attempt to bring comfort amounts to empty words. I have a friend who would strongly disagree with those skeptics. He and I went through the Dale Carnegie Professional Training program together, and with tears in his eyes, and a shaky voice, he finally made it through this story.

His name is Terry.

Terry’s eyes shoot open! By the time he regains consciousness, he realizes that he is Scared in bedsitting up in bed. He’s not just sitting up, but his heart is also pounding in his chest. His breathing is short and quick.

What’s going on?!

He looks around the room and his eyes settle on the blue numbers on his digital clock on the nightstand. It’s 2:33 am.

Somethings wrong.

He doesn’t know how he knows. But he knows. Something is very wrong. But what? How would I even know?…

Ben! It’s Ben! Something’s happened to my son! What can I do?! I don’t even know where he is!

(PRAY.)

The word wasn’t audible, but it might as well have been. There was authority behind it, and it wasn’t a request. It was a command.

Terry threw his covers off, jumped out of his bed and fell to his knees. Then he opened his mouth and said the first words that would come to any loving father’s mind.

“Dear God! Please…please, protect my son.”

(Exactly one minute and thirty seconds earlier.)

Dark windy roadsBen is exhausted as he drives home after working the late shift.

Too much drama. Not enough pay. He thinks as he continues on, trying desperately to stay awake for the 25 minute commute.

His eyes start to droop as he navigates the dark windy roads of Northwest Arkansas.

BAM! He hears a sudden noise and opens his eyes! But it’s too late.

The right side of his car goes off of the steep shoulder and his wheels are turned sharply to the left. The axle holding the right front wheel bends as that tire takes the impact of the rocky ground and sends the mid-sized car flipping down the side of Highway 16.

Ben doesn’t notice the deafening crashing sounds, or the shattering glass that sends tiny shards into his arms and face. He is completely unaware of everything until

I can’t breathe!

He can barely move, but he does his best to groggily asses the situation. The car is upside down. His head and some of his upper body are outside of the car, but the rest is in some weird, twisted position around the steering wheel and dashboard. As the blood starts to fill his right eye, he makes one feeble effort to free himself and absolutely nothing moves. All he feels is the pain.

That’s when he realizes how desperate his situation is. The mangled car has pinned him to the ground and is crushing his chest. To be able to breathe, he would have to lift the entire weight of the car. His lungs slowly start to ache.

(75 miles away at that very moment.)

“Dear God! Please…please, protect my son…….” and the tears and groans of a loving father Dad Prayingbegin to flow.

Just as Ben is starting to lose consciousness he hears a faint sound. As it gets closer, he realizes that it sounds like someone walking on gravel. It seems like a dream, but it keeps getting closer. His will to hang on gets a boost when he sees a shoe less than a foot away from his head.

The steps stop, then he senses the person stooping down. His hand brushes Ben’s shoulder as he grips the edge of the twisted car.

The metal creaks loudly and tiny pieces of glass start falling like jagged drops of rain as the side of the 3,400 pound Camry is lifted completely off of the ground.

Inhale!

The oxygen burns as it enters his lungs and for a few moments he doesn’t notice the pain as the euphoria of being able to breathe sweeps over him.

As his breathing starts to slow, the pain returns. He doesn’t even try to locate the source because it feels like it’s coming from everywhere, and it is more pain than he has ever felt in his entire life.

As if his very welcome guest could sense his panic, he speaks.

“You’re going to be okay, Ben. Just don’t move.”

The words are confident….calm…loving…

A wave of peace flows over Ben as he drifts off into oblivion.

Emergency VehiclesHe opens his eyes when he hears the scream of sirens and all he can see is emergency lights flashing all around him. As his eyes adjust, he looks around him and thankfully takes a breath when he sees the same shoes right next to his head. He then looks at his chest where the car was crushing him. He takes a deep breath and winces as pain shoots through his ribs. Then he notices the car, still suspended 6 inches above his broken and bruised body.

How long have I been here?! he wonders to himself.

About thirty minutes. But you’ll be out soon.

Ben tries to move to see the man’s face, but he is leaning over and it is blocked by the car. As his clarity of thought starts to return, it occurs to him how crazy this all is.

“Sir, what is your….”

The emergency personnel quickly surround Ben, checking his vitals, telling him not to move. Soon the Jaws of Life come out and within minutes, Ben is on a stretcher being wheeled towards the waiting ambulance.

“Where is the man who helped me?” Ben asks, immediately realizing there is no way the EMT heart him over all of the noise.

“The man! Where is he?!”

The closest paramedic hears him. “Who’s that, son?”

“The one who helped me. I couldn’t breathe. He lifted the car.” His thoughts are still a little jumbled.

“He sure did, son!”

“Who is he?!”

“We don’t know. None of us have ever seen him before.”

“Well…where did he go?!” Ben asks, desperate to thank the man who kept him from suffocating.

“I’m not sure, son. He just started walking that way,” he said and pointed.

Right before they load him into the ambulance, Ben looks off in the direction the man isDark road pointing and sees a nothing but a dark, windy road. He squints and strains his eyes until they hurt, and when he is totally convinced that there is absolutely nobody else on that deserted Arkansas road, he slowly turns his eyes towards the heavens.

 

Smile! Your Life May Depend On It.

You haven’t lived until you’ve been surrounded by an ever-growing angry mob of West African criminals.

“Not that old phrase!” you’re probably thinking.

Brian (me), Ryan and Jed (from left to right) in The Ivory Coast with our friends in Oume.

I know. I’ll try to use less common sayings from here on out. It just fit too well with the story I am about to tell you.

It was during the summer of 1998 or 99 and we were traveling through the countryside in Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast) and spotted a picturesque roadside market on the…side of the road. (Dadgummit! I walked right into that one.)

It was quite busy, so we carefully pulled in and found someplace to park. I was with two of my good friends, Ryan and Jed, and our wonderful host, Kuami.

Kuami is a fascinating and brilliant man. He is native to West Africa and spoke fluent English. His use of the word “dilapidated” caught me off guard one day when were walking, hand-in-hand (a custom there when in conversation, even among men…it made me feel funny) and carrying on a conversation.

But his linguistic acumen did not stop there. He taught English and German

This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.
This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.

and spoke fluently a total of 16 different languages and dialects.

The four of us split up and starting looking at the various wares for sale. We found a couple of handmade knickknacks for souvenirs, took a few pictures and re-grouped as we got ready to depart.

Before we got back to the car, though, two agitated men, in their early twenties, approached us and confronted Kuami.

I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, but the angry tone told me enough to make me nervous. We three skinny white boys watched as the discussion got more heated, glances were being made at Ryan, and Kuami was…smiling?!

Not a grin, or a smirk, or a nervous twitch. He was beaming! Smiling from ear to ear!

“Give me your camera.” Kuami said forcefully to Ryan with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Why do you want my camera?!” Ryan asked.

“These men are criminals and they saw you take a picture of them. They are afraid you are going to take it to the authorities. Give me your camera.” The smile never left his face.

Oh, lordy!

The tension continued to mount and more and more people were crowding around us. Not one had any interest in helping to ease the conflict, either. They were all starting to get worked up, and the crowd kept growing.

Kuami grabbed the camera. “Don’t give it to them!” Ryan said. “Just give them the film!”

We all reached forward and multiple nervous hands tried to pry open his camera. The men were shouting at us. I still couldn’t understand a word, but it was probably something like “Give us the camera!”

Finally the camera snapped open, revealing a partially used roll of film. Kuami aggressively started pulling out the film, just like they do in the movies. I don’t think cameras like that very much.

And as he was pulling it out, he still looked like he was happy as a clam! Who is this guy?!

Kuami quickly handed the film to the angry men, the open camera to Ryan, spoke a few words to them, then turned to us. “Let’s go.”

We pushed our way through the crowd, Kuami smiling at every person he could. Nobody was smiling back.

After we got to the car and locked the doors, Kuami turned the key and we were all wide-eyed, staring out the windows at all of the people surrounding the car and shouting.

As the car slowly eased forward, the crowd parted, and we were soon back on the road. I looked at Kuami, who was not smiling.

“Kuami, why were you smiling the whole time?!” I asked.

I have always remembered what he said next. And even though I already respected him, after this I respected him more.

“It is much harder to be angry at a person who has a smile on their face. It could have gotten really bad back there, so I was smiling to keep their anger from escalating.”

Good grief! This guy must be pretty accustomed to highly tense situations to have the presence of mind to think of that. And fortunately, he did. And we were all fine as a result of it.

So, as you’re going through your day, SMILE! Not just if you’re happy, but even if you would like to alleviate the anger of some criminals you happen to run into at the market.

Smiley Face