ATWELL: ‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…


‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Remember me? For scores of years, I was a guy who visited with you through columns in local newspapers, most recently The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta.

I loved doing it – until last summer, when the sky fell on me. Or more precisely, until I fell off our back deck, down four steps, and onto an unforgiving asphalt drive.
I was knocked senseless when my forehead hit the driveway. (Later, lots of stitches.) But as I caromed down the steps, I had reflexively led with my right hand. That meant the brunt of my body’s weight was transferred to my right wrist – and that wrist was trashed badly enough to leave a bone protruding.

What a missed news photo! Stunned Jim lying on the driveway’s hot asphalt, sun blazing down on him, blood seeping from his forehead and his shattered wrist. Oh, and nobody home to glance out a window and gasp at the disaster.

(My dearest Anne, now at rest, was already at Bassett Hospital, undergoing a chemo treatment.)

But an unlikely looking angel was at hand. Brian Chevalier had just finished mowing our back yard and actually saw me fall, as did two contractors working on a nearby house. They were at my side at once and met the immediate needs. One phoned the paramedics and the others rushed to block me from the blazing sun.

That pair dragged a tarp from our garage, and then the three together made tent posts of themselves. They held that heavy tarp above me till the paramedics arrived–for perhaps 15 minutes.

But here’s something to make me cry: The ambulance that came carrying paramedics was not Cooperstown’s own, which was already in service elsewhere. If I hadn’t been unconscious, how pleased I’d have been to know that it was the Fly Creek first responders who swung into our driveway – to “swoop and scoop,” as paramedics say.

For the story gets even better. The guy they scooped up that day was a blood-spattered version of one who, when he still lived in Fly Creek, had helped restore a proud fire department there, and who served for some years as its chaplain. Who’d have thought it?

My treasured friend Randy Velez, the Catholic deacon, does a lot of thinking about how in bad times like these, good people come storming onto the scene. Most of them would seem to be ordinary Janes and Joes, but suddenly they’re reaching beyond ordinarily attempts and doing the demanding, even the brave, even the heroic.

Randy says that he recently took a chance and gave sermon on this subject – and that he wasn’t met with frowns, but with thoughtful nods.

“Whom the Lord loves, He chastises,” reads Proverbs.

That sounds perverse, mean. But, as we’d say down South, the action is more like a firm “rap upside the haid,” a jolt meant to set our attention back to what’s really important to God and ultimately to us. And that’s one another.

For we humans are easily lulled and dulled by seemingly untroubled times. Sometimes we need stirring up.

And if you need a symbol of goodness suddenly awakened and springing to action, think of those three men standing in my driveway, their raised arms surely cramped with pain as they stood around me, sweat running down their ribs, holding taut that heavy tarp for perhaps fifteen minutes.

I say, “God bless those men!” And you? Please shout, “Amen!” And me? I promise to be more careful.

Even without my treasured Anne, I’d like to live on, hoping to balance the flood of kindness recently been poured on me.

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