(This post is therapy for me)
Even though it was many, many years ago, I still remember the words as clearly as if I had just heard them yesterday.
“God heals you in one of two ways, he takes the pain away from you, or he takes you away from the pain. Either way it goes, he makes the pain stop.” , he said.
Deacon Harris’ words drifted up to me from the small makeshift bed in the back of the van as I drove. You could feel the pain that mated with his speech as each word, slowly, purposefully tumbled over his teeth; eventually breaking the forced, awkward “non monotony” of the sounds of Sade songs wafting from the cd player. The music was ill placed, but it helped me to ignore the obvious fact that here was a dying man lying behind me.
His words refused to let me wallow in the self imposed sanctuary of my denial. He said it again, but this time he used my name to get my attention.
“Ty, did you hear me? I believe that God heals you in one of two ways, he takes the pain away from you, or he takes you away from the pain but you know, either way it goes, he makes the pain stop.”
I nodded my head, and said, “yeah” over my shoulder; too scared to look back at him. I didn’t want the question to go into the territory of what I believed because at the time, his words rung a bit hollow to me. I couldn’t see past his impending death, and I questioned how a man in that had been in that much pain for so long, could be talking about healing. Nothing had worked so far….Death was just……death. No HEALING.
“Good.” he said. “That’s important.”
So, with that, we plodded on. I took great care to avoid as many bumps as possible, lest the sound of moans and grunts from behind me remind me of the frailness of my cargo. Sade continued to be our riding partner.
Across the years since, I would often wonder why he decided to say this to me twice on that ride. Maybe he knew that he wasn’t going to be around much longer and wanted to make sure that I understood that he thought he’d be in a better place. Maybe he just said it to make himself feel better, or maybe he felt that I would need to be equipped with this knowledge to help me down the road.
Fast forward to Sunday, March 24, 2013, 7:35 a.m.
My cell phone rings. I answer. The voice was Dale’s.
Within it, I felt something that I had never felt in that voice before. There was a seriousness that leaped over miles and miles of cell phone signal to grab me by the shoulders and shake the remnants of the night’s sleep away.
“Tyrone…What are you doing?” This strange/familiar/strong/weak/ brave/scared voice said.
“Nothing much, man. Just watching some t.v. Everything cool?” I knew things weren’t. It was too early for things to be “cool”
“Mama just called me.” He said. “She said that Foot is might not make it.”
There was that shaking coming across the lines again.
Foot is my brother. Well, his name is actually Sidney, but for some reason, the name Foot was given to him and I guess he never disputed it enough, so it stuck. Foot had been battling some serious diseases for the last few years. Over a year ago, the doctor had given him 6 months to live. On Sunday, we were at over 14 months since that proclamation. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing since though. Between then and now, there had been many ambulance pickups, e.r. visits, long hospital stays and even doctors telling us that we needed to go ahead and call all of the family to town. Each time, Foot would bounce back, like some kind of bad penny that just kept turning up. I remember, the last time the doctors told us he might not make it back home, we were all gathered in his hospital room. He was talking with us; joking like he always did, when he looks around in sudden realization and says, ” Hey….All of ya’ll are here??? Is something’ happenin’ that ya’ll ain’t tellin’ me ’bout?!?!” He went home a few days later; Foot, the bad penny.
The voice on the other end continued to talk. “I’m on my way down there now. The rescue squad people are there working on him, but Mama says it don’t look good.”
(Come on bad penny!…….come on bad penny!)
“Call Daphne and let her know, but don’t call the house, Mama is pretty tore up. If you have to call, call Bobby. He’s over there.” he said. Daphne is Foot’s daughter.
“Ok, Dale. I’ll make a few calls and I’m on my way down. Don’t worry, dude…Everything will be cool. I’m on my way in a few minutes.”
I hung up the phone. Sharon was the first call. She had literally just pulled out of the driveway on her way to church, so she was back in the house in no time. I told her about the conversation and she said that she would call Daphne for me so that I could get ready to get on the road. So, I went upstairs to get ready.
I called Bobby. He said that he got there about the same time as the paramedics did. Despite my hopes that his interpretation of events would be different from Dale’s, they weren’t. Things were not good.
He said that they had been working on Foot for over 30 minutes. Nothing was working. They had tried everything and they continued to try. Then he said something that really brought things home to me.
“I want to tell them to stop trying; that it’s not going to work…..but I can’t tell them that.”
Bobby, the strongest one of ALL of us in my opinion, said it wasn’t going to work…..The shaking that came across the lines was worse this time. It shook me with the force of a full fledged gorilla.
(COME ON…BAD PENNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COME ON BAD PENNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JUST FREAKIN’ COME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
I got dressed, packed up the car, and Sharon and I started on our way. The plan was to pick up Daphne and the girls and head down.
Bobby calls again.. “Man…..they just pronounced him dead…..”
It felt like the hand of God reached down and pulled every bone from my body, squeezed my lungs until I couldn’t breathe and forced tears out until they burned in my eyes. I forced myself to finish the drive to Daphne’s house….all the while steeling myself up for the next phase.
I got out of the car, and walked to Daphne’s door. I knocked. Out poured her and my two little nieces; bags of books and toys in hand. We got the little ones settled into their spots in the back seat and put Daph’s bags in the trunk.
It’s kind of a blur, and I can’t remember who told Daphne, but I do remember looking into the back seat and seeing her shoulders heave up and down. I suppose, that God used his other hand to do the same things to Daph that he did to me. Her pain spread across the back seat like wildfire and soon the little ones were crying too. I decided it would be best to go inside and talk, so we got out of the car and went inside.
The four of them all sat, huddled together on the couch, with their shoulders rising and lowering with their sobs and with their tears watering their shirts. Our family had never been so closely touched by death before, so I let them deal with it on their own terms for a while. Then, I knelt in front of them. with my mind overflowing with thoughts and stories and analogies and various witticisms and none of them seemed like they would work. I decided to just start talking and let whatever would come out…just come out….And that’s EXACTLY what happened.
“Girls…..you know, God heals people in one of two ways, Sometimes, he takes the pain away from them, sometimes he takes them away from the pain. Either way it goes, he makes the pain stop.” .
I smiled a bit on the inside. There was my answer as to why I was told that so many years ago! God used Deacon Harris to plant something in me that I would use to console my family during my own brothers death. Oh God, my God…..infinite in all your wisdom.
I used that analogy and others over the last few days each time bringing a small piece of understanding to those I share them with. Heads would nod in approval. Eyes would be wiped with understanding. Now, I I wish I could say that I’m so strong that I don’t need them for myself, but that’s not the case. Each time I get the chance to say it, I draw a little bit of strength for myself and I’m able to hold on just a bit longer. I realize that I (and my whole family) will be tested over the next few days, but I take strength in knowing that God set some wheels into motion oh so many years ago….We’ll be just fine.
Rest in peace, Sidney (Foot) Davis Sutton. I miss you, Big brother.