I was running late and had a cab waiting outside my house for about 20 minutes. As I approached the car, I was profusely apologizing to the man as he stepped out of the car. Then I saw that it was Ricky. He had driven me before on many occasions and was always SO happy. Rain or shine, he smiles, speaks in a slow Southern drawl, and with his large frame and power, throws my suitcase in the trunk and gets the door. What a pleasure it was to have him there that day. I knew for sure that he’d understand and forgive me. True to form, Ricky said, “Hey Dr. Ely, it’s been too long and I’m glad to drive you today,” literally beaming a huge smile amidst his wrinkled and “older than stated age” 50-something skin. As if completely unaware that I’d made him wait, he quickly redirected and asked if I had any scripture or meditations to read him that day. I often do that on the way to the airport with the different cab drivers. Maddy, Soddy, Janie, and Ricky have all come to expect it. Then after I read to them, I get the payback, which is them teaching me what the passages really mean. You see, I started doing this specifically for selfish reasons: I knew that each of these people would be a key for me to learn about life. It paid off again that day.
How did I see Ricky? Simple, jovial, satisfied with driving this car around in pretty Nashville, tolerant, patient, and a pleasure to be with. As we ambled past houses on my street with only 15 minutes to get to the airport, I asked him how many kids he had. He smiled and said, “Three plus Mary who died when she was 4 years old.” “How?” I snapped back. “She was killed by a drunk driver in 1983.” Then Ricky went on to tell me the story. One day his wife was taking the kids out to an early dinner and when they came back home and were turning into their own gravel driveway, a 19-year-old boy slammed into their car. He got out at the same time that Ricky flew out of the front door towards the smashed up car. His brother-in-law, Jack, was on the floorboard with his neck twisted awkwardly, and Ricky scooped Mary out from below his legs, noticing her crushed skull. “Mary died the next day in the hospital, and Jack is still alive today. He’s been paralyzed from the neck down ever since that day 27 years ago,” Ricky chokingly whispered. It was the first time I had ever seen Ricky with anything other than a smile on his face. I was stunned.
It turned out that the boy was the son of a district judge in the area (this did not happen in TN) where this accident occurred. At the scene, Ricky and the police discussed openly how drunk the boy obviously was and of the overt smell of alcohol on his breath and in the car. When it came to trial, however, the entire incident was billed as a freak accident and the boy was given 30 days of community service by another judge (one of his father’s longtime friends). In disbelief, Ricky erupted from his chair and ran to strangle the judge right there in the courtroom. With an even more youthful power than he uses now to throw heavy suitcases, Ricky jerked the judge up off his chair by his robes and was quickly arrested and tossed in the slammer. Everyday in jail, Ricky would watch as the judge came to his door and say, “Have you settled down yet?” From the front seat of his cab, Ricky turned to me and explained, “I always told him the same thing: ‘When I get out of here, I’m gonna kill that boy with my Colt revolver for crushing my baby.’ You see, Doc, I figured you have to protect your family.” He went on, “And then the judge would add more time to my sentence. I spent a total of 103 days in that prison, and when they let me out, I just went and built another prison. I spent every day going to work from 7 to 4 then sittin’ outside the Judge’s house (the childhood home of the boy where he’d been living according to Ricky’s sources) for 6 or 7 hours, looking through binoculars to see if the boy ever went in or out of the house.” Ricky was going to shoot him dead with that pistol if he ever saw the boy again. After over 200 days of this stake-out hidden in the trees distant the house (and somehow never arrested), Ricky faced his denial and realized that the judge who’d sent him to prison had tipped off the family and had shipped the boy permanently somewhere else to live. He gave up but was a shell of a person at that point. He stayed married but let his bitterness poison that relationship too for many years.
Ricky’s plight is not that different from many of ours. We want something that is either taken from us or was never ours to begin with. We disagree with the circumstances of how this “goes down” and through an unearned sense of entitlement and empowerment, we argue to the point of absurdity. Of course many would act just as Ricky did and vow revenge against the killer. To what end? Ruining our life? Becoming blind to what we have right in front of us every day in the way of gifts? Refusing the goodness of our Father? I argued that God had protected Ricky from himself. Without speaking, Ricky nodded yes.
Still somewhat in shock at these revelations about the life of the happiest person I thought I’d ever met, I sheepishly asked Ricky, “What now? How do you put it all together?” “Well, Doc, something like this: It breaks my heart when I picture Mary that day. I also think about Jack and how he’s had to live all these years. My anger has dulled and somewhere along the way I forgave the boy. He must be living in his Hell knowing what he did that day. I had to get out of the prison I’d put myself into. I’m not a very smart person, but I do know that God is in charge of my life. Once I gave in to Him and realized that my way was not His way, I was released from the bars that I’d put around myself. Now, Doc, how about that reading you were going to do for me?”
I opened the Magnificat to page 257 for the “Word of God” that the Church had chosen for Thursday, November 18th. I read the words there on the paper: “I will lead the blind on their journey; by paths unknown I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them, and make crooked ways straight. These things I do for them, and I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16. As the tears streamed down our faces, we arrived at the airport. This time, instead of parting with our mainstay smiles, we just looked understandingly at each other through a bear hug.
1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Romans 8:28 – “All things work together for the good of those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.” NOTE: It does not say that all things are good but that all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.