Editor’s note: This column by the late Bev Davis originally was published July 10, 2010. Davis passed away Aug. 1, 2010, of a sudden illness.
I was in a salvage yard looking for a car part when I spotted it.
An old black high-top sneaker hung precariously out the front floor board on the driver’s side of a mangled Corvette with a missing door.
Leaning on a rusty guardrail of the fence enclosing the junk yard, I felt my heart sink. What a mess! Gnarled metal everywhere. Windshields shattered as though they had been punched out by giant fists. Grills folded like flimsy pop cans crumpled by massive hands.
“Any of 'em yours?” a man’s voice asked. “No, at least I don’t think so,” I said, surprised by his presence. “Where do they all come from?”
“All over. Wreckers bring 'em in. We break 'em down for parts, then stack 'em for the crushers.”
I asked if he ever heard the stories about the wrecks that had totaled the vehicles of every size, shape, make and model.
“Sometimes I do,” he said.
I pointed to the Corvette and the sneaker. Before I could frame a question, the man’s jaw tightened. He began to speak with increasing difficulty. “Yeah, that one was real bad. Young boy on his way home from basketball practice. Thought he could outrun a train. Didn’t work.”
The salvage man turned and began slowly walking away. Over his slumped shoulders he managed to choke out two words — “my son.”
I reached for the man’s arm and pulled him back. “I’m so sorry. How long ago?” I asked.
“Oh, 'bout a year now, I guess. The haulers have been by several times to take the 'vette away, but somehow I can’t let it go. I can’t bring myself to throw away his shoe, either,” the salvage man said with lead in his voice.
I wanted to offer soothing words of comfort, talk about God’s sovereign will or share a comforting Scripture. Instead, I listened to that still small voice inside quoting one of the Proverbs to me: “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
I kept silent, but offered my presence and my full attention. Within a moment or two, the man was pouring out his heart. Devastated by his son’s death, this former pastor had left the ministry. He couldn’t forgive God for taking his son.
Suddenly, he stood up straight, cleared his throat and got back to business. I let it drop. He didn’t have the part I needed, but I drove away praying for the salvage man. I’ve prayed for him many times since then and wondered often if I should have said more.
Last week, more than two years after the encounter, a well-dressed gentleman walked into my cubicle. He stood there grinning like a Cheshire cat but said nothing. Suddenly, I recognized him.
I have his permission to share the end of his story but not his name. A series of events led the salvage man back to a faith in God that enabled him to move on with life. He’s back in the ministry and using his experiences to help others who are closed down in the vice grip of grief.
I told him I felt guilty for not trying to offer some words of encouragement at the time. He quickly set me straight. “No, I’m so thankful you didn’t. I knew I was away from God, and I had been lectured by friends, family members and fellow clergy. I needed to be able to voice what I was feeling to someone who wouldn’t come back at me with a bunch of pious platitudes.
“That day was a turning point for me. Just getting some of that poison out was like cleaning an infected wound. It opened the door for me to go get some professional counseling. Sometimes people just need to vent to someone who doesn’t try to fix their problem.”
“A time to be silent and a time to speak.” Lord, give us all the wisdom to listen to that still small voice that tells us which one is appropriate at a given moment. Amen.