This Kansas man went through more life-changing tragedy in just over a year than many of us might see in ten or twenty or more.
It started back in 2011. A heavy cable being used to pull a piece of heavy equipment snapped under extreme tension and caught Dave on the right side of his face. It broke his jaw, fractured the eye socket, and eventually blinded him in that eye. Another blow left even more damage.
“While I was still laid up from that, my wife was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2012.” She died in November of the same year.
A couple of months ago, I went over to Dave’s place to get a small load of gravel loaded into my pickup truck. As we walked around some of his rock piles, I asked him how he was doing, “Did you ever get healed up after that accident back in 2011?”
He lightly rubbed the right side of his face and said, “Well, yeah, but I can’t see anything out of this eye.” Then he added, “But the big thing now is I had a massive heart attack last year.”
“Man, I’m sorry to hear that!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, I didn’t go to the hospital right away. Doctors told me I’d suffered forty per cent more damage because I waited. I didn’t think it was a heart attack; I thought it was acid reflux.”
My response conveyed my usual reflex of gentle caring: “If you weren’t such a tough old bastard, you’d have gone to the hospital sooner, wouldn’t you?”
His response conveyed his usual reflex of unpolished perspective: “If I weren’t such a tough old bastard, I’d have died! I’ve had three different doctors tell me that.”
We talked another few minutes and then he described how much the heart attack had changed his life. “I can’t do anything anymore like I used to. If I just stay on the Bobcat, I can work but if I’m doing a water line or something like that where I have to get in and out and up and down, I just can’t do it.”
“I hate it. I hate not being able to do for people, you know.”
It’s tough when life takes away what you want to do. It’s tough not being able to do what you used to do. It tears away at your psyche, eats away at your self-esteem. Honestly, it messes up how you define yourself. I think a lot of us, maybe most of us, figure that a big part of who we are is what we do. And when what we can do now isn’t what we have always done, it’s hard to deal with.
“Dave,” I said, “I want to ask you a personal question. If you want to tell me, ‘It’s none of your damn business,’ just tell me.”
He looked at me with a bit of curiosity, “Go ahead.”
“With all the stuff you’ve been through, losing your eye, losing your wife to cancer and now this massive heart attack, did you ever get pissed off at God? Did it change your faith or anything like that?”
I expected it might take him a minute or two to answer. I thought he might say something about being angry or bitter or something like that. I’m pretty sure if I’d been through those things, I’d have been chockfull of discouragement and resentment. But for Dave, there wasn’t the slightest hesitation.
“No, it made me like him more.”
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how the man could possibly even say that, much less believe it. I think he instantly read my expression and then explained his confession.
“He kept me alive… I was able to be there and take care of my wife. I was able to be there for her.”
My astonishment morphed into conviction. I thought about some of the petty times when I’ve been peeved with God, some of the times when my trivial troubles led me to host my own little pity parties. Here’s a guy who nearly died, twice. A guy who can’t do what he’s used to doing, can’t be the person he knows he was and still wants to be. Yet, he chooses to be grateful to be alive.
I’d gone over to get some gravel; I left with a whole load of humility and inspiration.
About Doc Arnett
Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.