A Quiet Gravel Road



It was as though the old man had fallen to sleeping, there was a peaceful look on his face. The younger man had seen death before and had prepared himself for it not more than a a few moments ago when he first laid on the brakes to pull over. The old man’s car had pushed up against an electrical pole in a ditch.

It has never been a comfortable feeling confronting the human condition of impermanence. Yet that is where the younger man found himself now, observing this dead man on this quiet gravel road. Looking at this moment of chaos frozen in time.

He didn’t want to but he reached out to check for a pulse, everyone has seen this a million times on television or in the movies. Which of us hasn’t tried to check to our own throats for our throbbing pumping vein imagining we may need to do it ourselves one day? Who does dread the thought that we may need to actually do this some day? With his arm stretching out, a dozen more thoughts rushed through his brain; “I don’t know what a dead man feels like, If I can’t feel a pulse is it because I don’t know what I am doing, is he really dead” and on and on. With all the noise in his head, it was as if time had stopped, it was so quiet, even the birds sounded like they were holding there breath.

His hand finally touched the skin under the old mans chin, it was very cool, after a few moments he had his answer, the old man was truly dead.

He knew this old man, had known him his whole life and now he was on his way to join his wife who had widowed him a few years back. His children all grown, had moved away to distant cities, they rarely ever came home to visit. A tightness came to his throat thinking of the memories of the once living old man, not too many memories but mostly good all good ones.

That’s when he felt he was being watched, in the past few moments he had forgotten he wasn’t alone. He looked back at the truck, both doors were open now and no one was there. He turned his head to look over his left shoulder…

“I told you to stay in the pickup!” The younger man said trying to stay calm but there was a slight tone of panic.

The boy was peeking around his left shoulder from five feet behind the opened car door, his face washed of color, his eyes wide open and his jaw had slackened leaving a slight gap between his lips. he was seven years old. He didn’t say a word and didn’t move a muscle.

“Did you hear me boy?” he said much more stern this time trying to jolt the boy out of his shock.

“Jimmy!” he snapped.

The boy blinked his eyes tight and his head swiveled toward the voice who had finally reached his clouded mind. The expression hadn’t changed though, his body was like that of a statue.

Jimmy was not his boy, he was staying with he and his wife while Jimmy’s parents went on a weekend away for their tenth anniversary. He was taking Jimmy along to go do chores in the pasture were he kept his cattle herd a few miles from their ranch house. It all seemed pretty harmless to take him along, to show him what a rancher does with his day, show him a different style of living. He didn’t want to be the one who introduced him to death.

“Jimmy, go back to the pickup, please… we need to get the cell phone and call for help.”

The boy started to tremble before he started to return to the vacated pickup, he had tears welling up in deep pools. The young man stood up and intercepted the boy, stooped down on a bent knee in front of him. He put a comforting hand on both shoulders looking straight into Jimmy’s eyes.

“Take a deep breath” he said calmly. The boy listened and took a trembling breath but it wasn’t very deep.

“That’s good, take another one… let’s go get the phone” he too didn’t feel like standing there next to the dead man behind the steering wheel.

The boy started to wipe the tears from his cheeks with the back of his sleeve, they were turning red as the color started to return to his face.

Neither of them said a word as they climbed back into the truck. The young man took a deep breath now and reached for the phone on the seat next to him.

“Jimmy? Do you know the number to call for emergency help?”

“911” he said as he turned his head to face the young man.

“that’s the one” he gave him a small smile and started to press the numbers on the keypad.

When they answered on the other end, he gave them the details and how to find them and ended the call. They waited together, both staring at the back of the care in the ditch with the old mans body.

After a minute or two the young man spoke up. “That’s the first time you have seen a person who has passed away, isn’t it?”

The boy nodded his head to confirm. All went quiet again except for the creaking sounds of the truck as the temperature of the metal change, warping, snapping on other parts immovable. Birds sang on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happed today.

“have you seen many dead people?” asked the boy in a quiet voice, still staring at the car.

“Yes, I have seen my share, usually in the funeral parlor” he paused “This is the first person I have found… you know” He took his eyes off the back of the car to shoot a side glance at the boy, he felt embarrassed he didn’t know how to finish his answer.

“I am sorry I started to cried” the boy said as he turned his head away to stare out at the vast prairie land to avoid eye contact.

“don’t be, it’s quite normal.”

“I don’t know why I started to cry, I didn’t know him.”

“Death effects everyone differently, I almost started to cry myself.”

Jimmy turned back to face him. “do you know him… I mean… did you?” the boy corrected himself.

The edges of the man’s lips turned upwards at the edges, his eyes creased and seemed to brighten a little without breaking his stare. “Yes I knew him well enough… he was a good man, you would have liked him.” The young man thought to himself, “Jimmy’s a smart kid, takes after his dad.”

“What do you think killed him? He looked like he just pulled off the road and put his car against that pole and then feel asleep.” Said Jimmy as he was looking at the back of the old man’s car again.

“Well, in a way, he did just fall asleep, I think I remember someone mentioning a while back that he had a bad heart.” He looked at the boy. “his heart gave out and he went all limp and coasted off the road, I noticed his hand was in his lap just under the ignition, he must have shut the car off just before he passed away”

The boy’s head slowly turned down to look at his shoes, he was deep in thought.

After a few more moments the boy spoke up again without raising his head. “Do you think he is in heaven now?”

The young man desperately thought to himself. “Where the hell is the sheriff or that damn ambulance at” He didn’t want to be the person who had this conversation with someone else’s kid. He hated to talk about things like this at all. After a few short moments he made an attempt to answer the boys question.

“Do you believe in Heaven Jimmy”

“I guess I do… Yes?” Jimmy said hesitantly.

“You go to church with your Mom and Dad, don’t you?”

“Yes Sir.” Jimmy said quietly.

“Well, what do you think? Is heaven for real?” The young man asked.

“I think so”

“Well, so do I.” The man smiled at the boy, glad to leave it at that.

“But how do we know it is real? I can’t see it, I don’t know anyone who has, what if it is just a story they tell us?” Jimmy was now looking into the young man’s eyes.

The man thought hard for a few seconds trying to find a way to help the boy understand.

“Close your eyes Jimmy.”

The boy closed his eyes slowly.

“can you picture your Mom and Dad?”

The boy smiled a bit. “Yes, yes I can.”

Are they happy looking back at you?”

“Yes, they are both smiling” the boy said with his eyes still closed and a smile was on his face.

“So is that real to you Jimmy?” said the man. “Just because you imagined them smiling, does that mean at this moment, were they are right now, that they are thinking of you and smiling back at you?”

“I don’t know, I hope they are.” The boy had opened his eyes and was looking back at the young man again.

“That’s what faith is all about, your parents weren’t really here just now, still, you can see them smiling back at you when you imagine them. Does that make you feel that that moment in your head was any less real?”

“so if I can imagine heaven is real, then it is?” ask the boy timidly.

“Well almost, the fact that your mind can imagine something is real, real in your mind it is because your sole imagined it, not your body. You see the body is attached to you mind, your mind wills your body to walk and talk. You mind does not need your body Jimmy… so when your body is done and then dies, your mind – your sole, can move on. It can move on to where ever it wants and heaven seems to be a great place to go to, from everything I have heard about it. Your faith that heaven is real is what make it so, you don’t need to touch it to know it is real.” The young man seen that his words had made his point clear in the boy’s face.

After a few moments went by and the boy spoke up. “Wow, you should be a teacher, you really know how to explain stuff.” The boy was relaxed and had a smile of wonderment as he turned his head to looked over his right shoulder and out the trucks open window.

The young man smiled to himself and looked out his window too. This wasn’t how he planned to spend his afternoon but things could be worse.

They both sat there quietly in deep peaceful contemplation.

The truck kept making creaking sounds, the Meadowlarks whistled their somber shrills. There was a slight breeze picking up and it made the tall grass along the ditch rustle adding to the solemn mood. The world seemed to stretch out as far as the eye could see across the golden plains with its yucca and sage patches spreading down the draws and valleys. At the base of the valley was a large bur-oak tree shading a small herd of black angus cattle from the heat of the afternoon sun. You could hear an occasional moo and see one of them twist it’s head shaking off the flies that were an eternal bother to them. There was a faint metallic scratching noise coming from across the valley where a windmill eternally turned it’s blades in the gentle breeze.

The old man couldn’t have picked a better place to come to the end his life. He couldn’t help but smile down upon the two young men setting in the cab of the truck waiting for help to arrive.

It was as though the old man had fallen to sleeping, there was a peaceful look on his face. The younger man had seen death before and had prepared himself for it not more than a a few moments ago when he first laid on the brakes to pull over. The old man’s car had pushed up against an electrical pole in a ditch. 

It has never been a comfortable feeling confronting the human condition of impermanence. Yet that is where the younger man found himself now, observing this dead man on this quiet gravel road. Looking at this moment of chaos frozen in time.

He didn’t want to but he reached out to check for a pulse, everyone has seen this a million times on television or in the movies. Which of us hasn’t tried to check to our own throats for our throbbing pumping vein imagining we may need to do it ourselves one day? Who does dread the thought that we may need to actually do this some day? With his arm stretching out, a dozen more thoughts rushed through his brain; “I don’t know what a dead man feels like, If I can’t feel a pulse is it because I don’t know what I am doing, is he really dead” and on and on. With all the noise in his head, it was as if time had stopped, it was so quiet, even the birds sounded like they were holding there breath.

His hand finally touched the skin under the old mans chin, it was very cool, after a few moments he had his answer, the old man was truly dead.

He knew this old man, had known him his whole life and now he was on his way to join his wife who had widowed him a few years back. His children all grown, had moved away to distant cities, they rarely ever came home to visit. A tightness came to his throat thinking of the memories of the once living old man, not too many memories but mostly good all good ones.

That’s when he felt he was being watched, in the past few moments he had forgotten he wasn’t alone. He looked back at the truck, both doors were open now and no one was there. He turned his head to look over his left shoulder…

“I told you to stay in the pickup!” The younger man said trying to stay calm but there was a slight tone of panic.

The boy was peeking around his left shoulder from five feet behind the opened car door, his face washed of color, his eyes wide open and his jaw had slackened leaving a slight gap between his lips. he was seven years old. He didn’t say a word and didn’t move a muscle.

“Did you hear me boy?” he said much more stern this time trying to jolt the boy out of his shock.

“Jimmy!” he snapped.

The boy blinked his eyes tight and his head swiveled toward the voice who had finally reached his clouded mind. The expression hadn’t changed though, his body was like that of a statue.

Jimmy was not his boy, he was staying with he and his wife while Jimmy’s parents went on a weekend away for their tenth anniversary. He was taking Jimmy along to go do chores in the pasture were he kept his cattle herd a few miles from their ranch house. It all seemed pretty harmless to take him along, to show him what a rancher does with his day, show him a different style of living. He didn’t want to be the one who introduced him to death.

“Jimmy, go back to the pickup, please… we need to get the cell phone and call for help.”

The boy started to tremble before he started to return to the vacated pickup, he had tears welling up in deep pools. The young man stood up and intercepted the boy, stooped down on a bent knee in front of him. He put a comforting hand on both shoulders looking straight into Jimmy’s eyes.

“Take a deep breath” he said calmly. The boy listened and took a trembling breath but it wasn’t very deep.

“That’s good, take another one… let’s go get the phone” he too didn’t feel like standing there next to the dead man behind the steering wheel.

The boy started to wipe the tears from his cheeks with the back of his sleeve, they were turning red as the color started to return to his face.

Neither of them said a word as they climbed back into the truck. The young man took a deep breath now and reached for the phone on the seat next to him.

“Jimmy? Do you know the number to call for emergency help?”

“911” he said as he turned his head to face the young man.

“that’s the one” he gave him a small smile and started to press the numbers on the keypad.

When they answered on the other end, he gave them the details and how to find them and ended the call. They waited together, both staring at the back of the care in the ditch with the old mans body.

After a minute or two the young man spoke up. “That’s the first time you have seen a person who has passed away, isn’t it?”

The boy nodded his head to confirm. All went quiet again except for the creaking sounds of the truck as the temperature of the metal change, warping, snapping on other parts immovable. Birds sang on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happed today.

“have you seen many dead people?” asked the boy in a quiet voice, still staring at the car.

“Yes, I have seen my share, usually in the funeral parlor” he paused “This is the first person I have found… you know” He took his eyes off the back of the car to shoot a side glance at the boy, he felt embarrassed he didn’t know how to finish his answer.

“I am sorry I started to cried” the boy said as he turned his head away to stare out at the vast prairie land to avoid eye contact.

“don’t be, it’s quite normal.”

“I don’t know why I started to cry, I didn’t know him.”

“Death effects everyone differently, I almost started to cry myself.”

Jimmy turned back to face him. “do you know him… I mean… did you?” the boy corrected himself.

The edges of the man’s lips turned upwards at the edges, his eyes creased and seemed to brighten a little without breaking his stare. “Yes I knew him well enough… he was a good man, you would have liked him.” The young man thought to himself, “Jimmy’s a smart kid, takes after his dad.”

“What do you think killed him? He looked like he just pulled off the road and put his car against that pole and then feel asleep.” Said Jimmy as he was looking at the back of the old man’s car again.

“Well, in a way, he did just fall asleep, I think I remember someone mentioning a while back that he had a bad heart.” He looked at the boy. “his heart gave out and he went all limp and coasted off the road, I noticed his hand was in his lap just under the ignition, he must have shut the car off just before he passed away”

The boy’s head slowly turned down to look at his shoes, he was deep in thought.

After a few more moments the boy spoke up again without raising his head. “Do you think he is in heaven now?”

The young man desperately thought to himself. “Where the hell is the sheriff or that damn ambulance at” He didn’t want to be the person who had this conversation with someone else’s kid. He hated to talk about things like this at all. After a few short moments he made an attempt to answer the boys question.

“Do you believe in Heaven Jimmy”

“I guess I do… Yes?” Jimmy said hesitantly.

“You go to church with your Mom and Dad, don’t you?”

“Yes Sir.” Jimmy said quietly.

“Well, what do you think? Is heaven for real?” The young man asked.

“I think so”

“Well, so do I.” The man smiled at the boy, glad to leave it at that.

“But how do we know it is real? I can’t see it, I don’t know anyone who has, what if it is just a story they tell us?” Jimmy was now looking into the young man’s eyes.

The man thought hard for a few seconds trying to find a way to help the boy understand.

“Close your eyes Jimmy.”

The boy closed his eyes slowly.

“can you picture your Mom and Dad?”

The boy smiled a bit. “Yes, yes I can.”

Are they happy looking back at you?”

“Yes, they are both smiling” the boy said with his eyes still closed and a smile was on his face.

“So is that real to you Jimmy?” said the man. “Just because you imagined them smiling, does that mean at this moment, were they are right now, that they are thinking of you and smiling back at you?”

“I don’t know, I hope they are.” The boy had opened his eyes and was looking back at the young man again.

“That’s what faith is all about, your parents weren’t really here just now, still, you can see them smiling back at you when you imagine them. Does that make you feel that that moment in your head was any less real?”

“so if I can imagine heaven is real, then it is?” ask the boy timidly.

“Well almost, the fact that your mind can imagine something is real, real in your mind it is because your sole imagined it, not your body. You see the body is attached to you mind, your mind wills your body to walk and talk. You mind does not need your body Jimmy… so when your body is done and then dies, your mind – your sole, can move on. It can move on to where ever it wants and heaven seems to be a great place to go to, from everything I have heard about it. Your faith that heaven is real is what make it so, you don’t need to touch it to know it is real.” The young man seen that his words had made his point clear in the boy’s face.

After a few moments went by and the boy spoke up. “Wow, you should be a teacher, you really know how to explain stuff.” The boy was relaxed and had a smile of wonderment as he turned his head to looked over his right shoulder and out the trucks open window.

The young man smiled to himself and looked out his window too. This wasn’t how he planned to spend his afternoon but things could be worse.

They both sat there quietly in deep peaceful contemplation.

The truck kept making creaking sounds, the Meadowlarks whistled their somber shrills. There was a slight breeze picking up and it made the tall grass along the ditch rustle adding to the solemn mood. The world seemed to stretch out as far as the eye could see across the golden plains with its yucca and sage patches spreading down the draws and valleys. At the base of the valley was a large bur-oak tree shading a small herd of black angus cattle from the heat of the afternoon sun. You could hear an occasional moo and see one of them twist it’s head shaking off the flies that were an eternal bother to them. There was a faint metallic scratching noise coming from across the valley where a windmill eternally turned it’s blades in the gentle breeze.

The old man couldn’t have picked a better place to come to the end his life. He couldn’t help but smile down upon the two young men setting in the cab of the truck waiting for help to arrive.

 

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