This morning I prayed a very short, simple prayer. It was "use me today, Lord, in whatever way you will." Tonight, as I sit staring out the window into the backyard watching the green leaves blow frantically in the cold breeze, two stranger’s faces haunting me, there is a big part of me, bigger than I care to admit, that wishes I hadn't prayed that prayer just so I wouldn’t have had to have seen what I saw.
As I walked to lunch with a colleague today to celebrate a legal victory, the lives of two people changed forever. We had walked several blocks and when we came to the corner of Adams and LaSalle, and were discussing various deadlines in our case, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving very fast hit something standing still. And then a man with short hair, a summer-weight sweater, a gold wedding ring, and casual pants fell to the ground. I looked down at him. Blood bubbled out of his mouth, his body was motionless, his eyes rolled back into his head. His life will never be the same. Another man lay next to him, a bicycle under him. He jumped up and looked at the man he'd hit, saying, "Oh my God. Oh, are you okay? Are you okay?" His life will never be the same. Several people gathered around. Only thirty to forty-five seconds had passed. A woman squatted down and cradled the man's head. He was unconscious. I reached for my phone and called 911, begging the person who answered to send an ambulance. "A man has been hit. He's bleeding from his mouth. He's unconscious. Please send an ambulance. Adams and LaSalle. Please send an ambulance."
The bicyclist leaned against a light pole on the corner, his eyes were filled with tears and his face was shrouded in fear. I glanced at him briefly and turned back to my colleague. We wondered what more we could do. An ambulance was on the way. A traffic police officer stood to divert traffic as cabs and buses and cars whizzed by. Some people said to turn him over so he didn't choke, some said not to move him. Standing there was not helping so we walked on to the restaurant a half block down.
As we walked, we were both silent, shaken by what we'd seen. The face of the bicyclist, all alone in the chaos, was everywhere I looked – his watery eyes, blank stare, deep fear. The restaurant was busy and we sat at the bar because of the long wait. I needed to go back. I needed to go back and check on the bicyclist. I ordered a lemonade and stared at the menu. I began to pray silently for both men. I thought of the phone call the injured man's wife would receive. I thought about his kids. I thought about all the stuff he probably had and how in a single instant, it lost all significance. I prayed that he would live, that he would be okay. But the bicyclist’s watery eyes pierced me again. I couldn't concentrate. I thought about the sadness and guilt and fear he must be feeling, not knowing whether the man he hit would die, not knowing what his life would be like if he lived. I thought about all the stuff he probably had and how in a single instant, it lost all significance.
My colleague and I talked; I'm not sure at all what I said. I saw the ambulance speed by outside, lights flashing, siren sounding. I needed to go back. We kept talking. I kept praying. Finally, in the middle of our conversation I excused myself: "I'm sorry, I just need to go back." I rushed out of the restaurant and walked down the block where the ambulance still sat. The man was not on the street anymore and all the people who had stood around him were gone. A police officer stood on the curb and the bicyclist stood exactly where he had when I left, against the light pole, staring straight ahead.
"Are you okay?" I asked him as I approached slowly.
“Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know," he said, making brief eye contact. He was young, quiet.
"I was here when it happened," I said. He nodded. “What do you have to do now?”
"I think I have to give a statement or something. I don’t know," he said. So much unknown. Everything unknown.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Danny," he said softly, looking at me again, but just barely.
"Danny, I would like to pray for you if that's okay." This felt so awkward to say. Part of me wanted to pull it back in. I had no idea if Danny was a Christian, had thought about Christianity, or if he was an atheist or a Buddhist, or what.
His eyes met mine directly now. I stared into them. "Yeah. Yes, that would be great. Thank you."
"Okay, Danny." I looked at him in love and put my arm on his shoulder. I walked back to the restaurant and with each step, I asked God something, but I’m not sure what. I couldn’t formulate a coherent thought. I started and stopped. They were half prayers, half thoughts. At one point, I just said: "God, he is in your hands. Danny is in your hands." I couldn't formulate words anymore.
Thirty minutes later, after eating, as we left the restaurant, my colleague went in one direction, and I started back to work in the other direction. As I approached the corner where these two lives were changed forever, a police car pulled up and Danny got out of the back. I wanted to go to him and provide comfort in some way. I wanted to just hug him or stand near him or do something. I stood nearby for about three minutes and asked God to give me guidance as to what to do. I thought he might tell me to go pray with him, to comfort him, to say something. I heard nothing and people stared as they walked by because I stood still in the middle of the sidewalk.
I looked at Danny and then looked away. There had to be more I could do, more I could say. There had to be more. I couldn’t just leave him standing there with his bike, a weapon on that day. Then I heard in my mind: "Let him go." I crossed the street and heard it again: "Let him go." God had used me as much as he wanted and my job was done; he would take it from there. I walked back to work.
Now, hours later, I can’t stop thinking about Danny and all that I saw in his eyes, and all that I didn’t see in them. I can’t get the image of the injured man lying on the pavement out of my head. I can see every crease in his face, the color of his eyes, the bright red coming out of his mouth. I probably will never know how these two lives have been changed by the instant they collided. But I cannot heal the man who was hit. I cannot take away Danny’s guilt or fear. There is nothing left but to let go. They are both in God’s loving, gracious, merciful hands. And how I realize anew today that I am too. “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” (Psalm 31:14-15)