THE MIDNIGHT CALL
The ringing telephone shattered the quietness of the night. Fear wrapped around me as I listened, for who would call in the middle of the night?
"Yes," Dorothy, my wife said, "May I help you?” After what seemed a long pause, Dorothy asked, "Who did you say you wanted? Yes, he’s here, just a moment."
I looked at my watch as I walked across the cold floor to reach the telephone. It was 12:30 - who in the world would call me at this time of the night? "Hello. Oh, yes I remember him - what’s wrong?”
Suddenly I was wide awake as I listened to the woman on the other end of the line. She was crying and at times her words were hardly more than a whisper.
Finally, after a short pause the caller said, "We need you NOW -- please come."
"Okay, I’ll be right in," I said.
"Who was that?" Dorothy asked.
"That was Sue, Barry’s wife - he was one of my patients whom I took care of at work a few days ago. I‘m still not sure what his problem was -- he was very quiet with several vague complaints of pain. He appeared to be depressed but I could find nothing in his chart to alarm me. Anyway, Sue just told me that he wants me to come right in, said he was going to shoot himself. Sue thought of me as I had often talked to them and they trust me. I would stop by his room several times a shift to chat with him while I checked his IV or just to check in on him. He said he would not do anything before I got there -- I am the only one he will talk to, the only one he trusts."
"Honey, is it safe? Should you go? What about calling for help?"
"I’ll be safe. It shouldn't take me long, but I have to hurry.” I started pulling on my clothes when Dorothy jumped back out of bed and started to dress.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I’m going with you."
I could see it would do no good to try to talk her out of it, so I only said, "Well, we have to hurry."
The streets in our small town were deserted as we stopped the car in front of a dismal hotel.
Before getting out of the car we prayed, "LORD, you know what we should do -- please help us say the right words. May we be a help to Barry and Sue. Please protect us."
The floor creaked as we entered the hotel’s empty lobby. There were no elevators except a service elevator in the back, so we had to climb up creaky stairs to the third floor. The hotel was dark with only a high, weak light bulb way up above each landing.
Their door opened immediately to my soft knock. Sue had been listening and heard our steps; she only waited to be sure it was us and not someone else.
Entering the dimly lit room I saw Barry lying on the bed. Right beside him lay a handgun, its cold, black barrel pointing towards the doorway. "Barry, will you please put that gun away,” I said, with more authority than I felt.
Barry's eyes looked vacant, and he just stared at us.
Fear tore through me as the seconds ticked by. How foolish I had been! What had I got Dorothy and me into? Why hadn’t I called the police instead of foolishly going in alone? Again, I said, "Barry, put that gun away. I can't talk to you with that gun pointing towards us."
Finally, Barry picked up the gun and held it in his hands. Dorothy and I were both praying silently as he played with the gun, turning it around and over as if examining it for the first time. At last, he placed it under his pillow. His eyes had lost some of their glazed look as he turned his head to face us.
"Don't worry," Barry whispered, "I won't hurt either of you. This gun is just for me."
Dorothy crossed the floor to sit on a chair, over in the corner of the room with Sue, while I sat on the edge of Barry's bed. "Okay, tell me what is wrong. Why this deep depression?"
"It’s no use. I’m hopeless. I just want to die."
"My life is in shambles/ I am going nowhere."
"Okay, let’s say that you blow your head off. What good will that do? What about Sue here, do you just want to hurt her?"
"Sue will be better off without me. She’s young and pretty; someone else will be better to her."
"Barry, I love you, don’t you see that?” Sue was near tears again as she looked at him, her eyes red and puffy from crying.
"Yes, Sue has been a true friend to me. She is the only friend I have, but what good am I to her?"
"Have you thought of God?"
"God,” he spat out. “Who is God? I don't know God -- all I hear about Him is how cruel He is. He would have no time for the likes of me."
I was sitting on the bed right next to Barry, my right hand on Barry's right hand. I could feel the tension in his hand, taut, the palm lying flat on the sheet. "Barry, the God I serve is not like that. The God I serve is a loving God who suffers along with us when we hurt. He will not turn away from anyone who wants His help. I don't serve Him out of fear; I love Him."
"That’s easy for you to say. Look at you, you and Dorothy are happy.You haven’t done all the wrong I have done."
"Barry, it doesn’t matter how bad you have been; God still loves you and will help you -- you need only to ask and accept his grace. We are told in one place, 'Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.' How about letting God help? He is your only answer."
I continued to talk to Barry far into the early morning hours and, slowly, he began to relax. His face lost some of the strain; hope began to show through. I noticed a glistening in Barry's eyes as he roughly rubbed his left hand across his face.
His breathing grew more regular and his tight muscles began to ease. Slowly he turned his right hand to clasp mine in a strong grip. For a few moments we just held this firm handgrip and looked at each other.
It was past 3am when Barry suddenly said, “You have given me much to think about; I feel better. You need to go, as you need some more rest. Do you have to work today?"
"Yes, I have to work, but I’ll be fine. I have time for an hour of sleep before getting up for chores. Still, Barry, I am glad I came.-- I’ve been wondering about you."
"You’ve been thinking about me? Why?"
"Oh, I just have. Not really sure why, but yesterday I thought about you and for some reason was worried."
Barry was silent for a long moment. "I am thankful you came; I was really messed up, I guess. But here I am stopping you again and you need to go. I will be all right now. Then, handing me the gun, he said, "Put it over there in that old dresser, bottom drawer."
"May I take the bullets out of it?”
"Yes, put them in that little drawer in the desk, over in that corner," he answered, as he pointed to the desk across the room.
I shuddered as I carefully emptied the gun, for it had been loaded. Pausing a moment, I said, “The gun is put away. Are you still okay?” Looking at Barry, I saw that he was looking tenderly at Sue, his eyes pleading the words he could not yet utter.
"Yes, we are both okay now; you may go. Goodbye, and thanks for your help. I think you could be a friend if I stay here."
Dorothy and I had just reached the door when Barry spoke again. "Thank you again for coming. I am sorry for disturbing your night and causing you this scare, but I needed someone and you were the only one I knew I could trust. Maybe later I will call and ask more about this loving God you speak of.”
Later that day at work, another nurse said to me, "You sure do look tired. Did you have a rough night?"
"No, only a short night.” I went on with my shift, knowing that the other nurse would not understand if I told her. Still, there was peace in my heart as I worked; surely God had called me last night. I was finding out that nursing was not dull. It is sometimes too exciting.
I saw Barry only one more time, and then just for a few minutes. I had stopped downtown after a day’s work when I saw him walking up the sidewalk across the street. "Barry" I called.
Instantly, a broad smile spread across his face as he hurried across to meet me. "Ernie, it is so good to see you. I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see you, as I have a job in Spokane. I just got the call this morning and I have to be there by the day after tomorrow. This job is what I have wanted for a long time and it just fell into my lap, so to speak. There is also a small, but nice, 2 bedroom apartment for us."
"You sure look good, nothing like the old Barry I saw that night. You look 20 years younger."
“I am fine, really fine -- life is good now."
"What about Sue?"
"Sue is fine. Right now she is in our dingy room packing. We hope to be out of that room before night. Then he added, "Thank you, for you helped me get a new start. You inspired hope when I had about lost all hope. We plan to take your advice once we get settled and look up that God you spoke of. Who knows but maybe He is looking out for me? After all, could it have been Him who got me this job. Thanks again,” Barry said, as he gave me a firm handshake.
Then, turning, he walked away, his back straight, a man with pride and determination radiating from him. I had seen hope in his eyes. Maybe. On that dark night, I had not been so foolish after all.
First published in Adventist Review Magazine
Author of Onesimus the Run /away Slave
Right out of high school, Ernie got a job working as an orderly in Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, WA. After working there 7 months, he moved back to Olympia, WA, where he worked at St. Peter’s Hospital as an orderly for 3 years before taking a job working for Washington State. After working 13 years for Washington State, the last 5 years in the early computer field, Ernie returned to college earning his Registered Nursing degree. Unfortunately this career was cut short by fading eyesight. For the past 13 years he has had a monthly newspaper column in which he encourages those losing their eyesight to not give up, while teaching the sighted that blindness is not the end to a good life. He has been a contributing author for Christian Record Services, the Dialogue magazine, Consumer plus several others. He has authored one book, “Onesimus the Run Away Slave,” available through Authorhouse publishers and as an E book through Amazon.