The Salvage Man and The Sneaker
Its canvas faded and the strings strewn limply down onto the ground, the old black high-top sneaker caught my attention. I was part of a writing group. Our assignment: visit a salvage yard and write about it.
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 King Kong. Grills folded in like flimsy pop cans crumpled by a heavyweight’s thick fist.
Then, I saw it — the sneaker.
I guessed it had been worn by a teen-age boy. The old shoe lay, not on the ground, but hanging precariously out of the front floor board on the driver’s side of a mangled Corvette.
My imagination snapped a photo of a tall, lanky guy with dark brown hair and a mild case of acne. His red and blue plaid short-sleeved shirt opened over a white T-shirt, and his baggy jeans nearly covered the black shoes with their white rubber soles.
I would write about a carefree high school boy with a shy, guarded grin. I would make up a tale about how he got the fast car and how he reacted when he first saw it.
Thoughts and ideas bounced in my head like popcorn in one of those glass cases at a movie theater, so I dug vigorously in my purse for a notepad and pen.
“Any of ’em yours?” a man’s voice asked. “No, at least I don’t think so,” I said, still fumbling. “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 them.
“Sometimes I do,” he said.
I pointed to the Corvette and the sneaker. Before I could frame a question, the salvage man’s jaw tightened as he spoke. “Yeah, that one was real bad. Young boy on his way home from basketball practice. Thought he could outrun a train. Didn’t work.” He turned suddenly and began slowly walking away. Over his slumped shoulders the salvage man choked 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.
Slumping forward on the guardrail, he painfully poured out a story of the day he started home from work and heard sirens — a big deal in a small town. Suddenly, he was snarled in stalled traffic. Someone told him a car had been hit on the train tracks up ahead. A deputy recognized the pastor of a local church and took on the grueling task of telling him the victim was the minister’s only son.
Now, unashamed, the self-exiled preacher allowed the woeful sobs to shake his large frame as he lamented a litany of “what-ifs.”
I began to pray, asking my heavenly Father who knew so well the anguish of losing a Son to reach down and touch a human dad whose sorrow had now swelled into uncontrollable weeping. I didn’t realize I was praying aloud until I felt the tension in his back relax a little under my hand. I asked the Lord to enfold my new friend in comfort and to grant him that “peace that passes all understanding.”
My own tears were flowing freely, but my heart soared when I heard the father of a child now speaking as a child to his Father. “Oh, God. Thank You for letting me finally talk about this. I’ve held in so much, and I’ve become so bitter. Please forgive me. I want to be healed of this awful hurt. Please help me. Can you find the grace to let me preach again? I’m so sorry I couldn’t forgive You for letting this happen.”
Moments later, released from his bondage of grief, the salvage man vigorously shook my hand, thanked me and seemed in a hurry to leave.
“Where are you going?” I asked, as if it were any of my business.
“Back to church.”
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