It had been a good enough day. The best part was knowing I had the evening off – my first free night in weeks. I caught an early tram home by some miracle and found myself a precious five minutes ahead of schedule.
The glossy tram slid along the rails to the station where I normally switch off and take a bus, then, suddenly, it slowed to a stop on the bridge, lined up behind two other trams. The conductor spoke through the overhead in Czech and the doors opened with the suction sound that always makes me feel like I’m on the Death Star. Everyone got off. I followed.
Through the cold darkness that pierced like glass, we walked along the side of the tram tracks in single file till we reached the bus platform. We were pocketed into a free space, a circumference of emergency responders and siren-lit trucks circled us. On the other side of the circle was a small and growing crowd of bystanders. Firemen were working to lift the tram – I assumed it had gotten stuck.
Based on the number of trams in front of mine, I figure I was about eight to ten minutes behind the accident. Police pulled up followed by two larger trucks. A gurney was wheeled out and still the severity of the accident didn’t dawn on me. Was there a person under there?
The half dozen of us who had filed off the tram stood in shivers near the tracks. Even after we were backed away by the police man, we still had an open view of the scene. They pulled the person out so quickly, I didn’t even notice the victim lying on the platform. I was curious, concerned – but my attention was still half on the road where I was hoping my bus would come. I was tired, it was freezing cold and this had all been a little unsettling. I wanted to go home – how could I not?
The person was small, pathetic looking as they lay there crumpled. Several emergency responders held a blanket out on one side of the person to keep onlookers from the sidewalk from seeing, but our view from the bus platform was not hindered. The person had small feet. Based on their size and appearance (I couldn’t make out a face) I figured it was either a frail woman or perhaps a young boy who hadn’t quite grown into himself yet.
Normally, in the USA, it seems like victims are rushed to a hospital right away. As soon as medical attention is there, they are transported in a hurry to the nearest facility. Even if we don’t know the outcome, there is a relief when the victims are carried off to the reassuring sounds of sirens. At least from our perspective, there is still hope for them. I was surprised that they lingered so long checking vitals here.
Then emergency responders began drifting back to their vehicles. The gurney stood ready but forgotten.
A hazy, gray feeling began clouding my head.
No one was doing anything. Whoever that person was, he was just lying there. Just lying there on the platform, alone in a tangled heap. Finally, someone draped a white sheet over him, not taking care to cover his feet which still stuck out facing the platform.
I watched him. How could I not? I watched him lie there. I tried pulling my eyes away but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it.
Forever seared in my mind: the ominous red shadow of the tram and the unforgiving darkness of an early winter evening wrapping up the body of someone who died alone on the tracks. Someone who isn’t here anymore. Someone who had small feet.
From nowhere, I felt my heart heave and then sink. And I stood there on the platform, crying hot tears for a stranger. Because, how could I not?
I have never seen death like that before. Like an empty shell, recently vacated by its guest.
He was most likely alive when I left work that evening, possibly even when I got onto my tram. Someone said his death may have been a suicide. “It’s that time of year,” they said. He wouldn’t be the first I’ve heard of this month. Last week I heard of a twelve year old girl jumping off the back of a train, leaving only a short note on her facebook.
What in the world makes a twelve year old want to end their life?
I don’t write any of this to exploit the loss of this person or the tragedy his family is experiencing. I was really shaken by this and it has taken me a while to write my thoughts down. I’m writing them here because I have something to say about it.
We are all dead already.
We are one doctor’s prognosis, one red light, one wrong turn, one moment away from death. We are all near the tracks and the tram is on its way.
As a Christian, death has never scared me. It saddens me, yes. But not because I’m afraid of the afterlife for I have the promise of God. In fact, I am more saddened by the death of these strangers than I have been for anyone I have known. Because theirs is a hopeless death.
The empty shell on the bus platform has a far better fate than the soul who once occupied it – the soul that had to stand before an almighty judge, an eternal God, and face Him clothed in all the shame and wretchedness of sin. That soul who died in darkness will spend an eternity there where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Is this offensive?
It’s the truth. And I am not telling the honest truth of the Gospel if I sugarcoat the severity of the consequences that come from a life without God. They are real and they are eternal. And the modern church in America glosses over it, choosing only to focus on the feel-good aspect of a loving God who wants you to be happy. No one insists that there is right and wrong, that God has a standard that no human can meet without the intercession of Christ. No one tells people they’re going to hell.
But it’s the truth. And unless that truth is understood, how can anyone appreciate the truth of God’s grace and mercy? How can we relish how loving God is? He is loving in a way that we cannot even fully understand as finite humans – we can only feel the tender wisps of his promises as they are fulfilled in part on earth. Promises of hope and peace and life. God is so loving that He sent his son to die for sinners who choose not to love the God who made us. Christ went to the tracks so that we might exit the platform safely.
How is it that I hardly know how to witness to a non-believer? How can I have lived with the knowledge that many of the people I know – some of my best friends – are not saved and for twenty-two years I’ve not even asked them if they believe in life after death, or right and wrong, or God? Why is my generation of Christians so mute about our faith? Where is our boldness? Where is our mercy? Where is our love?
There should be an urgency in sharing the Gospel. The burden for lost souls should weigh upon us so heavily that it daily affects our decisions and our interactions. Even if it is just using every opportunity to show the love of Christ to those people we meet, we should be proclaiming the Word of God. If we have to pin the great commission to our bedroom doors, or bind scripture to our foreheads, to remind us that we have been called to be ambassadors, then let us.
Too many people die alone in the dark. Too many will lie beneath trams of their own, having never heard about the love of God and their need for a savior. We too, will one day be dead in the tracks. But as much as Scripture points us home, it also calls us to live the lives God has so graciously given us. We are called to be salt, to be light. And if our God has asked us to go to the very ends of the earth to bring home his children, how can we not?
This was great writing Mary! I am writing a theological paper for licensure making the case that laypeople – alongside ordained ministers – are called to share their faith. Thank you for your reflections.
Powerful truths here, Mary–and it’s not just your generation who lacks urgency. It’s mine, and the one before mine, and…so it goes back to Saint Paul’s exhortations….