The ringing telephone shattered the quietness of the night. Fear’s icy fingers wrapped around me. Who would call in the middle of the night?
“Yes,” Dorothy, my wife, said, “may I help you?”
I looked at my watch as I reached for the telephone. It was 12:30. “Hello. 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 the caller said, “We need you now; please come.”
“OK, I’ll be right in,” I said.
“Who was that?” Dorothy asked.
“That was Barry’s wife; he’s one of the patients I took care of a few days ago. He appeared to be depressed, but I couldn’t find anything in his chart to alarm me. Anyway, Sue said he was threatening to shoot himself. He said he wouldn’t do anything before I got there.”
I started pulling on my clothes when Dorothy jumped out of bed and started to dress.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m going with you.”
It was no good trying to talk her out of it, so I only said, “We have to hurry.”
The streets in our small town were deserted as we parked the car in front of a small hotel. Before getting out of the car, we prayed, “Lord, You know what we should do; please help us say the right words. Protect us as we try to help Barry and Sue.”
The floor creaked as we entered the hotel’s empty lobby. There were no elevators, so we had to climb the creaky stairs to the third floor. The hotel was dark, with only a high weak lightbulb way up above each landing. Their door opened immediately to my soft knock.
Entering the dimly lit room, I saw Barry lying on the bed. Beside him lay a handgun, its cold, black barrel pointing toward the doorway. “Barry, please put that gun away,” I said with more authority than I felt.
Barry’s eyes looked vacant as he stared at us. Fear tore through me as the seconds ticked by. How foolish I had been; what had I gotten Dorothy into? Why had I not called the police instead of foolishly going in? Again I said, “Barry, put that gun away. I can’t talk to you with that gun pointing toward us.”
Barry picked up the gun and held it in his hands. Dorothy and I prayed silently as he handled 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 to face us. “Don’t worry,” Barry whispered, “I won’t hurt either of you. This gun is just for me.”
Dorothy sat on a chair in the corner of the room with Sue while I sat on the edge of Barry’s bed. “OK, now, tell me what’s wrong,” I said.
“It’s no use; I’m hopeless. I just want to die.”
“My life is in shambles; I’m going nowhere.”
“What about Sue?”
“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 as she looked at him. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying.
“Sue has been a true friend to me. She’s the only friend I have.”
“Have you thought about God?”
“All I hear about God is how cruel He is,” said Barry. “He wouldn’t have time for the likes of me.”
I was sitting on the bed with my right hand on Barry’s right hand. I could feel the tension, his palm lying flat on the bed sheet. “Barry, I serve a loving God who suffers with us. 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 have not done all the wrong that I’ve done.”
“Barry, it does not matter how bad you have been; God still loves you and will help you. You just have to ask and accept His grace.”
I continued to talk to Barry far into the early-morning hours. He slowly began to relax. His face lost some of its strain; hope began to show in his eyes. I noticed a glistening in Barry’s eyes as he rubbed his left hand across his face. His breathing grew more regular, and his muscles began to relax. Slowly he turned his right hand to clasp my hand in a strong grip. For a few moments we just held this grip and looked at each other.
After 4:00 a.m. Barry suddenly said, “You’ve given me much to think about; I feel better. You have to go. Do you have to work today?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I have time for an hour of sleep before getting up. I’m glad I came. I’ve been wondering about you.”
“You’ve been thinking about me? Why?”
“I’m not really sure. But yesterday I thought about you for some reason.”
Barry was silent for a long moment. “I’m thankful you came in. I was really messed up, I guess. I’ll 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?” I shuddered as I carefully emptied the gun. Pausing a moment, I said, “Are you still OK?” I saw him look tenderly at Sue.
“Yeah, we’re both OK. Goodbye, and thanks for your help.”
Dorothy and I had just reached the door when Barry spoke again. “I’m 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 we can talk more about this loving God of yours.”
Later at work a nurse said to me, “You sure look tired. Did you have a rough night?”
“No, only a short night.” There was peace in my heart as I worked, certain that God had called me.
I saw Barry one more time, and only for a few minutes. I saw him walking on the sidewalk across the street. “Barry,” I called.
A broad smile spread across his face as he hurried to meet me. “Ernie, it’s good to see you. I have a job in Spokane. I just got the call this morning, and I have to be there day after tomorrow. It’s just what I wanted, and it just fell into my lap. There’s also a small two-
bedroom apartment for us.”
“You look 20 years younger,” I told him.
“I’m fine, really fine; life is good now. Thank you for helping me get a new start. You inspired hope when I had lost all hope. We plan to take your advice once we get settled and look up that God you spoke about. Who knows? Maybe He’s looking out for me,” Barry said as he gave me a firm handshake. He walked away, his back straight, pride and determination emanating from him. Maybe I had not been so foolish that dark night after all.