I was at a place that served good burgers and cold beer. There was a Labrador running around, begging from customers. Dolly Parton’s voice was overhead.

The old man beside me was eating a burger.

“You aren’t from around here,” he said.

“No sir,” I said. “Just stopped for supper.”

“Well, you picked a good place, they got decent food.”

Things went silent. The gentle quietness that passes between two patrons at a bar is sacred. You don’t interrupt a man and his ground beef. It’s irreverent.

The Labrador showed up at our feet. The old animal sat right on his haunches. He wagged his tail when the old man made eye-contact.

“Dadgum dog,” he said. “What’s a dog doing in here anyway?”

The old man removed a piece of bacon from his hamburger and tossed it to the dog. The dog ate it in one bite. Fido indicated he was willing to go for two.

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats a dog. And you can tell even more by the way the dog treats him back.

My grandfather used to attract local dogs and small children. They followed him wherever he went.

So he’s originally from Chattanooga—the old man, not the dog. I don’t know where the dog is from. We pump hands and introduce ourselves.

A long time ago, he was an EMT. He spent the better half of his life saving people in the backs of ambulances.

“Started in EMS back in the early days,” he said. “Back when we had low headroom vehicles that looked like white hearses.”

The dog is still staring at him.

The old man tosses the stray a few French fries.

“Yeah,” he went on, “I’ve seen a lot in my time.”

When he was a young man, he was a student of atheism, he told me. Back then, he believed mankind was alone on this big rotating rock. He didn’t believe in anything but death at taxes.

But his occupation changed his mind.

He said, “You can’t hold a critical two-year-old in your arms and not believe something big is up there.”

I ask a few more questions, and I get a few more stories.

“I remember this wreck,” he said. “A Camaro got T-boned, a mother and three kids were in it. Everyone died except the oldest daughter.”

The task of consoling the surviving girl was left to him. It shook him up. Ever since that night, he’s kept in touch with that child from afar, just to make sure she’s getting along okay. He prays for her every night, even still.

He tells another story. It happened when he was in his late forties.

There was an old woman in the back of his ambulance who had suffered a massive stroke. She was not doing well. The woman was slurring her words, shouting, “Elaine! Elaine! I can see Elaine!”

“And she was pointing right at me,” the old man said. “I almost lost it ‘cause, you see, Elaine was my mother’s name, and she’d been gone for years.”

The man asked the woman who she was calling for. She looked him in the eye and said, “You already know Elaine!”

The woman died in the ambulance, but that memory didn’t.

He told the family of the deceased all about it. The family of the woman said they did not know anyone named Elaine.

“It was the kind of thing that changes you,” he said. “She coulda said any name, right? But she said my mother’s name.”

He’s been out of the EMS lifestyle for a long time. Not by choice. The work finally became too much for his lower back.

“If I were your age,” he said. “I’d still be out there doing it, nothing I love more than being on the move.”

When I finished my burger and beer, I shook his hand. His grip was firm. And it occurred to me that I was not shaking a normal hand.

The wrinkled mitt I was holding was a hand that had prevented hundreds, maybe thousands of deaths. The hand of a healer. A helper. A man who held the dying. A hero. The realest kind there is.

He bid me goodbye, I wished him well.

I stood at the cash register to pay my tab. The bartender approached the register and said, “You don’t owe anything, Mister Chuck already paid for your burger and beer.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Isn’t he a great guy? I don’t know him that well, but I figure he must be alright because that old dog follows him wherever he goes.”

23 comments

  1. Jack Darnell - January 12, 2019 6:38 am

    i have met heroes. I love it. They are special people and many don’t even know it. You are pretty close your own self, But trim the beard first! Just sayin’. hahaha Love you dude
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  2. Camille - January 12, 2019 12:01 pm

    Another masterpiece! I feel almost guilty about getting all of this pleasure everyday, delivered right to my door…for free!

    Reply
  3. Jill - January 12, 2019 12:11 pm

    You have a way, Sean of pulling at the heartstrings bringing me a tear. Hell, a flood of them.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Edens - January 12, 2019 12:55 pm

      Glad I’m not the only crying in her coffee!

      Reply
  4. Susan Self - January 12, 2019 1:08 pm

    Warriors and angels among us. Dogs know. But I think most animals do.

    Reply
  5. Connie Havard Ryland - January 12, 2019 1:41 pm

    Great read. I am lucky enough to know several first responders (EMT and fire department). They are amazingly compassionate people who see things most of us will never have to.

    Reply
  6. Amelia Chatham - January 12, 2019 1:55 pm

    A hero we did not know about and you brought him into our lives. Awesome man!

    Reply
  7. Sherry - January 12, 2019 2:17 pm

    Thank you! If we just decide to open ourselves up , we can find heroes everywhere….There were lots of them in my family…my dad, my brother, and lots of uncles…all soldiers, emts, and police officers! They saw more in a regular day than I ever have…God bless all of our TRUE public servants!

    Reply
  8. Jan - January 12, 2019 2:22 pm

    Great story about a great man!

    Reply
  9. Edna B. - January 12, 2019 2:47 pm

    You can always trust an animal’s judgement about a human being. Wonderful story. I’m so glad to be able to tag along with you on your journeys. You meet the nicest folks. You have a wonderful day Sean, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  10. Liz Watkins - January 12, 2019 2:48 pm

    WOW didn’t see that ending coming!! Great story! Have a greT Saturday, Sean😍🥰😍🥰

    Reply
  11. Debbie Britt - January 12, 2019 2:51 pm

    I love old people! You can learn a lot if you just take the time to listen !

    Reply
  12. Lisa - January 12, 2019 2:59 pm

    This is my favorite of all your stories so far. Thanks for sharing this hero story with us.

    Reply
  13. Barbara Bray - January 12, 2019 3:26 pm

    ….another strong stitch in this quilt we call America . Great story , Sean. Thank you for sharing this hero with us.

    Reply
  14. Kathy Wolfe - January 12, 2019 3:31 pm

    Every time I say I’m not going to tear up but your stories touch my heart. Thank you!!

    Reply
  15. Nancy Rogers - January 12, 2019 3:56 pm

    Dogs can also sense who is “real” and genuine. They know. You can’t fool a dog.

    Reply
  16. Randy and Valerie Dunlop - January 12, 2019 4:01 pm

    Just…thanks. I’ve been receiving your daily prose for just a few days now, (thanks to a fb friend in Tennessee), and I reserve the reading of your work until I’m emotionally ‘centered’. It has become the dessert to my morning’s breakfast.

    Reply
  17. Pat - January 12, 2019 4:17 pm

    I love this kind of story…..a story where you get a quick, very quick, glimpse of the other side!

    Reply
  18. Kristine Wehrheim - January 12, 2019 4:31 pm

    He has seen a lot- so have you. He sensed it. Smart man.

    Reply
  19. Janet Mary Lee - January 12, 2019 4:53 pm

    Another best!! We all need a reminder off what is real. Dogs know this.

    Reply
  20. Jack Quanstrum - January 12, 2019 5:16 pm

    Love that story!

    Reply
  21. Pamela McEachern - January 12, 2019 6:19 pm

    Wonderful story, I love getting to know people through your eyes. I think there is something to the fact that dog spelled backwards is God.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham 🐕

    Reply
  22. Mary Ellen Hall - January 13, 2019 7:34 am

    BEAUTIFUL STORY Sean!!! I DO BELIEVE what u said about dogs following people around, that they trust.
    LOVED hearing about “The Healer” u met-such a BLESSING!
    THANKS FOR continuing to share your life, Sean!!

    Reply

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