Tribute to Michael Whitaker
I want to share with you what happened February 11, 2003...
I loaded up my 3 kids and made a run to Wal-mart to pick up a few things…coloring books, bird seed, peanut butter. My kids had been very well behaved during this trip and I rewarded my girls (Jeffrey, being 10 months old, didn’t know the difference) with cups of Nutter Butter Bites cookies and told them they could have them when we got home.
As we were leaving the parking lot, I thought it would be nice to take a drive through the country before we went home and so we headed out to unknown roads and enjoyed the sights. We drove by pastures of cows, goats and horses and I marveled at the beauty of creation and longed to live there in the country some day.
As I drove down yet another unfamiliar road, certain that I would eventually come to some place I knew, there appeared a man walking along the road. As I passed him, I noticed that he was carrying what appeared to be the wooden handle from a shovel in his hand and he looked quite menacing. I thought to myself that I hoped he wasn’t going to swing that thing at me as I drove by, he had such a determined look on his face. I continued to watch him in my rear view mirror after we had passed since there was something about him that worried me. I watched as he began to cross the road and as another car began to wind its way down the road. The man crossing the road did not give way as the car came near and seemed to almost be playing “chicken” with the car. He did not seem to have any intention to stop crossing the street. At the last moment the man leapt back away from the car at the same time the car tried to swerve to miss him and they collided with such force that he had the appearance of nothing more than a mannequin.
The impact of the collision sent the man twisting through the air and he came to a stop on the double yellow lines in the middle of the road. Waves of horror coursed through my body as I cried out, “Oh, God! Oh, God! What do I do? What do I do?” I knew I had to go help this man but I knew his chances of survival were slim and I was terribly afraid of what I might see. I forced myself to turn the van around and since I did not have my cell phone on me, I stopped at a house near the scene, knowing that time was of the essence if this man was to survive. I knocked on the door of a house, but no one was there. The car that hit the man, which I recalled being green, but was unsure of much else, was nowhere to been seen. I just knew that I had been witness to a hit and run.
I saw a little country store a few hundred yards up the road and thought I would go there and call 911. I was still reeling with panic and unsure of what to do. I wanted to help this man but was frozen with fear and did not want to go near or touch him, though I so wanted to help him at the same time. I knew that images are a powerful thing and I did not want the gruesomeness of what lay before me to be emblazoned in my mind forever. I felt like such a coward.
Just then other cars began to come along and I went to the middle of the road and flagged them down so they would not run over him. I began to fear that someone might think that I was the one that hit him. The people began to pull over their cars one at a time and I told them that he had been hit and was ready to quickly tell them that I didn’t do it, though no one asked. I told one man who had pulled up in a green car that the man had been hit and he began to say, “I didn’t mean to do it, I tried to miss him! I went to the store and called 911!” Then he went to the man on the ground and began to shake him and say, “Wake up, man! Please wake up! Wake up!” The man in the road made no movement whatsoever and I feared the worst.
A woman at the scene had a cell phone and was trying to give the rescuers directions to the accident. With the others there who were willing to look upon this man, I was emboldened to go closer. His jacket veiled his face but I could see that blood was beginning to stream from his head and congeal on the pavement. His limbs were limp and twisted and to my surprise he was still breathing, though it was labored. I began to pray for his soul since I have no doubt that the Lord in His mercy gives one last chance to those who are dying to come to Him before they pass over, since He does not will that any should perish. I also prayed for the man who had hit him and his girlfriend who had since showed up. The driver was pacing frantically with his head in his hands and his girlfriend was trying to comfort him.
I walked over to the driver and told him I had seen the accident and that it was not his fault and that he had come back to the scene of the accident, which was more than a lot of people would have done. I said that I would stay and give my account to the officers when they arrived. He and his girlfriend were grateful for that, but he was not to be comforted. More and more people began to pull over and ask questions and a couple of women were walking down from the country store. The driver’s girlfriend looked at one of them and said, “Oh, no…here’s that woman from the store. I ain’t putting up with none of her @#$%. If she says anything to me, when the police get here, they’re gonna get me for kicking her &*%. *#*%$&%& ghetto people!” It turned out that the woman knew the injured man and was coming to give the police information about his family and had no intention of harassing the driver’s girlfriend. I felt compassion for the girlfriend and her desire to protect him and I understood her lashing out in an effort to deal with her pain. It was much easier to be angry at others than to deal with the reality of the situation. I simply listened and let her vent her frustration.
The driver remained silent and we waited for what seemed like an eternity before we heard the first sirens. The rescue squad piled out of their vehicles and began working on the injured man, cutting his clothes off of him. The woman who had used her cell phone to give the rescuers directions decided to go and ask them if she could get the man’s wallet and see if she could find out his name and call his parents and let them know what had happened. As she approached, the rescuers were putting the injured man on a gurney and she got to see his face for the first time. “Michael Whitaker!” she cried. “Michael Whitaker…I didn’t know it was him! I know his parents, he graduated with my baby brother…” She said he was about forty years old. The rescuers finally loaded Michael up, closing the doors to the back of the ambulance. The fact that they took their time and seemed to be in no real rush indicated to me that they did not hold out much hope for him to survive, though I have been told since that rescuers try to stabilize their patients at the scene before heading to the hospital.
As we watched the ambulance pull away, the police brought out a container labeled “Bodily Fluids” and poured it over Michael’s blood to soak it up before they sprayed down the pavement. They brought black trash bags and collected all of his clothes and personal effects and carted them away. The woman who knew him decided she would head to his parents’ house and tell them of the morning’s events. I have great admiration for her in her willingness to face them and share in their anguish as she bore the news of their son’s fate.
I talked to the officer on the scene about giving a written account of what I had witnessed and I found out that a State Trooper had been called to come in and investigate and it was to him that I would need to give my testimony. My kids had been waiting in the van for long enough and I went back to check on them. As I walked toward the van, a sweet woman motioned to me and I went over to speak with her as she sat in her car. She was unintelligible for the most part, perhaps from a stroke, but she had kind eyes that were misty with tears. I nodded at her as if I understood and told her what I knew about what had happened. After a few minutes of conversation, I told her that I needed to go check on my kids and said goodbye. The children had been waiting on me very patiently and I gave them the cookies from our Wal-Mart trip to help make the wait bearable. After about half an hour, the State Trooper arrived, and I gave him my driver’s license, my signed testimony, and said goodbye to those who were still at the scene. As I slowly drove away, the driver’s girlfriend mouthed to me, “Thank you” and I waved solemnly as I drove by. Since I had been driving down roads I didn’t know and was kind of lost while driving earlier, the Trooper gave me directions on how to find my way back home and I headed in the direction he had given me.
As I began to make my way home, I asked the Lord, “Why did you want me to see this today?” I just could not understand the benefit of seeing this man injured so horribly. I thought of all the things that could have gone differently that morning that would have changed everything. The man in line at Wal-Mart whose credit card would not work, forcing me to find another line for checkout. I could have gone home and saved gas by not taking a drive through the country. I could have taken different roads. I could have just kept my eyes on the road instead of continuing to watch Michael in my rear view mirror. Just a few seconds’ difference in my morning would have caused me to be oblivious to the whole incident…I had no doubt that God had orchestrated my morning in such a way that I was to witness the demise of Michael Whitaker. But why?
Then God began to reveal to me some things about myself and some things about Him. It was easy to have compassion and love for Michael Whitaker as he lay bleeding in the middle of the road, helpless and alone. But where was my love for him earlier when he had seemed so menacing? Each person on earth is a precious creation of God, a divine piece of artwork, lovingly and meticulously created. I imagined God finishing his “painting”, stepping back from the easel to admire it, just to have someone trample it under their feet…much to His sorrow and dismay. This happens every day as men, women and babies are killed. I thought of the Middle East where Saddam Hussein has allegedly killed 1.5 million of his own people, of the Holocaust where countless Jews were slaughtered and how what I had seen that day was so small compared to what God has seen throughout the course of history. He has witnessed every rape, murder, incest, every violent act through the ages and as shaken as I was by what I had seen, the Lord has seen so much more and how much more does He grieve over his creation than I ever could. I was beginning to see the heart of God and His passion for those who He has made. Each one of us was created with His loving and tender touch and He adores and cherishes us, no matter the twists and turns our lives have taken and no matter far from Him we become. Each and every one of us! The mean, the nasty, the hateful, the ugly, the socially unacceptable, the prejudiced, the ambivalent, the heartless…all of us. I was learning how to love as Jesus loved us, just as we are.
I was also learning that life is fragile. Michael, moments before, had been a strong, healthy man and now his life lay in ruins. I had thought before that I was so strong and able to handle whatever came along in my life, but I was unable to minister to a critically injured man in the time of his greatest need because of my own selfishness and desire to avoid coming face to face with his injuries. This was a very humbling realization and I wondered if I would do the same thing if it happened again or if I would be stronger the next time.
I finally got home. Jeff was there and he fed the kids lunch and put them down for a nap while I began to get dinner started. I gave him a briefing on the day’s events and he held me tight and comforted me as I relayed the details to him. I realized as he was holding me that many times I don’t allow myself to let him really get near my heart and affect me. I try to be strong and manage my own emotions, take care of myself and hold him at bay when he has tried to meet my emotional needs. I decided at that moment to soften and let him hold me tight without that invisible barrier (that I was only then starting to realize was there) and I allowed myself to lean on him and need him.
Jeff went back to work and I laid on the couch for a long time while the children were napping, still thinking about Michael. Jeffrey woke up from his nap after a couple of hours and as I nursed him, I imagined him with dark skin and tight little curls on his sweet head. I imagined Michael’s mother holding him close and nursing him and how precious he must have been to her. After his feeding, Jeffrey began to crawl around and pull up on his exer-saucer. “He will be walking in no time”, I thought to myself and I imagined little Michael taking his first steps and what a wonder he must have been to his own parents. I thought of my own children and how often I take them for granted and let their little childish ways get to me. I get so aggravated with them sometimes. I found that for the rest of the day I was much more patient with them, spoke more kindly to them and exhorted them more to treat each other more lovingly. I looked at them and wanted to drink in every detail of their faces as if it might be the last time I would ever see them.
It would seem that God was answering my question, “Why?”
“I want to be a different person because of what I saw today”, I told Jeff as we talked about it later. “I want to honor Michael in this way so that his death would not be in vain.”And so I have written down all that I could remember from today as honestly as I can. I want to honor Michael Whitaker by sharing his story with you and hope that maybe his story would be of benefit to you too. I am sorry about some of the gory details. I felt they were necessary in order to bring us face to face with the realities of life and death. We are so fragile. Life can be lost in an instant. We think we’ve got the rest of our lives, but we can never have any idea about how long that will be. We may be but a few short breaths away from meeting our Maker. Are we ready? Do we know Him? Has He been trying to speak to us and we have tuned him out because we do not want to know what He has to say? Do we know Him and don’t want to change because it might hurt too much? Are we too prideful to reconcile something we know He wants us to deal with? Don’t wait! Do it now…have no regrets. Love till it hurts. Then love some more. And make sure you know where you will spend eternity. Jesus made the way for us. It may be closer than we know….
If you have any comments about Michael's story or if you need someone to talk to, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28