As I finished the milking that Friday afternoon in October, I was glad it was done early, for now I would have time to do some other chores before supper and we'd be able to make the pet parade at the New Holland Fair.
I knew how the boys yearned to see that parade, especially our yougest, little Nelson, seven, who'd be home from school any minute. I poked my head out the barn door. No sign of Nelson yet, but I did see my wife Ruth coming out of the basement. She had been storing sweet potatoes for winter. Now she would be preparing an afternoon snack for Nelson, most likely that gingerbread he liked so much.
Putting away the milk pails, I thought how nice it was that as a farmer I could be at home during the day to enjoy my family. I loved it when Nelson bounded up to our farm lane from school. He'd come back to the barn to tell me what happened that day, his freckled face beaming. The he'd scurry over to the house to get a nibble from Ruth and dash back down the lane to wait for his older brother Johnny to come home from school. When Johnny appeared, Nelson never failed to say,"Ha-ha, I got home before you. What took you so long?" then the two of them would race back up to the house.
Just then I heard someone running up the lane. Expecting Nelson, I came out of the barn only to befaced with with his school-bus driver, Mike. "Nelson's been hit by a car! Mike yelled frantically."Call an ambulance!" My head sudenly felt light. Ruth yelled from the kitchen door that she would call one. I tore off wildly down the lane to the road. My heart was racing like a tractor in the wrong gear. My mind was in a tailspin. Please,Lord,not Nelson! I thought. Who could've done this? Who?
When I reached the road I pushed my way through the crowd already gathered near the school bus. There on the blacktop of Highway 340 lay my son. I bent down and touched him softly. He didn't move. As I brushed back a fold in his hair, tears stung my eyes.
Just down the highway a car was pulled over and I saw the licence plate--the orange and blue colors of New York. The area where we live--the Dutch country of southern Pennsylvania--attracts a goodly number of tourists and some of them don't have a very good reputation among us natives. I stood up over Nelson and in a choking voice asked,"Who hit him?"
There was a silence until finally a young dark-haired man and a woman who looked to be his wife stepped forward. They seemed frightened and dazed. "He just ran out in front of us." the woman said, clutching tightly to the man's arm.
I walked over to them. I am not a man of violence--in fact I've never so much as laid a finger on anyone. Yet my arms felt heavy and my hands tingled. I took a deep breath, unsure of what I should do. "Jay Meck's my name," I said finally. The man flinched, but shook hands with me. Just then the ambulance pulled up and it's driver urged Ruth and me to follow. As we drove away, I looked back to see the couple holding on to each other, staring after us.
On our way to Lancaster Hospital we passed an Amish family, preserved in tranquility in a horse and buggy. The New Yorkers, I thought, had intruded upon that kind of peacefulness. They had come here where they didn't belong.
At the emergency room, Dr.Snow, the man who delivered all our boys, met us immediately and said what I'd suspected all along."Nelson's gone."
The next hours, even days, became a blur. We were besieged with cards and letters. Scores of friends and neighbours dropped by to help with the milking. They brought pies and casseroles. But even surrounded by all the sympathy, Ruth and I found we just couldn't keep little Nelson from our thoughts. He meant too much to us.
Nelson had come into our lives late, almost as if he were a special gift from God. Being the youngest, I suppose we held him precious and delighted in him more. But oh, how much there was to delight in! The Sunday-School librarian called him "Sunshine" because he always had a cheerful disposition and a smile that never seemed to go away. What was more extraordinary about our son was his understanding of Christianity. He had an uncanny sense of caring for others.
In school, for instance, he was the little guy who made friends with all the unfortunates--the cripples, the shy children, the outcasts. In the evenings when I would go to his room to tuck him in, Nelson would be lying in bed with his hands folded. " Boy Pop," he'd say, " there's sure a lot of people I've got to pray for tonight."
Like other small children, Nelson would squirm in church, but then he would startle Ruth and me by marching out after services and announcing,"I have Jesus in my heart." Later, he'd showed me a sick bird he'd found and wanted to help or he'd bring a stranger to our home, some poor soul seeking farm work.
Though older, Bob 18, and Johnny 15, were extremely close to their brother. The following Tuesday, when the funeral was over and we were sitting in our kitchen, Johnny recalled Nelson's daily vigil at the lane after school. "I'll bet Nelson's up in Heaven right now and when I get there he'll say, "Ha-ha, Johnny, I got home before you. What took you so long?"
Johnny's words tore into my heart. Ruth's and my grief was compounded when we discovered how senseless our son's death really was. Nelson didn't die through a car's mechanical failure or by natural causes. Perhaps we could've accepted that. No, Nelson died because someone had not stopped his car for a school bus that was unloading children.
Much to our dismay, the man turned out to be a New York City policeman, a person we thought would know the law about stopping for buses with blinking lights. But he hadn't. Both he and his wife had been taken to the police station here where he had then been arrested. After posting bond, trial was set for January 17, three months away.
Why, Ruth and I agonised, hadn't this man been more careful? Why couldn't he have waited? the whole thing was so pointless. The more we thought about it the more it filled us with anguish. And our friends' and neighbours' feelings only seemed to add fuel to our torment.
" I sure hope that guy get's all that's coming to him," a man told me one day in the hardware store. "You're going to throw the book at him, aren't you?" another asked.
Even the school authorities, hoping to make a case out of stopping for school buses, urged us to press charges. Ruth and I were beside ourselves. As Christians, we had received the Lord's reassurance that Nelson was now in eternal life. But how, we cried out, were we to deal with the man whose negligence caused so much heartache ?
A few weeks after Nelson's funeral, an insurance adjustor called on us to clear up matters concerning the accident. He mentioned he had visited the New York couple shortly before. "They seemed broken up," he added.
They're broken up ? I thought. What about all the tears we've shed ? Yet a certain curiosity--perhaps a desire for an explanation-- led Ruth and me to ask if it would be possible for us to meet with them. The insurance man looked at us oddly. "You really want to see them?" "Yes," I said.
He agreed to act as intermediary, and to our surprise, the couple, whose names were Frank and Rose Ann, accepted our invitation to come for dinner the Monday before Thanksgiving. As the day drew closer, I became more dubious. Could I really face them again? Why were we putting ourselves up to this?
Ruth and I prayed long and hard about it. Night after night we asked the Lord to provide us with His strength and guidance when they arrived.
When the day came--just a month-and-a-half after our son's death--I looked out the kitchen window to see a car coming up our lane through a light rain. My hand trembled as I reached for the kitchen door to let them in.
We gathered in the living room and the conversation was forced. After comparing country life to city life, everything we talked about seemed to be an outgrowth of the tragedy. But in talking with them, I began to notice something strange. A feeling of compassion came over me.
Frank was a policeman who'd been on the force eight years. He had a spotless record, but the accident, he said, might cost him his job. As a member of the tactical force in a high crime area of Brooklyn, Frank put his life on the line for others every day. He worked hard at his job, certainly as hard as I did on the farm.
And Rose Ann, like Ruth, had three children at home. She had looked forward to their vacation last October--their first trip away from the city since their marriage. But now she was worried. The New York papers had printed an account of the accident and because of it, they were staying with Rose Ann's parents, fearful of facing their neighbours.
"I just don't know what's going to happen," Frank said. His eyes, like his wife's, seemed vacant. Both had lost a great deal of weight.
At dinner , we ate quietly. It was while we were having coffee that they noticed a picture that hung on the kitchen wall, a chalk drawing of Jesus and the lost sheep.
"Nelson loved to look at that," Ruth said. "His faith, like ours, was important, She went on to explain how she and I had grown up in a local church and how we both were long-time Sunday School teachers at our Mennonite church. "But it's more than a church," Ruth said. "You've really got to live out your beliefs every day."
Frank and Rose Ann nodded. After dinner we drove them around for awhile, showing them a wax museum and a schoolhouse, sights they'd meant to see on their first trip here.
After they left, Ruth and I faced each other at the kitchen table. We had suffered, we knew, but surely not as much as that couple was suffering. And the strange thing was, I could now understand their suffering. Frank, like me, was human. Though he came from a different background--a big city that I didn't understand--he was a human being, with all the faults and frailties I had. He had made a mistake that anyone could've made. Jesus Christ was a man too--the perfect man-- and through Him I could see that hatred or vengeance was not the way to handle that mistake--certainly not if Ruth and I professed to live out our faith every day.
Frank and Rose Ann, I could see now, were those lost sheep in the picture, and that's why they were brought back to our house. Only through Ruth's and my compassion--only through our employing the kind of love Jesus stood for--could we find peace and they find their way home. Realising that, on January 17, at the trial, I did not press charges. Except for a traffic fine, Frank was free.
Ruth and I still correspond with the couple. We hope to visit them in New York City someday soon, for we want to see the city, see them again and meet their three children.
Though Nelson is gone, even in death he continues to teach us something about life. Not long ago I found a little pencil box of his. As I emptied it, a scrap of paper fell out. On it was "Jeremiah 33:3," a verse Nelson was to memorize for a skit. "Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not>"
I have to believe that Nelson, in his brief life, discovered some of those mighty things, especially the greatness of God's love and how we must spread it around to others. When Ruth and I called out to God, His message was just as powerful. No matter how deep the wound of sorrow is, forgiveness and faith in God will provide the strength to "occupy till Christ returns,"(Lk 19:13) and the broken pieces of our lives will be made whole in Him.