I remember an event from childhood as if it took place yesterday. I was only about eight or nine years old at the time. I was still very innocent and extremely naïve about life. In my day, most eight year olds were.
One Wednesday night, while at church, us boys headed outside to play. That’s what boys did best and that’s what kept us occupied until our parents finished up in prayer meeting. The church my family attended was rural country church. It looked just like you think it did, red brick all around, a white steeple on top, and green Astroturf grass on the front porch—so no one would fall down the steep steps.
On this particular night, it was already dark by the time we made it outside. It was a perfect night to play hide-and-go-seek. And we had the perfect place to play—the cemetery, or as we called it, the graveyard. Someone was chosen to be “it.” He began counting and the rest of us scampered off to hide.
Let me tell you a little about this cemetery. To begin with, it was very old. There were graves dating back to the early 1800s in it. Some of the markers were nothing more than wooden crosses that had rotten over the years.
Each person had hidden and the person we had chosen to be it had just started looking for us when something unexpected happened. From across the dark cemetery, in the really old section, we began to hear a very faint cry—“Help! Somebody help me!” Now, instantly, I knew what had happened. Someone or better yet something had come out of one of those graves and was dragging a friend of mine back into the grave! I knew it! That had to be it! How else could an eight year old explain what was happening?
Again, I heard, “Help! Somebody help me!” Well, I was no hero. Even at that age I had heard the old saying, “It’s better to be a live coward than a dead hero!” I didn’t move. I stayed in my place knowing that if he were being dragged into the grave, it was only a matter of time before whatever grabbed him would be coming after the rest of us. So, I stayed crouched in my position behind a tombstone. The pleas for help kept getting louder and louder and finally I could see some movement toward the area where the sound was coming from. So, I figured there was safety in number and if something was going to try grabbing the rest of us, all I really needed to do was to be the fastest one there and outrun the rest of them!
I made my way to the old section of the cemetery, following the cries for help. I finally found my friend. My worse fears of him being dragged into the grave by some unearthly creature were simply unfounded. It seems that for several days that week it had rained. Not just a few sprinkles here or there, but a real gulley washer. Because of the heavy rains, one of the older graves had collapsed. This was one of those graves marked only by a rotten cross. My friend had lain down beside what he thought was a grave and when he heard a noise near him, rolled over to hide even more. As he rolled over, little did he know there was a 6 foot deep hole beside him and he instantly rolled into the collapsed grave. The grave was just deep enough that he couldn’t climb out, but it was shallow enough that it didn’t hurt him. So, all he could do was scream for help! And hope some of us would be brave enough to come find him.
How do you handle screams for help? Do you run and hide? Or, do you run and help? I hope, now that I'm a little older than 8, that the next time someone screams for help near me, I'll be a lot braver!