Jan. 16, 2021



This tragedy happened decades ago and I suspect that many—except for the immediate family---have forgotten about that deadly day.  People who are not directly involved with a tragedy…..usually pay their respects, lock the incident in the past, and move forward. But those who personally-suffered the devastating loss, particularly the loss of one so young, have no choice but grieve--a lifetime.

Because I didn’t witness the incident or talk to railroad officials, details from so long ago are hazy, but one fact remains clear:  On one ordinary day---a young man named Raymond-- in his twenties, married and with a new baby--- was accidentally “coupled” between two railroad cars.  

I wasn’t living in my hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, when the  accident happened that particular evening….in the train yards of the Cotton Belt Railroad.  The level of my father’s voice was unusually low when he called to tell me about the accident.   I sensed that my father, an experienced railroad engineer, was painfully-shocked by what had occurred in the place he called his “other” home.

 I didn’t know the young man personally, but I’d seen him from a distance.  Our small neighborhood was friendly; we knew who lived in every house.  And I remember when Nancy—a tiny, young blonde who lived just one block from my parents---married Raymond.

My father related what little he knew, saying that after the impact, Raymond was conscious. He talked with people around him, asked for a cigarette, and began instructing people about what to tell his wife and family. He recognized the seriousness of his injuries; apparently he knew that his chances of survival were nearly zero.

No doubt doctors and emergency teams arrived within minutes. The young man was surrounded with attention from experts…..but the situation was grave.

 There was no question that the procedure for uncoupling the massive steel joints… now joined together through the young man’s midsection…was enough to kill him. And, medical personnel knew that, within seconds of the uncoupling, the victim would bleed to death.

Perhaps my father said it best: “Heroes are born from Tragedy. Raymond was “just a kid” yet he never-once thought about himself.  All he could talk about was his wife and their young child.  He kept expressing his concern for Nancy---kept worrying about how she’d make it without him.”

Yes, an ordinary-young man named Raymond died that ordinary evening in Pine Bluff, Arkansas when railroad officials had no choice but uncouple the railroad cars that were keeping him alive and “intact”. I’ve never forgotten Raymond’s death.   The way he died will haunt me, always.

Don’t accuse me of being morbid just because I think about, talk about death and dying. Death is an undeniable part of Life.  It comes to all of us and…..we won’t know the day, the hour, or the circumstances. For that reason, I keep practicing my “strength” training, hoping to stay strong, unselfish, and level-headed--- until the end.

Think about what you’ve read and ask yourself: “Who among us—when faced with life’s end---will think of others rather than ourselves? How many of us will remember to say “I Love You” to those nearby?”

Finally.... will any of us remember to whisper a simple“Thank You, God” for giving us the gift of life?