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Run Over By a Train

As Olive Ann Burns' novel, Cold Sassy Tree, begins, we hear the voice of Will Tweedy, a boy from a Georgia town called Cold Sassy, as he recalls what happened to him on July 5, 1906.  He was 14 at the time, and he remembers it well, that being the day he got run over by a train.

He'd been fishing and not having any luck.  Then he remembered that on the other side of the creek was a deep hole and he knew if he was going to catch any fish that day it would be there.  He could've waded across the shallow creek without any problem, but for some reason, it just seemed like it would be more interesting to cross by way of the railroad trestle instead.

He climbed up and stepped out.  The rails were hot but not too hot, and soon he was two-thirds of the way across.  It was some view from up there, and Will sat down to enjoy it.

You know what happened next.  Will's old hound dog, T.R., started barking like crazy, like he knew the train was coming, which Will knew it wasn't.  It was way too early.  But just for fun he put his ear down on the rail and….it was.  He got up to run but his fishing pole got stuck and he had to get it unstuck so it wouldn't derail the train.  Finally he started to run just about the time he heard the scream of the train whistle.  He turned his head as he ran and saw the locomotive barrelling down behind him.  There was no place to go.  The creek was too shallow so he couldn't jump.  He wasn't going to make it to the other side.  But something told him to FALL and he did, flat down between the rails, his arms against his ears.  The train roared overtop him, throwing cinders everywhere and nearly making him go deaf with the sound.  He heard himself do some fancy praying: "God save me!  Please God save me!" and then it was "Thank you, Lord, thank you, God, thank you, sir…" And then a peaceful feeling came over him as if the Lord had said, "Well done, good and faithful servant,"
or something like that, and then he realized, with surprise, that he wasn't dead!

Up ahead, the train finally stopped and folks poured off.  They didn't waste any time picking Will up off those tracks and getting him home.  He was pretty shook up, as you might imagine.  Dr.  Slaughter came to see him and told his mama to keep him on liquids for a while.  But when Will Tweedy sat up and said he wanted some pie, his Grandpa Blakeslee got a piece for Will and a piece for himself and they sat down to eat.  As they ate, they talked.

"Grandpa," Will asked.  "You think I'm alive tonight cause it was God's will?"

"Naw, you livin' cause you had the good sense to fall down ‘twixt them tracks."

"Maybe God gave me the idea."

"You can believe thet, son, if'n you think it was God's idea for you to be up on thet there trestle in the first place.  What God give you was a brain.  Hit's His will for you to use it -- p'tickler when a train's comin'."

It had been a hard few months for Will Tweedy.  His granny had just died three weeks before.  And six months before, his best friend Blu had died after a firecracker blew up, burned him, and he got lockjaw.  Life was a confusing mess of bad things and good things -- tragedies and miracles -- and how was one to know what God had to do with any of it?

"You don't think God wills any of the things that happen to us?" Will asked.

"Maybe," Grandpa said, "maybe not.  Who knows?" His grandfather thought for a minute than said, "Life bullies us, son, but God don't.…..  If'n you give God the credit when somebody don't die, you go'n blame Him when they do die?  Call it his will?  Ever noticed we git well all the time and don't die but once't?  Thet has to mean God always wants us to live if'n we can.  Hit ain't never His will for us to die -- ‘cept in the big sense.  In the sense He was smart enough not to make life eternal on this here earth….Does all this make any sense, Will Tweedy?"

" Yessir, Grandpa," Will answered, then went on to ask more questions about God and Jesus and the Bible and prayer.
Finally, Grandpa Blakeslee had one last word: "They's a heap more to God's will than death, disappointment, and like thet," he said.  "Hit's God's will for us to be good and do good, love one another, be forgivin'….folks who think God's will jest has to do with sufferin' and dyin,' they done missed the whole point." (Olive Ann Burns, Cold Sassy Tree, 97-99)

So went Will Tweedy's first real lesson in the nature of life: that things happen to a person that make him ask questions, that there are more questions than answers, and that the world turned out to be a different place than he thought it was.

If we're paying attention, we all -- sooner or later -- notice this fact.  When we're young we think the world is good, that people are good, that God is good.  We believe that if you do the right thing, you'll have a good life.  We believe that a God of love could never wish anyone harm, much less let anything bad happen to people who love God back.  We believe that evil is only in fairy tales and that nothing can ever hurt us and that we could never hurt anyone else, either.

Then we realize, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, that even good people do lousy things; that God does seem to allow bad things to happen; that nature, for all its beauty, sometimes wreaks havoc on human life.  We find out that everyone feels pain, that most of us cause pain.  We learn that everyone dies.  We find out that the world is a different place than we thought it was.

- From a sermon by Kim Long