I don’t remember the exact date, but the events of that night I’ll not forget. After all, I was almost killed. This would have been back in college during finals week. I was cramming for an exam with six friends. We were sitting at the kitchen table at a friend’s apartment, hitting the books well past midnight. A welcomed evening breeze floated through the open windows, exchanging the lingering smell of pizza with much needed fresh spring air.
That’s when a series of pop-pop-pop sounds not far from the apartment pierced the night. For a hot second everyone stopped talking mid-sentence. The noise, followed by a yelp of sorts, was impossible to ignore. At first we didn’t know what caused the sound. Was it an old clunker backfiring in the parking lot? Some crazy coed playing with firecrackers? Maybe gunshots?
I could tell by scanning the faces around the table that none of us knew what was going on. The cry we’d heard was definitely human. Wanting to take a look from the second floor but, at the same time, afraid of becoming a target if guns were involved, we gravitated toward the window. From my viewpoint, a man was down on the ground clutching his chest. He must have been shot. I could see him try to stand, stagger several steps forward, then crumple to the ground.
I’m no hero. I wasn’t wearing a cape and yet, reacting on instinct rather than reason, I, and the others, flew down the stairs. Two of us raced across the quad, a small grassy field flanked by several apartment buildings, reaching the injured man in no time flat.
The wounds didn’t appear to be self-inflicted, which ruled out the thought that this might be a suicide attempt. Untrained in life and death matters like this, I did what made sense at the time. I dropped to the ground beside the stranger and helped prop-up his head. I didn’t want blood to drain back into his throat and further tax his labored breathing.
I grasped his hand in mine. He’d lost blood and was somewhat disoriented. Scanning his body it appeared he’d been shot four times. He rolled his head toward me and said, “Am I gonna be alright?”
I said, “Stay with me, friend . . . hang in there . . . you’re gonna make it.” He winced as pain shot through his body. “Come on, hold on. We’ll get you to a doctor.” My forearm became matted with blood from his wounds.
I was no doctor. I had no tools to patch this guy up until the professionals arrived. All I could do was pray for the ambulance to arrive while speaking words of comfort to the dying man. Several minutes passed when a most surreal scene unfolded before me. A dark, cinnamon brown truck, with the unmistakable S.W.A.T. emblem emblazoned on the side, sped into view. With a lurch, it skidded to a stop.
Just as you might imagine from watching the movies, a team of uniformly dressed, rifle-toting sharpshooters filed out of the door. They took up positions in a semi-circle formation maybe twenty feet from us. Seconds later, a police helicopter flew overhead. It’s brilliant spotlight swept through the darkness, searching the ground around us. I couldn’t help but wonder, Where’s the medic? This guy needs a doctor, not a S.W.A.T. team.
The next moment my heart dropped to my stomach: these guys raised their weapons. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about having thirty high-powered firearms trained in your general direction that is a bit unsettling. I’m thinking, I sure hope they know I’m not the bad guy.
Two officers approached us with caution. After some deliberation on their part, the command was given to zero in on the building directly off to our right side. The real shooter was holed up inside. A voice barked orders through a megaphone: “You are surrounded. Come out with your hands up. Keep your hands in the air where we can see them.” I rotated my head for a better view, shifting my gaze in snail-like movements. I didn’t want to give the lawmen a false reason to be alarmed.
That’s when my eyes met the vacant, angry stare of the shooter. He had stepped through the doorway – still gripping his handgun. A burst of feedback from the bullhorn erupted followed by a demand to drop the weapon. He hesitated, stuck in the land of indecision. Everything about his body language indicated he was ticked that the guy he’d shot hadn’t died.
The thought crossed my mind: This guy might just be crazy enough to pump a few more bullets into the victim – even if that provoked a round of shots from the S.W.A.T. team. If so, I’d be a dead man. In spite of the fact that two officers were adjacent to our position, I was pretty sure there was no way to hit the wounded man without hitting me, too.
For a moment, I thought the standoff might end without incident. That’s when the gunman, standing in the glare of the chopper’s beam, made a move prompting the S.W.A.T. team to cock their guns in unison. Was he really willing to go down in flames? The hostile standoff ended when the shooter dropped his gun on the ground. No further shots were fired. The gunman was restrained, arrested, and charged with attempted murder. I later learned that the confrontation was over a drug deal gone bad. Thankfully, the wounded man lived
Looking back, there’s a lesson in that scenario: Don’t jump to conclusions. Things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. At first pass, the S.W.A.T. team could have easily concluded that I was the guilty party. In that emotionally-charged moment, it is possible that I was a trigger-pull away from death; a classic case of the “Ready, FIRE, Aim”-syndrome.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s easy to jump the gun with my kids, my wife, or in a sticky situation at work. We see something that’s wrong, we make a snap assessment, and sometimes we fire off a barrage of judgment that does serious damage. As Proverbs 17:27 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”
Let’s take that a step further. When tempted to rush to judgment, it’s a wise person who remembers the perspective found in Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
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