From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Forgive Me, Davey

It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own.

Jessamyn West

My curiosity grew to mammoth proportions as I stood at Dr. Rayburn Matthews’* doorstep and rang the bell.

I was a member of the volunteer team for the Public Health Awareness Campaign, to create general awareness among the townspeople. We had invited Dr. Matthews for a guest lecture on how people could work toward taking care of their personal well-being, despite being busy with their family, homes and careers. The doctor had accepted our request, and here I was, at his doorstep, waiting to give him a formal invitation.

The man was regarded as some sort of a local legend, since he moved into town fifteen years ago. He was in his sixties and had retired after a distinguished career as a general physician. In the early years, he had a busy practice with a huge patient list. Despite that, he donated several hours a week at the local hospital. Twice a week he also ran a clinic in the not-so-affluent part of town. All through the years, despite a hectic schedule, he managed to spend time with children at a local orphanage—a sort of unofficial counseling session. Not many people knew that he also had a degree in applied psychology.

Now that age had caught up with him, he didn’t practice medicine anymore, but he still spent a lot of time in other support activities. He now counseled in two orphanages, working with the welfare department to help children under state care. He also visited the local hospital and spent time with patients, especially the elderly ones who had no one to visit them. His wife had been active in her own way.

Even now, she spent three days a week at a maternity center volunteering to care for premature babies. The couple had donated a lot of money over the years, but it was their commitment in terms of time and tireless effort that stood as a shining example of community help.

I stepped into their home and enjoyed my meeting with Dr. and Mrs. Matthews. After my formal agenda was over, they graciously invited me to have tea. Our conversation led us through many areas of common interest.

Then I asked him something that I’d wanted to know for a long time.

“Doctor,” I said, “when did you get started in community support? I mean, what inspired or drove you?”

Everyone, no matter how good, has his or her spot of vanity, and I suspected that this would be his. I waited for a lofty statement about an inspiration to do a greater good beyond medicine or the driving need to help the less fortunate— but he said nothing of the sort.

Instead, before my eyes, the man seemed to shrivel within himself. His eyes turned misty and sorrowful with a faraway look in them.

I flushed, acutely aware of having intruded in something very personal. I tried to salvage the situation as best as I could. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t mean . . . it’s not necessary,” I concluded rather inadequately.

But he seemed not to have heard me. He turned toward his wife, and they shared a long look of understanding that only comes with a lifetime of togetherness. I don’t know what he asked, but Sheila Matthews gave him an imperceptible nod and a smile.

He turned toward me. “Over the years, I’ve been asked a lot of things,” he said after a brief silence, “but you’re the first one to ask me this.” He sat up straighter in his chair. “Let me tell you a story, young lady.”

“It happened seventeen years ago. There was this young man. That day he was . . .“

The story went . . .

He was driving home with his wife after a good game of golf. The weather was pleasant, a breezy evening with the possibility of rain later. The radio was playing John Denver hits, and he felt a pleasant sense of well-being.

He knew he was a good doctor—the practice was thriving. It had grown over the years, and he had a large number of patients. He had already paid off the mortgage of their beautiful house in a quiet neighborhood. He drove a late-model BMW, and they planned to buy a small boat later that year. Materially they were not wanting, and their bankbook was as healthy as ever.

He looked at his wife sitting next to him. She was a gentle, supportive woman who had always encouraged him over the years, and together they had Davey. The doctor’s heart warmed when he thought of Davey—how he loved the boy. Over the years, he had felt an occasional pang when they didn’t have any more children, but they’d been blessed with this one. He had been a sweet, loving child and had now grown into a young man whom any parent could be proud of.

Yes, life was good to him.

A fleeting imp of doubt nagged him that all his pursuits in life had been more material than humane, but he banished it. There were plenty of people for that. Surely, the world wouldn’t suffer if he didn’t do a good deed.

He turned onto Carter Street on the last leg home. Within a few minutes, he realized that something was wrong. The street was too crowded for a Saturday evening—the traffic wasn’t moving at all and there seemed to be some sort of a commotion up ahead. From years of experience, he guessed what the problem was, when an obliging pedestrian confirmed it for them.

“An accident. Happened a few minutes ago. Nasty crash.”

He cursed silently. The street would be blocked for a long time. As he prepared to get them out of the traffic mess, his wife looked at him in surprise. “Don’t you want to see what happened? Someone may be injured.”

“Forget it,” he muttered. “The police and the paramedics will be here soon. They will do what’s needed.”

“But . . . “

“If I get involved, it will take me ages to get away,” he told her decisively. “Too much of a hassle. Let’s just go home. Davey should be back by now. It’s not every day that your child has an eighteenth birthday. Besides it may rain any minute.”

She fell silent as he reversed slightly and maneuvered the car into a side street.

“Thank goodness, we got out of that mess,” he said as they pulled into the driveway of their home.

Davey was not back yet, so he sank into an easy chair in the living room, looking forward to a comfortable evening, when their son came home. The ringing phone was not a pleasant intrusion, but he answered it anyway.

“Dr. Matthews speaking,” he said into the phone.

“Doctor, it’s me, Malcolm.”

“Hi, Malcolm,” he told the Detective Sergeant of Police. “What’s up?”

“Can you get to the North Valley General Hospital immediately?”

He groaned. Obviously, this wasn’t meant to be his day. Aloud, he only said, “Sure thing. Is there any medical emergency?”

Malcolm hesitated. “I’m afraid it’s worse than that.” He added gently, “It’s your son.”

“My son?”

“Yes, Doctor. David had an accident on Carter Street.”

“Carter Street?” Dr. Matthews thought of the accident scene he had left a little while ago, and his blood ran cold.

“Is Davey all right?” his voice was trembling.

Malcolm was silent. Finally, he said, “When they brought him in, he was bleeding profusely.” There was another uncomfortable pause. “I’m sorry, but he . . . died a few minutes ago.”

Rayburn Matthews stood frozen, feeling his entire world shatter around him, when Malcolm said, “I’m really sorry, Doc, but there was nothing anyone could have done.”

Pooja Krishna

*Names have been changed.

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