Setting the Prisoner Free part 1

essay, non-fiction 3 Comments »

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you~
Lewis B. Smedes

Did you ever wonder, in the midst of a crisis:  Where’s the gift in this?  Many of the people I know, even though well traveled on a spiritual path, have asked this question.  For reasons of anger, disbelief, traumatic incident, fear ~ in circumstances such as these, the question is automatic for me; at least I’m aware that a gift will appear when I’m ready to open it.

In my late twenties (over twenty years ago), Itool box “happened” into a “new age” bookstore where my path took a sudden and steep climb.  Books like The Case for Reincarnation, Strangers Among Us, Journeys Out of the Body, The Road Less Traveled, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Out on a Limb, Past Life Regressions and anything to do with Edgar Cayce flew off the shelves and into my hands.  I read through these books at a remarkable pace and found myself back at this same book store in a week filling my arms again.  There was no turning back, nor did I want to.  Much of what I read resonated with me more than anything else I’d ever perused or heard before.  My proverbial tool box with dozens of new philosophical and spiritual tools overflowed.

Around this same time I was diligently moving my way through the seventeen year plan to an undergraduate degree in English Literature at Colorado State University.  During this period I also helped manage an up-scale restaurant—part of the reason for the remedial pace of school.  An average work week consisted of seventy hours.  So, it was two classes here, two classes there.

Three years later on a beautiful Spring afternoon, Warren, a regular customer, entered the restaurant before any other patron.  I, along with all the other employees of the restaurant, hurried around preparing for a very busy Saturday night—prom night for every high school in town. Warren nestled up to the bar, ordered a beer and a shrimp cocktail.  Shortly after Warren’s arrival, the restaurant filled to maximum capacity, and the bar overflowed with dozens of dressed up and corsaged teenagers.

Forty-five minutes into the evening, Warren had moved to a table, pulled out a .22 pistol and started to wave it around and ordered the teenagers who waited for their dining tables to get out of the bar.  He fired several shots into the walls and ceiling.  I picked up the phone and dialed the police as I watched one of the bartenders approach Warren to try and talk him down.  Within six minutes the police arrived, yet not in time for Warren.  A few seconds prior to the police entering the building, Warren jammed the gun below his right ear, pulled the trigger, and slumped forward onto the table.  Gone.  Just like that.

At the instant that Warren slumped forward, even though I stood only feet from him, I had the physical sensation of zooming out hundreds of yards away from him.  Slow motion followed as I thought “alive, dead, alive, dead.”  While in this out and away fog, I clearly remember saying indignantly to myself, “and the gift in this would be?”

The police bolted through the double doors with guns drawn asking everyone to raise their hands.  I couldn’t quit staring at Warren and the blood.  One of the police, a woman, repeated to me to raise my hands.  As I did, the woman explained the protocol, that she understood the situation.  After six or seven police canvassed the area, they told the handful of employees nearby that we could “stand down.”  A team of paramedics rushed in, pulled Warren to the floor and began CPR.

Draped in what I now understand to be shock, I turned and looked into the filled dining room alive with the hum of conversation, silverware against plates, laughter and background music.  Only two heavy glass doors separated normal and crisis~No one in the dining room seemed to have a clue of these two different worlds.  I began dragging huge potted plants and trees to create a visual barrier between the dining room full of customers and the bar where Warren lay with paramedics pounding his chest.  “What’s the point?” I wondered.

I turned, motioned to two bus boys and asked them to move the podium from the front door to the emergency exit as we would need to reroute incoming customers.

Kevin, another manager working with me that night put his hand on my shoulder, “I don’t think we will stay open.”

I stared at Kevin blindly for what seemed a full minute.  “Is everybody all right?” I asked.


“Ma’am, I need your name,” a voice floated in from miles away.  “Ma’am?”

“You all right?” Kevin asked me.

“I need to make sure everybody is okay.”

The policeman bowed into my line of sight, “Ma’am, I need to get some information from you, first.  Your name?”

I spelled my name, “May I please go check on the staff?  I’m not going anywhere.”

Two hours later, after filling out police reports, giving interviews to other officers, and going through a critical incident debriefing, the building was empty of all patrons, paramedics and police.  The music was off and the lights were turned up.  Only managers and a handful of employees remained.  I had already shoved all the money and receipts into the safe and made my way back toward the bar when I heard the un-oiled wheels of a mop bucket cross the parquet floor from behind me.  Steve, the general manager, steered the bucket with the handle of the mop.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Cleaning up the blood.”

I thought, a crew of people came to take care of the floor, walls, ceilings and tables.

part 2 tomorrow

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