The Man With His Head Caved In

The Lorraine Motel – Photo by Dan Steven Erickson

I recently said that I might start writing some short stories here. I thought I’d start with this one. It was a profound experience and I write about it in more detail in my memoir that’s currently in the works.

Another version of the story is also found in my self-published book A Train Called Forgiveness.

When I was traveling the country by train in my twenties, I saw a lot of interesting stuff. I saw the natural beauty of America through the window of an Amtrak. The mountains, oceans, and prairies of our nation are astounding. But the most interesting sights were in the people I met.

Trains might travel through the great expanses of America, but they also travel through the uglier parts of our inner cities. Train stations can be in sketchy areas of town.

In the 1990s, the Amtrak station in Memphis was down some musty stairs in a weird basement setup. It felt like a dungeon.

The Amtrak doesn’t travel from Nashville to Memphis. You have to take the bus. On one trip back from Nashville, I reached the Memphis Greyhound depot with very little money left in my wallet. The depot was a mile or two away from the train station at the time.

I purchased a small meal at the depot cafe and was considering getting a taxi to the Amtrak station when a young black man approached me.

I’ll carry your bags for $5.00.

The young man asked me if I was in town for the train. I told him I was. He proceeded to suggest that I let him escort me to the station instead of paying $40.00 for a taxi. He’d carry my bags and walk me to the station for $5.00. At first I said no. But he asked again.

I noticed that one side of the young man’s entire head was caved in. He was slow and walked with an odd gait. I decided that he couldn’t do me much harm. I agreed to let him escort me from the bus depot to the train station.

The man with his head caved in was very kind and courteous. I had a couple of extra hours before the train would arrive. He showed me to Beale Street and we stood outside the clubs and listened to the blues. We stopped by the statue of Elvis Presley and had a cigarette.

He took me to the Lorraine Motel and showed me where Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot.

Discovering the power of forgiveness.

He showed me the sights along the walk. Greater yet, he shared some insights from his own life. The man with his head caved in had been hit by a car.

The driver never stopped. After nearly a year in the hospital and rehab, the young man was released back into the world. He had nowhere to go and was living on the streets of Memphis.

I asked him if he was angry about what had happened to him. He responded by telling me that anger would do him no good. He said that he’d forgiven the hit-and-run driver and was doing his best to move on with his life. This was a lesson to me, and a beautiful sight.

At the time, I was angry. I was angry at a lot of people who had hurt me as a child victim of an extremist cult. If the man with his head caved in could forgive someone who ran him over, I decided that I could forgive the people in my past who had caused me harm.

I gave the man with his head caved in $10.00 and we drank a couple of beers together at a bar next to the train station. When we parted ways he told me

to remember that only love can drive out hate.

We shook hands and I turned back a moment later and he was gone. Sometimes I wonder if he was an angel. – dse

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Author: Dan Steven Erickson

Dan Steven Erickson is a great undiscovered American songwriter.