Monday Morning December 3, 2007
Somewhere out in the rolling hills of South Carolina there lives a hobby farmer by the name of Sampson. You might think he was named after the biblical strong man except for the letter “p.” The Hebrew name means “bright as the sun,” which this Sampson appears to be – and he may well be a distant cousin to that long haired Old Testament champion. After you read his story, you may make the O.T. connection.
Sampson’s three children would roll their eyes if you asked them about their dad’s farm implements. His bread and butter job is a Kershaw County construction supervisor. He owns just enough land to farm on the weekends. His primary crop is the kind of throw-away corn hunters buy to bait deer at the height of the season. But Sampson loves the land and everything it produces.
Out behind the house is dad’s aging collection of equipment. The corn-picker is a rusty relic that Sampson Parker kept running long after its useful life would otherwise have been declared over. The kids considered it a living relative of Tow-Mater – the rusted out, dented, squeaky tow truck who befriends Lightening McQueen out there on Disney’s Route 66 in Radiator Springs (Cars). But this is South Carolina, and this dad looks too young to have an oldest child in his thirties and two more in their twenties. They’d often say, “Dad’ll fix anything.”
And the other would add, “And he won’t throw away nothin’.” Mom would smile knowingly in full agreement.
On a Saturday last month, several weeks before Thanksgiving, Sampson went out alone on the banged-up picker to harvest a field. Bouncing high on the steel spring loaded seat, shifting gears and pulling back and forth on the steering wheel, something jammed. He jumped off to take a look. A cob stuck in the gears. With a gloved left hand, he reached up underneath to set it free. The glove caught. It pulled his hand irreversibly into gritty, greasy chain gear. He yanked it back. But it was wedged. The glove twisted around his fingers, up into the gears. Pain shot up his arm.
He called out for help over the banging cylinders. No one could hear him. He sat back, in pain. And that’s when he started to pray.
The John Deere knife in his pocket was all he had. So he began to chop away at his bleeding fingers. He called out again. He prayed harder.
For nearly an hour he sat; engine idling, irreversibly caught in the gears, bleeding. Growing weary. Spent. Surrounded by an open field, the tall forest on the perimeter. Thinking maybe this could be the end. He told God he trusted him.
He managed to grab a steel bar and ram it up into the gears, hoping for relief. Instead, the steel against steel generated sparks. The sparks ignited the fuel. Flames jumped up around the engine block, and off to the dry brush surrounding him.
What happened next became the talk of the nation. It’s too gruesome to describe in detail (though Sampson is more than ready to tell the whole story). This uncomplicated, church-going, God-fearing man made a choice few of us could imagine.
I think it had something to do with those children. That marriage. Those colleagues on the job. Those friends over at the church. The neighbors up and down the road and down town. He just wasn’t ready to check out. He knew he had no time left. Now. Do it now. If not, it’s all over. Those were his thoughts.
So with that sharp pocket-knife and indescribable determination, he separated himself from his own left arm just above the elbow. In the few minutes it took to make the cuts, he suffered some serious burns. But he was free. The arm gone – but the man, free.
The story isn’t over. His pick up truck was just up the road. He staggered up to it, turned the key and drove back to the highway. The one armed, blood soaked part-time farmer stumbled to the center line and weakened, signaled the next passer-by beckoning him to stop. The first car slowed, the driver looked stunned as he stared out from behind his closed window at the awful sight, and then he hit the accelerator speeding off over the rise. Then another approached. The same. Slow down. Shocked stare. Then gone. And then another. And another.
Sampson prayed again. From the center of the highway. On his knees.
Doug Spinks pulled up on what was for him a lazy Saturday afternoon. He drove down that country road and came upon the scene. He’s a fire fighter and a trained first responder. His eyes widened. He muttered something under his breath, and hit the brakes. He popped open the driver’s side door and ran to Sampson’s side. His experience enabled him to assess the pale gray look on Sampson’s clammy skin. He knew immediately that this injured man lost a lot of blood. His instincts and training kicked in.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
A helicopter arrived within minutes.
* * * * * * *
It’s Monday morning. You are a leader. I seriously doubt that your life has ever been so physically threatened that you came anywhere close to making the kind of decisions Sampson Parker made next to the drone of a rusty corn-picker that Fall Saturday afternoon.
But you do know this. Danger lurks around every corner. Even when we are least likely to imagine it. Boom. We are caught. We’re in deep. We are desperate to extricate ourselves. But we can’t.
And there we are. Bleeding. Hurting. Faint.
Too many pass by. Too few dare engage. And then, like a gift from heaven…
A good Samaritan.
Matt Lauer (the TODAY Show) interviewed Sampson Parker as he stood next to his new friend Doug Spinks and a rusted out corn picker in a field that was harvested by his neighbors as Sampson recovered in a nearby hospital and rehab center. Lauer, visibly shaken by the story Sampson told in aw-shucks South Carolinian tones, suggested that the picker ought to be pounded into pieces and ground up for salvage. He offered to help. “I’ll bring the sledge,” Lauer said, laughing nervously.
“Naw,” Sampson drawled. “One Sunday morning, I came out here before going to church, said a little prayer, made everything good with God,” he explained. “It doesn’t bother me a bit.”
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, December 2007