The Cylinders

Even the humblest dwellings conceal hazards the wary fail to anticipate. But nothing escapes God’s vigil.

My earliest childhood home, a one-bedroom house, lacked piped-in gas. To provide gas for cooking and water-heating, a local gas company periodically delivered a pair of compressed gas cylinders. Each cylinder stood about four feet high, and was made of heavy gauge steel. My family stored ours around the corner from the kitchen where they were partially concealed, and where we were told never to play. Nearby, a tall, solid brick wall separated our house from the neighbor’s.

One day when I was no more than four years old, I was engaged in my usual mischief, playing alone in the cylinders’ vicinity. My siblings were preoccupied in the combination bedroom/living room situated on the house’s opposite side. Mother had left the house momentarily on an errand. I explored undisturbed, slipping around the corner and facing the house’s inner patio.

As if by ambush, a cylinder toppled upon me. Its mass felled me, and pinned my chubby legs against the cool cement floor. My legs felt numb as I strained to move the cylinder off, but they would not budge. I sat stunned, motionless, and helpless. Minutes passed with the cold, dull steel pressing against my legs. I don’t remember crying out or yelling.

I hoped for some sound of concern. Silence is all I remember. No one seemed aware I sat trapped, distressed, and unable to summon the strength even to scream.

Just as abruptly as the cylinder had fallen onto me, a slender man leaped over the wall and into the inner patio I was facing. Consumed only by my own predicament, I noticed little of what he looked like, even less about his facial expression. Neither do I recall him saying a word, though he obviously knew my trouble, and my need for help. He sprang to my side, lifted the cylinder from my legs, and set it back in its place. Astonishment robbed what little reason I possessed, so thanking him didn’t even cross my mind.

The young man didn’t check the house for other occupants. Nor did he wait for a parent to arrive. Rather, like a soldier fulfilling his mission, he departed the same way he came, silently disappearing over that wall. Time seemed frozen from the moment I surrendered to despair until the man vanished over the wall. In those moments no one (at least no one visible) – save the rescuer and me – participated in the event. Numbness did not fade from my legs until the man was gone, and I was able to stand.

Although my family continued to live there for years, I never saw the rescuer again. Whether he was a family acquaintance or neighbor, I didn’t know. His identity remains a mystery. But I am thankful he appeared precisely when no one else could help. Who was he? Who, if anyone, sent him? Was his emergence at that place and time mere chance? I think not. I suspect we will meet again someday. Perhaps, he is still around.


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