Giving me breath of your mercy, Giving yourself to comfort me.
— Collective Soul
Just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all …
I’ll admit I was pretty much running on fumes Wednesday morning, in a Nyquil-induced fog after choking down a gallon or so of the stuff to try and beat back some kind of funk that has all but whipped me, and thus not exactly coherent when the phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was weak, straining for volume enough to even be heard, so I mustered all the concentration I had in me to follow the caller’s words.
Turns out the call was from a gentleman — Al Bell’s his name — who is currently at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, battling congenital heart issues. I say “battling” because in our all-too-brief conversation, I became convinced Mr. Bell is one of those old-school guys who would never roll over for any of life’s hardships without a fight.
Mr. Bell was having trouble breathing when he called — “I say a couple of words and then cough … makes it hard to catch my breath,” he told me — but I did manage to learn that he is a war veteran and has been a Boy Scout Master for some 49 years. I would have loved to hear more of Mr. Bell’s life story, but I dared not impose on him more than a brief bit. He had, after all, called to talk with me about something I’d written.
“I read your story today about those homeless people out in the cold, and I felt like I had to talk to you about it,” Mr. Bell said. “I was in (the Army), and I can tell you they sent me to some pretty doggone cold places in my time. If the folks in Albany want to do something about homeless people out in the cold, they need to let the military handle it.
“See, some of those folks are out on the streets because they just can’t be inside. But if our military — the folks out at the Marine base — were given the orders they could come in and set up some tents and cots and give those folks a place where they could get out of the cold. The city could block off a couple of streets and let the military folks watch over (the homeless population) until the weather warmed up.”
Mr. Bell stopped talking briefly to catch his breath, and I waited patiently to hear what else he might say.
“One thing’s for sure,” he continued, his voice weaker now. “We can’t let people freeze to death. That’s something we just can’t do.”
Sensing the weariness in Mr. Bell’s voice, I thanked him for his call, thanked him for his service to our country and thanked him for caring enough to want to make a difference. I’d like to think he appreciated the words.
I tried to call Mr. Bell Friday evening, tried to check up on him to see if his condition had improved. I was told he was still a patient at Phoebe, but there was no answer in his room when the operator transferred my call. I called the cell number he’d given me, but that call went to voicemail.
As I sat looking out my cubicle window — the “weather window,” colleague Jim West calls it — I wondered how Al Bell was doing as a dreary dusk settled over this city that I (some say inexplicably) love. I was about to meet my family for dinner to celebrate the weekend. He was, I hoped, still battling.
As I prepared to shut my computer down and call it a week, I suddenly remembered something else Mr. Bell had told me. I’d asked him if there was anything I could do for him, and he said, “Yes, you can tell the people there running Albany that there are things they can do to keep those poor people from freezing. Tell them that.”
Consider it done, Mr. Bell. Consider it done.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com.