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The Parable of the Pushy Fireman

When I was a young boy Josué De La Cruz saved my life. My third-floor apartment on the northwest side of Chicago was fully involved in flames. The Latino firefighter crawled up the steps beneath the smoke, through the fire, and carried me to safety. I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for him.

He visited me in the hospital the next day. I thanked him for his courage and sacrifice. He told me he was happy to make a difference. We chatted for a while. His Spanish accent reminded me that he was from a completely different culture than mine. It was hard to understand him sometimes, but I was grateful. I fell asleep and he was gone.

My family found a new place to live but I included Josué in my prayers every night--for a couple of months at least. Eventually school took all my attention and life returned to normal. I was surprised five years later when Josué turned up at my college dorm one night. I was coming back to the dorm very late--trying not to attract the attention of the Resident Assistant.

“Man,” he said with that accent. “You know it’s really dangerous to drive home in your condition. You should be more careful.”

I was embarrassed. “Yeah, I guess so.” I shoved my hand forward to shake his. “Hey man, thanks for pulling me out of that fire back then.”

“No problem--that’s over. Listen, I brought you some money for textbooks. Take care for yourself.”

It was strange, him showing up that night. I really wasn’t thinking straight. When I woke up the next morning it was hard to tell where the night had ended and where my dreams began. But I did have $100 in the pocket of my jeans.

I was nearly thirty when he turned up again. I’d been married for seven years. My wife and I had one kid and another of the way. I had taken a job working for her father. It wasn’t the life I wanted but with another kid on the way paying the bills was a big deal. Still, the job sucked and I wasn’t happy.  I came home from work and there was Josué, the firefighter who had saved my life, sitting on my front step, petting the family dog.

“Dude, what are you doing here?”

“Amigo, it’s so good to see you again. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you.”

That seemed really strange to hear. All I could manage was an awkward “Thanks.”

“You know,” he said, looking up  from the dog. “You ought to cut your wife a little slack. It isn’t easy raising one kid while she’s baking another.”

“Well my job ain’t so hot either. Did you want something?” I asked.

He ignored the question. “I could help you with that if you want.”

I laughed. “Thanks. I’m a little old for the Fire Academy, don’t you think?” I  stepped past him an went to the door. “Thanks for stopping by, though.” Later I found a gift card to Applebee’s right where he had been sitting. There was a post-it note where he had scribbled, Take your wife out to dinner tonight.

I don’t know: maybe Josué had moved into my neighborhood because he began to pop up at the most random times and places. It began to get a little creepy. One time he was in the booth behind me and my friend at the pancake house.

“Hey man,” he said with that accent. “Have you been putting on some weight?”

“Maybe. You still look pretty fit.” It was true, I had to admit it.

“I’m not trying to bust your hump,” he said. “I just want to see you stay healthy and live well.”

I didn’t feel scolded. Especially because he waited for my buddy to hit the restroom before he spoke to me. “Yeah. Thanks. I’ll work on that.” When my friend and I left we found that Josué had already paid the tab. It went on like this for the next few years. Josué would turn up, offer his opinion on something or other, and always do something nice for me.

Then one afternoon he was outside my workplace. I had bolted from working for my father-in-law, but three jobs later I was going nowhere fast. Life sucked. My wife and kids were strangers to me, and I was thinking of getting in the car and just driving.

“My friend,” Josué said gently. “Don’t do this thing.”

I was startled. Did he know my thoughts? “What thing?”

“Times are tough,” he said. “I get it. Let me help you learn how to live.”

Finally I’d had enough of these strange appearances. “Listen, Josué. It’s been twenty years since you saved me from the fire. What gives you the right to show up and tell me what to do?”

“What good was saving your life if you don’t know how to live it?” he answered. “I went into your apartment that day to change your life, not just save it.”

“Really?” I demanded. “Well, I needed someone to save me--not someone to run my life. What gives you the right?”

“I am Josué De La Cruz.” He stood tall and his voice swelled with strength. And as he said the words he began to change: his face and clothes became white--dazzling beyond any brightness on Earth.

I shielded my eyes and heard thunder from the cloudless sky. In the thunder I thought I heard a voice. “This is my son. Listen to him!”

And then, in a moment the day returned, and the sunshine seemed less bright. Josué put his arm on my shoulder and said, “Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. That’s why I saved you that day.”

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