This story occurred during the Great Depression in the early 1930’s in Chicago. It was told to me by a priest, Dr. Brown’s brother.
In the wee hours of the morning Dr. Brown was jarred from sleep by the insistent ringing of the phone. He remembers groggily groping for the receiver; a husky, strained voice implored: “Is this Dr. Brown?”
“Yes, I am he.”
“Could you come quickly? It’s urgent, a matter of life and death!”
“Yes, I’ll come. Where do you live?”
“Seventeen Alan Street, please, come quickly.”
Dr. Brown dressed quickly, got his things together and was soon headed off to Alan Street; how lonely it was traveling alone through the dark streets at night. The neighborhood towards which he drove was on the “far side of the tracks”, where even during the day one might not feel too comfortable walking around.
Dr. Brown found the house easily enough, a single residence; only it was peculiar that no lights were on. He went to the door and knocked; after a pause, he knocked again. Still there was no answer. His third knock, however, elicited a gruff response, “Who’s there?”
“It’s Dr. Brown. I received an urgent call for medical help. Is this seventeen Alan Street?”
“Yes it is, but nobody called you, get out of here!”
As he withdrew, he scanned the street searchingly for lights that might indicate where his help was really needed. Seeing none, he reproached himself again, thinking he had failed to jot down the right street number. Or perhaps, it was just a bad prank. In any case, there was nothing he could do but return home. And as there was no follow up phone call, he simply forgot the matter in the days that ensued.
Several weeks later, though, he received another call during the day from the emergency ward at the hospital. The nurse explained that a man, a certain John Turner, who had just suffered a severe accident and was clearly dying, was begging to speak with Dr. Robert Brown. “Doctor, could you come by quickly? He doesn’t have much time. He will not tell us why he needs to speak to you.”
Dr. Brown agreed to go, yet he was rather puzzled, for he knew no one by the name of John Turner. This conviction was verified by the patient, who said: “Dr. Brown, you don’t know me, but I just had to speak with you before I die and beg your forgiveness. You will recall having received a telephone call several weeks ago in the dead of the night.”
“Yes, I remember the call, but…”
“It was I who called you.” The dying man explained: “I had had no work for months and months. I had sold everything of value in the house, and still could not feed my family. I could not bear the imploring, hungry looks in my children’s eyes. In my desperation, I resolved to call a doctor for help in the middle of the night. My plan was to kill him, take his money and sell his instruments.”
Though horrified, Dr. Brown could not help but protest: “Yes, but I came, why didn’t you kill me?”
“I was expecting that you would come alone, but when I saw that big, powerful young man at your side I was afraid; and so I just sent you off gruffly. Please forgive me.”
“Yes, of course,” muttered Dr. Brown in a daze.
A cold chill had come over him; he had had no inkling that what had seemed to him like an irksome error or even a bad prank had been really such a close call with death. And even less had he suspected that his Guardian Angel (to whom he ever after attributed this intervention) had saved his life that night; for indeed, the “powerful young man” had appeared only to his would be assailant, who now dying, was imploring his forgiveness.
How awesome are the ways of God. How often our Angels preserve us from harm without our ever adverting to the fact.