Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Holding On, Jamestown, NC
Kansas Grain Elevator, Strong City, KS

Growing up in Kansas exposed me to cowboys and ropes. A good strong rope is a staple on any farmstead or ranch out in the country. Ropes are used to tame and tether animals and pull or secure a variety of payloads. Normally, they’re good for holding onto something like a truck load of hay bales or just holding onto, like the way mountain climbers use them. Many of us have probably heard the expression that when you get to the end of your rope tie a knot and hold on! There’s also the biblical story of the woman who had been bleeding uncontrollably for twelve years and was desperate for a cure as life slipped away from her. She sought out Jesus as he walked through a crowd, reached out in faith to touch His cloak and she was instantly healed. Consequently, it’s been said that when life is slipping away from you, reach out and you’ll find the hem of His cloak to hold onto.

I was spending my summer on a construction job site to earn money for the next college year. Our current project involved removing a rather large stainless steel grain dust collector from the top of a multistory grain elevator and reinstalling a new one. Functioning collectors are designed to inhibit spontaneous grain dust explosions and fires. Since I was the youngest and most flexible candidate at the time, I had volunteered to ride to the top of the elevator by stepping onto the large steel ball and hook suspended from the steel cable of a huge crane that had been contracted for the job. My assignment for the day was to ride to the top, secure the old dust collector with a heavy duty rope and set it free with a cutting torch while wearing a welder’s mask and gloves.

We had obviously underestimated both the weight of the dust collector and the strength of the rope used to secure it to the crane. The moment I cut free the last steel support from the massive collector, it immediately succumbed to the pull of gravity and began a rapid descent to the ground below. Unbeknownst to me, the attached rope had snapped in two and was also rapidly following the collector to the earth multiple stories below me. As all of this played out in a matter of moments, the slithering rope wrapped its tentacles around my leg and began a quick skin burn due to the friction and velocity. It also yanked me off my feet like a hooked fish and was whisking me to the edge of the elevator roof. Instinctively, I grabbed for anything my hands could hit and miraculously latched onto a secure pipe that was just there somehow. The rope spun off my leg as I heard the sickening sound of the collector hitting the ground below with a loud crash. The air was silenced for a moment while I was lying there on my stomach with my hands firmly grasping the pipe at the edge of the grain elevator. Only later, once I had been lowered back down to the ground, did the seriousness of the situation sink into my consciousness. I realize now that the pipe atop the roof of that towering structure had been about as close to the hem of His cloak as I’ve ever come in this life.

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