As Alec Newby's family was inside the funeral home receiving visitors Tuesday evening, Eddie Jenkins was outside in the parking lot, sitting in his truck, trying to stop crying so he could go inside and say what he had to say.
Three days earlier, Jenkins had been driving west on Shallowford Road. It was midmorning. Coming toward him, in the opposite lane, was a motorcycle and its rider, Newby. As it got closer and closer, Jenkins saw its front wheel began to wobble, then wobble more.
Then, the world exploded: The motorcycle's front wheel flipped, the rest of the motorcycle followed like a catapult, and Newby flew through the air. His body hit the ground and began to roll. He was 22. He would have two, perhaps three, minutes left on this earth.
But he would not spend them alone.
Seeing the motorcycle flip, Jenkins slammed on his brakes, threw his truck in park, and didn't even shut the door as he began running. He reached Newby's body just as it stopped rolling, and automatically went to work: check pulse. Check breathing. Don't move the body.
Because that's what Jenkins does. He saves people. Ever since he graduated from Central High, when he enlisted in the Air Force to become a combat medic. Then, years later, as a paramedic on an ambulance crew. Now, as the director of clinical respiratory services at Access Family Pharmacy in Hixson.
"I was holding his hand. I could feel his pulse. I looked at him. He opened his eyes," Jenkins said.
Newby lay there, his body broken in ways beyond repair. Jenkins, clutching this young man's hand, kept speaking to him.
Hang tight, buddy. Just hang tight.
Then, in words that were choked in fear and tears and desperation and grace, as he realized the full extent of Newby's wounds, Jenkins began to pray. Out loud. Over and over.
Lord, please be with him. Take care of him.
Newby opened his eyes. Jenkins whispered to him. They were the last words he would hear in this world.
Don't be scared, son. Don't worry, son. You're going home.
Newby closed his eyes. Jenkins felt his pulse beat ... beat ... beat ... and then stop.
"He died while I was holding him," Jenkins said. "I didn't even know his name."
This is what Jenkins told Newby's family that night at the funeral home. How their son did not suffer. How, in the last moments of his life, he had not been alone.
"As a father it means a great deal. As a Christian, it means everything that a believer was there comforting my child in his last breaths," said Alec's father, Dr. James Newby, who also said Alec's mother was comforted, too.
But Jenkins -- who has fought through land mines and car crashes to save injured people -- can't sleep. He can't shake the memory of those two minutes with Alec. From his office, with Air Force medals on the shelves and a handwritten "Best Dad, Hands Down" in blue marker taped to the wall, Jenkins, who is also a father, cries openly.
"I can still see his foot. I can still see his tennis shoe on the ground. I can feel the warmth of his hand and then it turn cold," he said. "I can't get him out of my head."
And like fog rising off a dark lake, comes this question:
"Why couldn't I do anything?" Jenkins said. "Why couldn't it be an injury I could fix?"
This world of ours is cloaked in mystery. Often, we carry more questions than answers. Why do motorcycles crash and why do people die young and why are we not able to fix the broken things before us?
But inside the mystery, we are called to pray. To love. To hold the hand of a stranger bleeding on the roadside. Eddie Jenkins is haunted by what he wasn't able to do that morning.
Dr. Newby is comforted and blessed by what he did.
"Maybe Eddie did fix what he was supposed to," Dr. Newby said. "I believe Eddie was there to comfort Alec's soul as he departed this world, not to save him from leaving it. It has put my soul at ease."
May Alec -- and his father, and Eddie -- rest in peace.
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...