by David Sisler

Gary Dockery joined the police force in Walden, Tennessee, in June, 1988. Three months later, on September 17, he was shot in the head by Samuel Frank Downey. Downey was drunk and had called "911" as a prank. A fellow officer who responded to the same call three minutes later found Dockery lying on Downey's driveway with a bullet hole in his head.

Doctors were able to stabilize the wounded policeman, but for the next seven years he did not speak. Dr. Bruce A. Kaplan, the neurology consultant on Gary's case, said his patient suffered from "severe neurological disability with severe impairment of verbal communication and severe motor impariment." Early this year, Gary developed pneumonia and was moved from a nursing home to a hospital. Fearing that he would die, doctors called the family to his bedside.

On February 12, 1996, Gary's sister, Lisa was in his hospital room when Gary opened his eyes.

"I'm your sister," she said.

"Uh-huh," he said.

"You're talking!" she said.

"I sure am," he said.

Commenting about Gary Dockery's recovery, Dr. Cornelius Mance, a neurologist at North Park Hospital in Chattanooga said, "The first rule is divine intervention. The second is that your brain is a massive computer and it works to try to repair itself."

Almost immediately, Gary asked about his sons, Colt and Shane, whom he had not seen since they were five and twelve.

Nine days later he spoke again, giving his family, and his doctors, hope that the initial 18 hours of conversation was not a fluke.

Gary recalled camping trips with his buddies. He remembered the names of his friends and horses. He called his mother and his brother and spoke with his sons, catching up on the years.

But imagine what he missed!

Colt would have started to elementary school, Shane would have graduated from high school. Colt would have learned to read. Perhaps he received his first Communion, joined Cub Scouts or suffered through his first attack of "puppy love." Shane would have learned to drive, gone on his first date, taken his first job, and all the while, his Dad knew nothing about it.

Those, and countless other family events, were major events that Gary never experienced.

On a larger, but perhaps largely impersonal scale, Gary missed the collapse of Communism and the destruction of the Berlin Wall, the Oklahoma City bombing, Desert Storm, American intervention in Somalia and Bosnia, the Los Angeles riots, the Atlanta Braves World Series victory, and half of Cal Ripkin's streak. While Gary slept Charles Kuralt retired, and Audrey Hepburn, Raymond Burr, and Mickey Mantle died. Yitzhak Rabin was murdered.

During those seven years explorers discovered the "Titanic," "Star Trek: The Next Generation" left the small screen for the big one, and "Calvin and Hobbes" went in search of new adventures. A lawyer named John Grisham proved to have the Midas touch with a pen, "The Bridges of Madison County" was written in a week and became a publishing phenomenon. There were a few good movies -- "Driving Miss Daisy," "Schindler's List," and "Forrest Gump."

Gary also mercifully missed Super Bowl XXX, the 1991 and 1992 National League playoffs, the O. J. Simpson trial and the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan curiosity, the Ace Ventura movies, "Beverley Hills 90210," Jay Leno replacing Johnny Carson, Joey Buttafuco and Amy Fisher, John and Lorena Bobbitt, Michael Jackson's wedding, Michael Jordan playing baseball, "Basic Instinct," Ross Perot and Windows 95.

Is it possible to go back and relive things you have missed? Only if it's a book, a movie, or on video.

On the other side, what about things you would like to forget, and cannot? Unless your memory is impaired, through illness, age or a tragedy the likes of the one suffered by Gary Dockery, there are things that simply will not fade from your mind, no matter how much you wish they would. You told a lie so that your business would be successful, and the memory lingers. You cheated on your wife, you defrauded your employer, you abused your children. Or maybe it is nothing so dramatic, just a life-time of nagging mistakes and disappointments.

There is one person who can forget the things you would like to erase from your memory. His name is Jesus. If you ask him, he, and he alone, will forget the things you would like not to remember, and give you a new beginning.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 3/2/96

Copyright 1996 by David Sisler

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