Numbers can either have great importance or little significance in our lives. What may make my head turn might not make your head turn.

Recently the number 200 has caused me to pause and reflect. You see, I had just been on my 200th death since I’ve become a chaplain. A number that reflects 10 years of hospital and emergency service ministry represents so much more than three digits.

I keep a log of the number, date, name and age of the deceased. Call me morbid, but I don’t want to forget any of the various lives with which I have been so blessed to intertwine. To say that each death has touched me in one way or another would be a vast understatement.

I’ve ministered to victims, families and emergency workers after natural deaths, homicides, suicides, car accidents, boat accidents, farm accidents, ATV wrecks, still births and any other conceivable death.

Two that will forever be etched in my mind and heart reflect two ends of the age spectrum. Being in a hospital’s family room as parents identified their beautiful 4-year-old son was one. He had died after falling into a river. It really hit me hard. Not being able to understand Spanish was no insulation to feeling the pain this family felt.

Another death I won’t soon forget involved a 44-year-old gentleman. He died at home where he was alone with his 5-year-old daughter. Having his daughter there by herself was an issue that weighed heavily on the first responders. He was a member of my church, a strong supporter of public safety chaplains, with no outstanding medical history. All these factors made this a very difficult death for me.

The mass of humanity in 200 has included doctors, bankers, the homeless, athletes, students, nurses, prisoners, nursing home residents and travelers.

I’m reminded often that death is always near. I’m 57 (a number that is starting to have great significance for me) and God willing, many years from being entered into someone else’s log book. Even as I say that, I’m also aware that my time could come just as unexpectedly as the myriad folks I’ve journeyed with as an emergency service chaplain.

Life is unpredictable. With each number that I write in the log book, may faces and stories and holy moments continue to be remembered. May God forgive me if my log ever becomes purely statistical and not relational.

Joel Peterson is the fire chaplain for the Cornelius Fire Department. He also has served as the chaplain for the Gaston Rural Fire District.

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