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Punishment

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'Why did I do it?' he whispers desperately in between sobs. Tears trace a serpentine path along his tortured face as he remembers it all too clearly.


An imposing dark sky had delivered a pelting rain. There was no sun in sight. The staff at St. Mercy Hospital was working overtime again, a commonplace occurrence during the bustling holiday season. Rich was working as a receptionist at the front desk, a position he viewed as a symbolic leg iron restricting his adventurous pursuit of freedom from the confines of a hospital he viewed as his psychological prison. And a location situated, ironically, to face the ubiquitous oversized double doors that routinely usher in life and death situations. Rich was supporting his family of three: himself, his wife, and his young daughter. He dreaded working late during Christmastime, but knew his debt-saddled family desperately needed the money.


On this particularly gloomy day, a seemingly cheerful man clad in a light-colored, but drenched raincoat, carrying a dark briefcase, confidently entered through the oversized double doors and greeted Rich at the front desk. At first Rich thought he must have nodded off into a dream for rarely does a person entering the hospital appear this gleeful or bright. The beguiling stranger shook Rich's hand and said he had something to donate to the hospital.


'You see, I recently read in the newspaper about how St. Mercy is in dire need of additional funding to support the building of its new organ transplant wing, especially in light of the recent economic hard times. The article tugged directly upon my heart because I am living proof of the miraculous, life-changing effect organ transplants can have.'


As he finished his sentence, the mystery man quietly opened up the briefcase in a manner not to draw attention to him and revealed its contents to Rich. Inside were thick bundles of green dollar bills stacked from end to end.


'There should be exactly one million dollars there, sir.'


Rich's mouth was agape and he was rendered completely speechless. His eyes were fixated on the the pile of cash as he feebly attempted to muster a reply of gratitude. Rich remained mesmerized by the magnetic vision of the money and thus was oblivious to the hasty exit made by the benefactor back through the double doors. The charming, yet elusive man had successfully returned to the world of anonymity.


Rich was in a temporary state of shock. He struggled to come to grips with the fact that an unknown man had just entrusted him with one million dollars. Selfish thoughts of greed instantaneously raged against his moral fiber, each seeking advantage with his vulnerable soul.


'Since I am the only one who saw this man donate the money, if I keep at least part of it for me and my family, no one will be harmed or even know that the money was donated.'

He wrestled with the dilemma until finally deciding that in the best interest of his family, he would keep the donation a secret and periodically take a portion of the money home as a well deserved 'raise.'


As time passed, so did the long, slow process of bringing St. Mercy's organ transplant wing to fruition. Likewise, Rich continued receiving his 'raise' from the hospital's unknown donation. Years passed, and so did the expected date of completion for the once heralded state-of-the-art facility. St. Mercy could not provide organ transplant services to victims as they had once hoped due to dwindling financial resources. The anonymous donor had not been seen or heard from again, nor was any mention of the donation ever made.


Over time, any guilt Rich associated with the money vanished and he began to silently
revel in the deftness of his act. He figured his scheme was working, and working well. No one needed to know and no one had been harmed.


'Keep it clear! We have an emergency!' voices blared loudly through the hospital waiting room on a stormy night. Hospital workers were frantically pushing two seriously injured patients into the emergency room. The emergency room staff became a flurry of activity around the patients as they assumed their roles as life sustaining operatives. Rich had been quietly busy filing paperwork in a secluded records office and missed the whole ordeal. Through the double doors at the end of the hall Rich heard a voice bellow, 'Rich! We have been looking all over for you! Your wife and daughter were involved in a serious car accident. They are both fighting for their lives and they will likely need a transplant.' The words pierced Rich like a sword plunged deep through his guilt-ridden heart. The deafening voice of his past indiscretion, 'There's no facility for them to receive an organ transplant because I stole the money,' echoed loud and clear in his mind.


Months after the tragic passing of his wife and daughter, Rich sobs as he awakes, wishing once again that it had all been a nightmare, the same way he does every morning.


'If only I had given the donation to the hospital, my family might still be alive.' Unimaginable pain sears the soul of this man well beyond anything a jail cell could ever inflict. When Rich finally walks back into St. Mercy after a leave of absence, he finds the mysterious man dressed in the light raincoat standing at the receptionist's desk.


Rich felt compelled to explain himself. He hurriedly walked over to the mystery man from his past and began to speak. Barely able to bring himself to look the man in the eyes, Rich apologized profusely and expressed his overwhelming sense of shame for what he had done. Surprisingly, the man had not been startled by Rich's sudden appearance beside him. He placed his hand on Rich's shoulder, looked him in the eyes, and with a knowing smile told Rich that he
understood.



'Your wife was a loving woman. She had such great faith in you. I too had every confidence in you and believe me when I tell you that you did not let me down.'


'You knew my wife?' Rich asked.


'My associate knew of her,' the man replied. 'He called on her some time back.'


With that, the man put his arm around Rich's shoulder and walked with him through the double doors and out of the hospital. As they were exiting, a frantic young woman carrying a baby rushed past them, disappearing quickly into the hospital. For a fleeting moment, Rich felt his instincts call upon him to aid the woman in her time of need, but the pull of redemption was stronger.


Weeks later on a cold, drizzling February evening, a car containing a solitary occupant turned off of the highway and into the parking lot of a small community hospital several hundred miles away from St. Mercy's. After a few minutes, Rich emerged from the car. Wearing a light-colored raincoat and carrying a black briefcase, he strode toward large, glass double doors.





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