I met him around 1994, I believe it was. His name was Mark Cerutti. He was the pastor of a local church in Tuscumbia, Missouri and also a chaplain and a jailer for the Miller County Sheriff’s Department. We met through a chance encounter involving my uncle and we became the best of friends. We rode everywhere together, exploring the Missouri Ozarks in an old beat up 1973 Ford pickup truck. We critiqued every Chinese restaurant in a one hundred mile radius. There was another passion we both shared; plinking. Between the two of us I don’t remember how many pistols or revolvers we owned. It seems like one of us was always picking up a new “iron’ every few weeks. Many times we would stand on his back deck or in my back yard firing away at water-filled milk jugs or pumpkins.
Over the years, Mark and I never really grew apart except through geographical distances. I moved to work as a police officer in Nevada, Missouri, and then later to the east side of the state to an area in Stoddard County. I was overjoyed when Mark called me and told me he was moving to Farmington, only a short distance north of me. I remember at least three different times when he came to visit. We talked on the phone or Skyped a lot. Then several years later I moved to New Mexico. The distance was really far. A new job, new responsibilities, a new environment, I became involved in the hustle and bustle of living and our calls became fewer and farther between.
The last time I recall talking to Mark was in late January or perhaps February of 2013. Over the time span since then I would on occasion call Mark, only to leave a voice message. I would send him an occasional text message and even a message on Facebook. He never responded. Nonchalantly, I took it in stride. I thought, “He’s a busy man. He’ll call me when he can.” Then one day I realized just how long it had been since I spoke to Mark. That day was January 13, 2015. It had been almost two years. I realized this was unacceptable and I once again called Mark, and once again I left a voice-mail, “Mark, It’s me, Jason. Give me a call, brother. I miss you!” I then hung up and sent him a similar text message. Once again there was no response. I remembered that Mark had a son on Facebook. I sent him a message, “I have been trying to reach your dad. Please have him call me!” The response I received took my breath away and made my heart sink. “Dad died in March of 2013.” Mark was 51 years young.
I was able to reach Mark’s wife and she called me that night. She told me how he died. You would have to know Mark to really appreciate this story. Mark was a just a big kid. He loved westerns with John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and all the old cowboy stars. Mrs. Cerutti told me that sometimes when Mark came home from the prison where he worked, he would put on a cowboy costume, complete with hat, holster and six shooter and then put in one of his favorite cowboy movies. I knew Mark well enough to believe he would draw down on the bandits as they rode across his screen and dry fire away to watch them fall off the horse as they were wounded by the hero of the movie. I don’t know how it happened exactly but Mark had chosen a six shooter that day that had at least one round in the cylinder. He fired that gun as he was drawing. The bullet went through the holster and into his leg, severing the femoral artery. Mark had a cell phone. He dialed 911 and notified the dispatcher that he had been shot. They tried to get his location from him but he could not seem to respond. He was going into shock. The police department tried to locate him and they could not. Mark’s wife found him several hours later.
I was very saddened to hear of Mark’s death. A slight smile came across my face when I heard of how he died. I hope that when I cross over Jordan I do it in much the same way: having fun, acting like a kid, and ridding the world of make believe bandits.
I did however learn a very important lesson through this. One should never take for granted the friendships they have. One should never assume that a return call will be made, eventually and when the time is right.
I thought about this about three nights later. It was late (at least late for me) and I was asleep. My phone rang and I turned over to see who was calling me. It was another one of my local friends. My first thought was to let the voice mail catch it. I was tired and I could return the call tomorrow. Then I thought of Mark. What if Mark had called me the day before he died and I had shrugged off the call with the intention to call him later? It would have been a missed opportunity to let my friend know how much I appreciated him. I answered the phone and before I hung up I let my friend know in no uncertain terms how much he meant to me.
So in conclusion, I would highly encourage you to remember this short little story the next time a friend calls and you are tempted to put the voice mail feature to work. Go through your contact list just as soon as you can. Call those friends you don’t see on a regular basis – and maybe a few you do. Let them know that you love them. We are all in this world together and it’s those special friendships that can get you through some of the hard times. Friendships! Just one of God’s many precious gift to humanity.