I knew a woman who loved rescue operations. She volunteered for a lot of town emergency teams. She was on the rescue squad. She served on the crisis hot-lines. She was involved in animal rescue teams. She offered her counseling services at shelters for battered women.
I admired her and used to marvel at her energy, her willingness to plunge into situations that were loaded with need, desperation and immediate responses.
By comparison, my life was boring, kind of hum drum. When I used to think about it, there were times when I had wished I was as gusto as she about diving into fringe situations. As it was, I rarely moved no farther than placing a phone call for help and then watching, seemingly, from a safe distance. The occasional flames of life scared me. So did the smoke. I huddled near the sidelines.
I was thinking of the woman above last week. And doing some rethinking about myself and my little world. Maybe some of us are called to leap onto ambulances and trucks and drive fast and furious into the conflagrations of life. And that is good and necessary.
My sedentary existence moves me to pause a bit and look around at the more unremarkable but no less salvific activities that redeem life.
Last week, Brother Mark called me. He was one floor below. I was up here in this room where I write, and where I am writing right now. He said he did not feel well. His blood pressure, he said, was skyrocketing and he needed a ride to the Veterans Hospital and, was I free to take him. Sure, I said.
We left within minutes. Made it to the hospital in just under an hour. Mark told me where to drop him off. It was at the entrance to the emergency room. Mark was driving — he usually insists on driving — so I got out of the van and crossed in front of it to get over to the driver’s side.
When I passed the front of the van, it began to move. A man called out from the emergency waiting area and said, “Hey, watch out, man. You’re gonna get hit.” I heard him and moved fast. Mark looked out the window and mumbled an “Oooops.”
Then the guy came over, smiled at me, and said that I owed him one. He laughed and I said thanks.
Mark headed inside and I got into the van and drove off. Mark said he would call when he was finished – said that the doctors had to adjust his blood pressure medication.
So I headed over to my sister Mary’s house to wait. She lives near the VA Hospital. Her daughters were there. Molly and her husband Kevin. And Meghan and her little boys. In the last couple of years, new babies have arrived. They were there, too – little Liam, Mac and Remy.
Katie and her husband Tim arrived. Katie gave me a hug and a kiss, smiled and said that she was expecting a baby in May. I was thrilled to hear that. A baby in the making. She and Tim were flying up to Chicago that night to share the news with Tim’s family.
We celebrated with some wine, best wishes – the kind of things that tend to rescue the ordinariness of life from the mundane, the routine, the predictable. Babies have a wondrous way of doing just that.
Mark finally called. I left Mary’s and drove back to the hospital. Mark was fine – he did not look as flushed as he did when I dropped him off.
We headed out to a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant called “Café Saigon.” I parked. A man approached Mark, asking him for help. He needed a few dollars. Mark pulled some singles from his pocket and gave it to him.
When we got into the restaurant, we found a table and sat. Mark proceeded to tell me about a guy he saw at the hospital whose sugar count was sky high. The guy was hungry and went looking for something to eat. He found it. Came back with a stack of Oreo cookies.
He was munching away when the nurse came and had a fit. “NO Oreos,” she said. “You’ll be flying right through the roof.”
The guy swallowed and apologized. Mark told him he would fine something sugar-free.
The restaurant was really nice. I had noodles with shrimp. Mark had a thick chicken soup with some kind of greenery. The waiter was a nice guy. The waitresses were beautiful.
I told Mark that all that would ever be needed to convince me that there is a Divine Being is beauty – especially as that beauty lives, breathes and moves in a woman. All the words of the best theology book take flesh in the feminine and masculine forms. I told Mark and he agreed, in between mouthfuls of soup.
And beauty arrives through rescues – the daily rescues that get us all through life, every day of our lives. God comes through people. People who move fast, people who move slow, people who have a need to rescue those on the frayed edges of life, and people who lend a hand, give a few bucks, people who on guard for no-no Oreos.
But, above all, beauty reveals itslef through latent but real forms. It is allowed a view through those who recognize its existence in everyone and everything.
I think that is what a saint is and does. A saint sees life for what it is. A saint falls in love with life because he or she becomes captivated by the beauty that permeates and glows through everything.
Life then becomes a vast and living cathedral, teeming with color and song, with stained glass windows shining with scenes made from emergency vehicles to a man in a hat, holding an Oreo or two, and pretty waitresses. Everybody saved. Everybody rescued, by God and through each other.