The little priest walked slowly down the aisle of the church pushing his walker. He appeared to be so frail, and yet there he was saying the prayers of the Sunday mass. When it came time for the homily I wasn’t expecting much. I supposed that he was long past his prime, a minister put out to pasture so to speak. It was wrong of me to judge, but he walked like Carol Burnett did whenever she was imitating really old people in one of her hilariously funny skits. I listened politely as he began to preach, and by the end I was humbled and in tears.
He told us that he was going to paint a beautiful picture with his words. He began by explaining how he had come to our area. An old friend had invited him to retire to the warmth of the south. It was an appealing idea that might be wonderful idea for everyone, and besides the acquaintances would have so much time to be reunited, telling their old stories and having a few laughs in the process. He had decided to seize the adventure even though the only thing that he knew about Texas was the stuff of legends and folklore. He really didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in August but his buddy had assured him that he would love every minute.
By the end of that month the rains began to fall on our town from the effects of hurricane Harvey, a new experience for him for certain. The heavens opened up and refused to stop their relentless torrent for days and days. By the time the sun finally came out more than fifty one inches of rain had fallen, sparing no one. The priest had watched the rescues and the heartbreaking stories in horror, but then he realized that something utterly stunning was happening. He saw the kindness, hope and love of humanity unfolding in front of his eyes and those of the world.
Over thirty percent of the homes located near the church where he now lives had flooded. The parishioners swung into action turning the halls and the classrooms into a haven for those who had lost everything. They brought food, water, blankets, clothes, money, anything that the victims might need. They worked tirelessly day after day as the lines of people seeking help wrapped around the property. It was in that moment that the minister saw the utter beauty of humankind being revealed so magnificently. He realized that this was exactly the way God wanted his followers to be. It was as though all the best qualities of the human race were present for him and the world to witness and understand. It was a lesson in how we all should behave, not just in an hour of tragedy, but for all of our days. He knew that he had come to a place that he would be proud to call home.
He told us to close our eyes and imagine the goodness, feel the hope, and luxuriate in the love. He reminded us that it is all around us, and that it is God’s way of assuring us that we are never alone. There will always be someone who will take our hand and guide us to a place of safety. We need only look around and we too will see the lovely image that we as people have painted.
I suppose that it is sometimes difficult to noticed just how wonderful people really are when our media focuses so much on the horrors of our society. We have entertainers saying very ugly things about people in the name of humor. Our leaders have jumped the shark with their obnoxiousness. We see violence seemingly in every corner of the world. People shoot the bird and scream in anger at the smallest provocation. We align ourselves with groups and political ideologies. We argue and stuff our ears with our fingers lest we might hear something that differs from our own points of view. We seem unwilling to compromise or get along, and so when a terrible disaster or tragedy occurs we are somewhat shocked to see kind hearts and heroes emerge. In reality the people who rise to the occasion have been around us all along. We were just so busy believing the naysayers that we failed to notice that most of us are truly and exceptionally good.
The priest believes that God was smiling as He saw His ultimate creations demonstrate the kind of behavior that He had hoped for them. It filled Him with parental pride to watch his children performing acts of generosity without any consideration other than doing the right thing. Humans had made something horrible become beautiful and everyone took note. The preacher spoke of receiving phone calls from all over the world from individuals that he had known. They were checking on his welfare, but also expressing their astonishment at the scenes of courage and warmth that they had witnessed. It had changed their perspective and reminded them of what makes humans truly exceptional. They too wanted to help, and so they did just as thousands of others whose hearts had been touched.
I still think of those four days of inundation. I remember the fear that I felt as I saw the images of people being carried from their homes in boats. I believed that our city would never be able to recover from the devastation, but I had underestimated the spirit of humans. I had bought into the negativity that is swirling around us in abundance. I had been so very wrong.
We struggle and waver and even have moments of hopelessness, but the reality of who we are is so much better than the doomsday predictions. Our innate goodness rises up again and again to repair the wounds of our fellow beings. We get up after we have been knocked to the ground and check to see if anyone else needs our assistance. Life is far more wonderful than we may have thought it was, and people in all of their variety are ultimately the sparks that light the fires of optimism and love.
The good father painted a beautiful picture indeed. It is an image that I will cary in my heart to bring to mind when times get tough. It is a canvas painted with the colors of kindness, hope and love.