Ninety-three-year-old Magalia resident Margaret Newsum feared for her life, watching the Paradise fire bearing down. She was quite immobile, still recovering from a broken back, and she stood in front of her house, waiting to die. Then she saw, out of the smoke, Dane Ray Cummings (her garbage truck driver) come into view, “in his giant green monster” (her words), racing to check on the people along his normal route.
Margaret was his last “stop”. “I probably went to 45 or 50 people to see if I could help,” Dane said.
Dane told Margaret, “You’re not staying. You’ve got to get out of here.” Letting someone ride in his truck violated company policy and could cost him his job, but now, that wasn’t important, and he gently helped her climb in.
As they raced to safety through the flames (again, her words), “It was like we were entering the bowels of Hell.” During the five-hour ride to safety, Newsum and Cummings shared details about their lives… beating cancer three times, surviving a horrific car accident and about a stint as a backup singer.
“I wish I’d known her when she was younger,” he told the local TV station. “I would’ve married her, you know what I mean? It was the best conversation I’ve had in a truck ever.”
Margaret had no family nearby, and had nowhere to go, so is staying with Cummings’ childhood best friend, Brian Harrison (a mechanic at North Valley Waste Management where Cummings works), and that’s not changing any time soon). “I have felt so welcome in this house,” Newsum told ‘Today.’ “Things may not work in the way you want, but you have to have faith, and get good friends. They’re such wonderful people.”
Margaret’s words to Dane, “You are the most wonderful creature that God produced.”
This I believe: Love 1. Hate 0.
Where I grew up, belief was fundamental and compulsory. In fact, the proper belief was pivotal depending on where you wanted to spend eternity. So, I was accustomed to cross-examination. “What do you believe?” The question focused on belief which required acceptable words declaring a religious creed. (For those without this family or religious history, I’m sparing you the un-winnable, never-ending arguments about the Trinity. Lord have mercy.)
It’s curious that I still get quizzed when I travel, in venues where I speak. Especially when people can’t place me. Are you one of us?
“You’re not even Catholic, are you?” a parishioner challenged me. “So, what could you possibly have to teach me?”
“Well, with all due respect Ma’am,” I thought to myself. “You could use some more roughage in your diet.” (Wondering… Why is it that people who claim to know God best, laugh the least?)
The man accused in the brutal killings of 11 people in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh (October 27) was taken to the hospital to be treated for the injuries he suffered in a gunfight as he was apprehended by police.
In the emergency room when he arrived, he was shouting, “I want to kill all the Jews,” according to the hospital’s president.
If he only knew then about the identity of the team tasked with keeping him alive: At least three of the doctors and nurses who cared for Robert Bowers at the Allegheny General Hospital were Jewish, according to President Jeffrey K. Cohen.
“We’re here to take care of sick people,” Cohen, who is a member of the congregation where the massacre happened, said. “We’re not here to judge you. We’re not here to ask ’Do you have insurance?’ or ’Do you not have insurance?’ We’re here to take care of people that need our help.”
This I believe; Love 2. Hate 0.
“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised, or fixed, or saved,” Parker Palmer writes. “It simply wants to be witnessed–to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is. When we make the kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through.”
These resources are far deeper than we imagine. There is a light inside. Yes, we forget. So, it is not surprising that we easily become adrift and untethered, at the mercy of life’s tides and storms.
During his time with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, at his residence in exile in India in 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “Our human nature has been distorted… I mean, we are actually quite remarkable creatures. In our religions I am created in the image of God. I am a God carrier. It’s fantastic. I have to be growing in godlikeness, in caring for the other. I know that each time I have acted compassionately, I have experienced a joy in me that I find in nothing else. When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what otherwise might have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is ‘wise selfish,’ a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.” (The Book of Joy)
So, you can ask me what I believe. I’d be more than happy to discuss the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed over beers or wine (your choice). But I’d rather shift the focus. Let’s begin here. As you go through your day, what are the questions you ask?
Do I speak and write truthfully?
Am I authentic with the people I love?
Am I compassionate with those I do not know?
Do I hear the cries of the vulnerable and the helpless?
Do I live knowing that I am a “God carrier”?
Is there meaning in my life beyond money and success?
Is my heart open to love today, and willing to risk vulnerability?
Am I willing to be wrong, to learn and to grow and to try again?
I must confess that I’m not sure if I would steer my garbage truck into harm’s way to help someone vulnerable. But that won’t stop me today, from being on the lookout for burning buildings and people who need a ride.
Blessed Advent for my Christian brothers and sisters and blessed Hanukkah for my Jewish brothers and sisters. It’s doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that Advent invites us to radical hospitality, the son of God born to refugees, in a barn.
I’m in Florida through my birthday. December 8th, so sun is on my list. Yes (for my Catholic readers), the 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Don’t ask..
This afternoon, Let Heaven and Nature Sing, University of Tampa Chamber Singers. Let the Christmas music begin.
RIP George Herbert Walker Bush, a kind and gentle man of character. We honor your service to the United States.
Quotes for your week…
When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace. Jimi Hendrix
The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. Carlos Santana
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Listen to your life. See if for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness…
because in the last analysis all moments
are key moments and life itself is grace.
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This
interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you
Blessing from Archbishop Desmond Tutu…
Dear Child of God, you are loved with a love that nothing can shake, a love that loved you long before you were created, a love that will be there long after everything has disappeared.
You are precious, with a preciousness that is totally quite immeasurable. And God wants you to be like God. Filled with life and goodness and laughter—and joy…
God, who is forever pouring out God’s whole being from all eternity, wants you to flourish.
God wants you to be filled with joy and excitement and ever longing to be able to find what is so beautiful in God’s creation: the compassion of so many, the caring, the sharing.
And God says, Please, my child, help me. Help me to spread love and laughter and joy and compassion.
And you know what, my child? As you do this—hey, presto—you discover joy. Joy, which you had not sought, comes as the gift, as almost the reward for this non-self-regarding caring for others.
The Book of Joy