We had some sort of emergency in the far back corner of Holy Redeemer Church this past Sunday, September 8, at the end of the offertory of the 11:00 AM Mass. Our entire church can fit into most sanctuaries of most churches, so, the far back corner of the church is, like, merely 25 feet away from the altar.
Someone cried out: “Call 911!” And the chorus of “Call 911!” multiplied in seconds. But there was no noisy commotion. No one said what the emergency was in those first seconds. I hiked it down from the altar to the back of the church in those few seconds. Pastor is as pastor does, right? As I then found out, it was a medical emergency for one of our ushers. In mere seconds, I gave an emergency anointing of the sick to the usher even before they were able to lay him down on the floor. EMS arrived minutes later and our usher is just fine now.
Since our faith family is small, we’re pretty tightly knit, so you can imagine our hearts were entirely in solidarity with our usher. You might say that we were distracted, that anyone bothering to have any situational awareness could now relax as it’s surely impossible that any other critical incident indicators that might present themselves cannot happen, because, you know, emergencies rarely happen, and un-associated and entirely diverse critical incidents never happen at the same time. So, go ahead, let your guard down, right? Wrong.
We immediately continued Mass starting with the Preface. “The Lord be with you!” “And with your spirit!” came the strikingly strong response. I can’t imagine that anyone would or, humanly speaking, could complain about these few seconds given over for the anointing, either time-wise or appropriateness-wise. So, no big deal, right? But something else happened in those few seconds in back of the church which should have had me run after someone so as to get a licence plate without him realizing it, you know, right after that anointing. That would have been logistically pretty easy in our circumstances. But I didn’t do it. Stupid me. Let’s review.
We had an unusually high number of visitors throughout the church. The emergency and the calls to call 911 were happening right in back of a certain visitor, who, unlike the others, did not come with a family. Never seen him before. He was alone [… description removed…]. By the time I got next to that certain visitor who was sitting at the end of the pew in the side aisle in that back corner of the church, with me just about to reach over others to anoint our usher, the visitor guy came out of the end of the pew and simply pushed me into those holding up the usher, that is, out of his own way. The visitor guy then bolted to the front-side door of the church and made good his escape. “Escape…”
The push wasn’t anything violent, but it was forceful enough to get the job done (I’m a pretty big guy), forceful enough that I had to turn to look at him while he bolted out. It was all too surreal. I was instantly all questions about who he was and what he was up to. I watched him until he went out the door next to the sanctuary in, say, four seconds. Whatever about him, I then turned my attention over to the usher so as to get him anointed.
Many are able to keep a sense of situational awareness for a singular critical incident that may take place at any given time, but it is not so easy to be entirely in the midst of one incident while another, entirely un-associated and entirely diverse and utterly unexpected critical incident begins at the same time in the same place. That’s what was happening here. This was an excellent experience easily able to demonstrate lack of readiness. Humility is always needed. To be noted:
- The visitor was visibly shaken when the calls to call 911 rang out right behind him. A description of his fear from someone who, having turned around in the pew directly in front of him, looking him square in the face, was that he was all worked up in fear, something you can’t do instantaneously. Shock is one thing, freezing up. But being worked up in fear is another thing altogether. This was a fear he was already in the midst of, during which the calls to call 911 took him by surprise. He did NOT turn to see what was happening right in back of him in those first seconds when it was not being said if this was a medical emergency or a law enforcement emergency of some kind. Everyone else turned to see what was happening. That he didn’t turn to see what was going on right behind him is quite impossible. Was it that any medical emergency was insignificant compared to what he himself was about to cause? Did he feel caught out in some way, that someone recognized him?
Recall the discovery of “White Hat”, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two terrorist bombers of the Boston Marathon, now locked up in the ultra-super-max ADX facility in Florence, Colorado. He was the only one who did NOT look at the explosion as it took place on Boylston Street near the finish line of the race. He is the only one who looked away from the explosion, and then made good his escape:
I have the link of that video set to 49:36. Watch until 50:35, just under a minute. This is a lesson in catching out a bad actor. Note how the terrorist guy doesn’t look, but looks away. This is important. Also:
- The visitor guy quietly said something with quiet deliberate determination as a proclamation to himself, to God, to neighbor, though as a kind of soliloquy:
“No! – I can’t do this! – I have to leave!”
This was not a frantic, panic attack statement, nor a statement issuing from PTSD. It was all quite deliberate, even ever so slightly tinged with anger, but not at any of us, but rather with himself, disappointed, it seems, perhaps, that he had actually decided to do something horrific, but was just now changing his mind. He wasn’t at all in panic-like fear. Nor was he suffering from wartime violent sensory overload and couldn’t bear to see anything anymore even in the form of a non-violent medical emergency. He didn’t know if it was a medical emergency or he was being called out. If he was a bad actor and was just now changing his mind to not do the unthinkable, a medical emergency and calls to 911 would act as a preview of what he himself was about to bring about. He couldn’t take it.
(1) “No!” — This is an answer, voiced for himself to hear physically, regarding an internal agonizing dialogue that he had been having, much longer than just a few seconds.
(2) “I can’t do this!” — The reasoned conclusion isn’t about someone deciding to get over agoraphobia and feeling like a failure, so that he had heroically decided to be in a place as public as a church but was failing in the attempt. No. For all his fear, his words were way too deliberate to be issuing from panic. The reference of “this” is not a reference to a PTSD episode. Again, note that the statement was reasoned and deliberate. He was thinking about doing some thing, not thinking about suffering some episode. He’s entrenching his “No!”
(3) “I have to leave!” — He was a heap of chaotic emotions. IF he was a bad actor – and I’m not saying that he was (I’m just using this as a lesson in situational awareness) – but if he was a bad actor and had repented on the spot, he would want to get himself the heck out of there lest he change his mind. And the dichotomy between what he was seeing in the calm worshiping and his would-be senseless violence was too much to handle in front of others. He needed to be alone to sort things out. Such on the spot repentance is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Good for him. He did it. He did the right thing. This was grace at work. The Holy Spirit working on him. His conscience getting to him. Great!
If that guy is reading this, and I’m wrong about all this, please, accept my apologies. It’s just that this makes for a good lesson in situational awareness. If you’re a good actor, you’ll understand that we can’t be too careful in these weird days of waaaay toooo many critical incidents, and that we have to learn from out-of-the-ordinary behaviors. It’s not you I’m judging. I’m just wondering about the ensemble of indicators. That’s all.
If that guy is reading this, and I’m right about all this, please, know that God loves you and wants you in heaven for ever. Yep. God’s love is more powerful than anything we could ever come up with. He wants us back. Always. If you’re Catholic, Go to Confession! Taking your own life is not allowed. You are not beyond redemption, not beyond salvation. God loves you. We love you. God’s love is more powerful. Don’t hate yourself. Just receive our Lord’s forgiveness. I, for one, would give you a do-able penance for sure. And the secret of any Confession is absolute. This is what we have to be about in this world, helping each other to get to heaven. We can be thankful to the Lord together, for Jesus’ mercy endures forever. Amen.
The time that the visitor guy was noticed in particular and until he left the church was, like, eight seconds. These things take place very quickly.
If there was a scary part, it was that he hesitated, wavered for just a split second before exiting out the side door, like he had to make one final decision not to do something.
Finally: Thanks go to guardian angels.