A few weeks ago, on a blazing-hot afternoon, I ventured to a local arts and crafts store. It was a Saturday and the store was crowded with shoppers.
“Ha! I’ll be in and out in a flash,” I thought to myself as I headed toward the bolts of fabric. Saturdays are often spent at my computer as I shuffle between mountains of laundry and articles for the newspaper, so a bit of shopping is a rare luxury.
But I wasn’t there to purchase the components for a kid’s science project or peruse the whimsical scarecrows and other autumn décor. All I needed was a yard of Velcro to help keep my arm immobilized at night. (I’ve been contending with a wrist condition.)
There were several ladies ahead of me in line at the cutting counter — it’s the rare male who ventures into the place — but after about 10 minutes of waiting, I had my Velcro.
Then there was the line for the cashier. I groaned inwardly as I took in the dozen or so women ahead of me. The two clerks looked completely overwhelmed by the spectacle. Now, this particular store is a happy place for most people. You’re generally there not for necessities, but for luxury. After all, you don’t really need scrap book stickers or a wreath for the front door. (Although let’s be honest: many of us might argue otherwise.)
Finally, it was my turn to pay. As I approached the cashier, a frustrated woman in line called out, “Are you the only ones here today? Isn’t there anyone else who can help?” You could hear the other ladies begin to murmur.
“We’re the only ones,” the cashier responded softly. “Oh, you’re awesome!” the woman retorted sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
I laid my yard of Velcro on the counter. The cashier was an older woman and I couldn’t help but think she’d rather be home with her feet up than spending what should be her retirement dealing with surly customers and their snarky comments. She sighed and confided to me they were short of help that day.
This little vignette played out in the wake of the ugliness, angry protests and violence in our nation as statues were knocked over and tempers flared. Instead of civil dialogue, it seemed we’d descended into chaos. I wondered as I drove home from the craft store: What has America become? Where is the respect and civility in public life?
And then it happened: The horrific Hurricane Harvey smashed into the coast, spreading its path of destruction, taking lives and ruining homes, decimating entire neighborhoods. The soggy mess was still being cleaned up when Irma hit.
That’s when the news — and the nation’s mood — began to shift. First responders headed into harm’s way, risking their own lives to save others. A midwife rode an inflated swan into the flood waters to help a woman deliver her baby. A man about to purchase the last available generator at a home improvement store gave it instead to a complete stranger, a woman whose father needed it for his oxygen supply.
Students at St. John Bosco Catholic School in the Diocese of Phoenix packed up 16 huge boxes of toys and letters and gifts to send to children in Texas affected by the hurricane. Others sent funds, including students from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale who sent money to Houston’s Catholic schools and Xavier College Preparatory that sent nearly $30,000 to Catholic Charities USA.
This kind of courage and love and generosity is the stuff of character, the essence of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes it takes a disaster or a crisis to remind us of what’s really important. Our lives here are not to be spent on pettiness but on serving one another.
We give our best witness to the Gospel when others see love in our actions and attitudes, when we demonstrate patience under trying circumstances and bear with one another, forgiving and blessing others as Jesus called us to do. Let’s roll up our sleeves and live out this call to love, asking our Lord to empower us to build respect, dignity and hope in our communities and across the nation. And yes, even at the craft store.