I was a very religious person for most of my life. I practiced Catholicism devoutly and attended daily mass.
I have been following my own heart and not any particular religious teaching for many years now, but I have never forgotten the lesson I learned one day when I was on my way to mass.
It was freezing and snowing one winter’s day and I was driving to the expressway so I could attend noon mass at a monastery in a neighboring town. As I drove under the viaduct before the entrance ramp I saw a woman walking on the snow along the wall. Her head was down and she was trying to stay upright as the snow and wind blew her coat open, and I noticed she was wearing a nightgown underneath. It was obvious she was in some kind of trouble and I had only a few seconds to decide what to do.
I am ashamed to tell you that in those seconds I thought about how helping her would make me late for mass, so I kept driving.
My stomach was sick the rest of the day. How ironic that I was going to mass to prove to myself and God and everyone else that I was a good person, and when I got the opportunity to be a good person, I passed it up.
I wonder how many times in our lives we’re so busy doing what we think we’re supposed to do to be good people, and miss the everyday actions that would actually demonstrate it?
This lesson was not lost on me.
Against all odds, that spring I was waiting at a stop sign a few blocks away from my house on my way to mass in the exact same town. I was behind a dump truck that carried a load of gravel. To my shock, the back opened up and gravel started pouring out on the street in front of my car.
The driver got out and walked to the back of the truck, so I got out of my car and joined him.
“I hit the wrong button!” he said as he stared at the pile of stones with his mouth agape.
I offered suggestions such as calling the city, or another truck that might help him, but he declined. “This is my buddy’s truck. He was doing me a favor and I can’t afford to pay anybody to come and help me.”
I knew life was giving me a chance to redeem myself for the woman in the snow. “Wait here,” I said as I got back in my car. “I’ll get some stuff and come back and help you.”
I drove home and got my wheelbarrow and some shovels and brought them back. Then I helped the man shovel the stones back into his truck. It was backbreaking and took quite a lot of time, but I didn’t mind at all. I knew life was asking me once again if I cared more about the rules of religion or the people they were created for.
“Thank you so much!” the man said as he got back in his truck.
I told him it was no problem and went home to take a shower.
I think of this every time I see someone so hell bent on following the rules and regulations of their particular religion that they forget all about the people that lie bleeding in their wake.
“I know you,” I think to myself, “and I hope someday someone drops a load of gravel in your path so you will remember what all that kneeling and praying is about.”