Thursday, May 30, 2013

Of wails and walls and woeful weary women



That's what she was doing.


Sitting on the front steps of St. John's Cathedral at East Ninth and Superior.


And it wasn't crying.


It was wailing.


Plaintiff, forlorn, and loud.


Wailing has a slower tempo than crying.


It requires deep breaths between the extended notes held long so the sadness of the tone can envelop you.


And yet the world ignored her.


I was heading west on Rockwell when I encountered the scene.


The Cathedral porch was a beehive of activity.


Runners from the annual Rite-Aid Marathon, like ants at a picnic, were everywhere.


Churchgoers went in and out  the front door.


In essence, humanity all about.


But weirdly, no one seemed to notice.


They absorbed themselves in their own objectives.


They acted like they didn't hear the wailing.


The truth is though, it was impossible not to hear.


What makes us ignore those obviously in distress?


Is it fear?


Maybe she was psychotic.


Perhaps even dangerous.


But I don't think that's it.


I think we don't like getting involved.


We prefer to help those in need clean style.


We like to write a check or drop cash into a basket that circulates around the room.


You don't get your hands dirty that way.


People in need are complicated.




Bad teeth.


Frequently, bad hygiene.


Ignore them and let organizations do our work.


Ebeneezer once asked, "Don't we have debtors prisons?"


Now, folks, I was at the Cathedral to meet my daughter, the athlete marathoner.


But, fool that I am, I asked Madame Wail what troubled her.


First, I had to calm her down.


Deep, slow breaths.


Finally,  the mournful moans subsided.


And then out tumbled the story.


She'd had a seizure in the  rear pews of the church and a confused policeman had ejected her from the historic structure.


The politician in me took over as I negotiated for her reentry into the beautiful house of worship.


A friend was called to give her a lift home.


The crisis was over.


I gave her my card and told her to call if I could be of further service.


She thanked me, tears in her eyes.


I think those tears represented aloneness.


She obviously suffered from maladies mostly mental.


Drug addiction wouldn't surprise me either.


But in the heart of the busiest corner of a major American metropolis in broad daylight, no one heard her cries.


Her wailing.


Her vocal SOS that pierced the morning air.


God help the invisible people.


And God help those who refuse to see them.


Or hear them.


Jump into a mess.


Take a risk and involve yourself in someone else's drama, for a change.


The modern mind has walled off the inclinations of the human heart.


But within you, your heart beats to the slow, melancholy pace of a wail.


Satisfy your heart, not your logic.


And follow that wail.


It will lead to your opportunity to help a suffering soul.


And maybe save yours in the bargain.




  1. LET'S FACE IT, under the right set of circumstances, we also could be invisible people, Big Dave. That's kinda scary.
    Yesterday, the good pastor at St. Mary - Painesville, revisited his stock sermon (homily) on Church Community. We all come together to sit, stand, kneel in "pews" to pray together and receive the Eucharist together and "supposedly" feel connected as "community" or even "family"...because, after all, we are - universal.
    Sounds good, right?
    Yet, I have heard it said that Catholics can sit 2 pews away from one other fo 20 years and feel comfortable with the fact that they have never once spoken to one other. In spite of the part of the Mass where people under the relatively new liturgy turn towards each another in the immediate vicinity and say, " Peace be with you" while shaking hands with "strangers in their midst", few parishioners actually like doing this, and some still balk...and recoil..and stare into space. Sometimes they say, "I have a cold", but what they really mean is, "You MIGHT have a cold...or some other unknown community disease."
    I am one of those Catholics who spend more time studying faces than praying when I am in Church. I have recognized people all over Lake County who go to our church. I often can't resist saying hello to these fellow pew prayers who I have sat among for years and years, and 4 out of 5 times I get no response back....not even a "fake it Hello, because this person thinks he knows me' - Just a stare.
    I'm convinced after almost 7 decades of attendance and marginal participation, that this is a "Catholic Thing". It does not fulfill me...but...for some reason, I continue to put up with it. always sounds good, but I'd hate to think what would happen if I really needed help from one of these impersonal frowning sheep if I were coughing up blood on the steps to the front door.

  2. Beautiful piece of writing, you have expressed everything in such a beautiful way. Going to bookmark your blog to read more such posts, thank you for sharing it