Pastor Mitty responds to tragedy in Boston

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

Pastor Walter Mitty heard about the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon while watching the News Hour last Monday.  At first it bothered him that the news did not upset him.  "I wonder if I'm getting numb to all the violence in the world?" he said to himself.  "Only two or three people died.  What's that compared to Sandy Hook or Syria or Sudan?"

It was while he washing the dishes that he noticed a light go on in Michael's house, which reminded him how worried he had been about Michael.  The possibility of his friend having cancer upset him more than what had happened in Boston. He wondered if he could handle another loss.  The test results hadn't come back yet.  He hated waiting.

To get his mind off his friend, Mitty turned the television on again and started channel surfing.  Every station was focused on the bombings in Boston.  "Oh well," he sighed.  "I guess watching this is better than worrying about Michael." 

What he saw at first in the endless replays of the scene were frightened runners finding the energy to sprint away from where the smoke was billowing into the sky, even though they had just run 26 miles.

But the more he watched, the more he noticed that some people were running towards the smoke, not knowing or caring if another bomb was about to explode.  Their concern seemed to be not escaping the danger but helping the injured.

"Fascinating how people respond differently in a crisis," he thought.  Being a preacher, he searched for a Bible story which could give some meaning to the tragedy, and what stuck in his mind was the last judgment scene.  "Funny how danger will separate the sheep from the goats," he thought as wondered which way he'd be running if he were there.

Realizing that watching replays of a terrorist attack weren't lifting his spirit, he tried switching channels again and found the Bulls playing the Magic on the U.  He wasn't really a basketball fan, but almost anything was less depressing than watching the Cubs.

At the end of the game, Pastor Walt was forced to return to reality.  Knowing that his congregation would be expecting him to say something on Sunday about the terrorist attack, he began the long process in which he engaged every week—trying to find some meaning in the events of his members' lives, some light to help them deal with their darkness.

The pastor of Poplar Park Community came up with nothing after half an hour of searching his brain, but it didn't bother him.  He was used to coming up with nothing at the beginning of the process.  It was Monday night.  He'd let it percolate for a few days.  Usually something would come up.

At 10:00 the phone rang.  "Walt, this is Susan.  I hope I'm not calling too late."

Mitty noticed how glad he was to hear his sister-in-law's voice.  "No trouble, Susan.  You know you can call any time."

"The reason I'm calling is. . .well, I suppose you've heard the news about what happened in Boston."

"Yeah, I heard.  That kind of violence is getting to be too common.  I'd like a break from that kind of reality for awhile."

"I know what you mean, but here's the reason I called.  One of the commentators on TV was talking about the people who ran to help instead of running away.  And as he was talking he recalled something that Fred Rogers—you know, Mr. Rogers—had said.  He said that any time his family would go through a difficult time, his mother would tell him, 'Look for the helpers.' Look for the helpers!  Since Herman died, I think I've been so wrapped up in my own grieving that I haven't been able to see all of the helpers in my life."

The bachelor pastor waited as his sister-in-law paused.

"I just realized that I. . .I mean the boys and I. . .wouldn't have known what to do if you hadn't left your church and stayed with us for the last four years while Herm was dying.  You've been a helper with a capital H, and I just want to say thank you and we love you."

Pastor Walt was caught so off guard by the outpouring of affection that all he could mumble was "I love you too" before hanging up the phone.

As he brushed his teeth he realized how much he had missed the sound of Susan's voice. 

Then his thoughts turned to his neighbor, and his worry about Michael came back.  It then dawned on him that he had turned to the Bulls game and even news about a terrorist attack to relieve his anxiety but not to God.

So, after crawling into bed, he tried to hand it all over to God, and then he waited.  One thing he had learned is that prayer is more listening then talking.  It wasn't long before he heard an answer.

"I've heard what you need, my son, but what does Michael need from you?"

It then occurred to Pastor Walt that he hadn't asked himself that question.  "I guess he needs me to be a stable, solid rock to rely on."

"And?"

Mitty saw where God was going.  "And as long as I can't be OK unless he's OK, I can't be that for him.  I'm making him responsible for my peace of mind."

Pastor Walt didn't hear the voice again before falling asleep, but he didn't need to.  

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