Watching For Dead Rats

Near our hospital office building where the chaplains meet, a hotel is waiting through its final stages of construction. Men and women in hard hats are completing electrical lines and other finishing touches. The sidewalk is almost open again, and the long temporary roof that covered what was the skeleton of the structure is gone. A man has been there for the last few mornings, accepting my greeting and offering his own.

Today he said to line of us as we passed by, “Watch out. Stay to the right. There’s a dead rat to the left. You don’t want to roll over that.” He spoke to all of us but phrased his admonition to the woman in the wheelchair who was at the front of the line. Between me and that woman was another woman whose face was in her phone. She never lifted her head and probably only looked with her eyes the way I do over my glasses when people say things that unnerve me.

My mother’s words–she says them all the time, to anybody she needs to say them–came before me. Mama does not like us (or you or Jesus) talking on a phone or using a phone while you’re a pedestrian. This woman needs to meet my mother. I decided not to introduce her to Mama through me. And it came to me that the woman looking at her phone was handling the sidewalk. She didn’t walk over the dead rat. She didn’t trip or stumble. She kept a good pace ahead of me, didn’t slow anyone in our line down. She walked into my building so we probably work for the same hospital. How she walked was fine. Her pace was fine.

I thought about something as I went up the elevator. You can pay attention in a number of ways. Was this woman as attuned to her surroundings as I think she should have been? No. Was she in some potential danger walking down a street in Chicago while not looking up? Yes. But she made it to her destination. And she had, at least, one person who would have helped her should something have happened that did surprise her. I was there and I was alert. I was aware because Mama’s voice is in my head about being aware. In a sense, this woman had me in her corner.

It’s true for me. It’s true for you. Perhaps I’m not paying attention to dangers in my path, and I’m thinking about the spiritual path insofar as one can tease it apart from non-spiritual paths, something I don’t think can be done by the way. Still, maybe there are dangers ahead, dangers I’m unaware of. I can, like this woman in the line of passersby, use what I do have and I can trust that God will surround me with people who will be there to help when I need it.

In very specific and in less specific and vague ways, my future is unknown. I’m watching for dead rats, especially when warned about them. But I don’t see all the rats under the new building. I’m not able to recognize every threat. I do and will stumble. But when I do, I won’t be alone. I won’t be unprotected. I’ll use what I can and when that’s not enough, others will help. I have a hunch that this is true for you too.

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