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Image: PV Bella

This was written a long time ago by the now-retired Chicago Police Chaplain, who is also a friend. He sent it in an email to several friends. Some reproduced it on social media. I hope he doesn’t mind me reproducing this. I would hate to have him bring the wrath of the Great Comedian down on me.

“It was about 4:15 on a very cold, snowy morning in the early ‘70’s, and the two wagon men were waiting to leave the E.R. of Children’s Memorial Hospital. Both had some mileage on them, just as the big squadrol did (CPD runs its own livery service like TLC here in the county). They both had leather jackets, and they showed some wear and tear. Topping off the whole picture were the checkered hatbands that mean The Real Police to every Chicagoan.

One wagon man loitered at the nursing desk, waiting for some paperwork to be completed so they could begin their run to the near west side. The other wagon man stood staring out the door, holding a bundle of blankets and bedspreads in his arms. I said hello, and asked what was going on, just to make small talk. His reply moved the moment from small talk to no talk: “Two little ones, Father…dead…carbon monoxide. Take a look.”

He pulled back the fringed edge of the bedspread and two little faces were nestled together, a sight that took my breath away. There was some talk about a space heater in an apartment and other family members being treated at St. Mary’s and St. Elizabeth’s Hospitals, but I didn’t really hear or comprehend very much. I said a brief prayer; probably more for me than anyone else, and when I touched their tiny foreheads there was still a hint of human warmth there.

The wagon man gently pulled the bedspread up and covered the little faces. The partner came over; paperwork rolled up loosely in his hand and connected with us near the exit door. “All set,” he said. And I said, “I don’t know how you guys do it.” And the bundle-bearer replied softly, in words I will always remember, “You can’t let it get to you, Father.” We all walked out into the snow and cold to the squadrol, and I walked toward the wagon’s rear door. Again, the bundle-bearer spoke words that are still in my soul’s memory: “No, no… they ride up front with us.”

We said goodbye, the driver walked around and got in, and the bundle-bearer worked his way into the passenger seat without ever giving up his precious armload. The driver started the wagon, turned on the headlights, and slowly pulled out of the hospital driveway to begin the unrushed journey down Halsted Street.

Religious histories and myths are interwoven with stories of God’s anger at human evil and they are filled with just as many stories of God’s wrath being washed away by the simple goodness or quiet heroism of a single human being. As I walked back to the rectory through the beautiful falling snow, the thought kept running through my mind that whatever evil had occurred on earth since midnight five hours previous, the leather-jacketed bundle-bearer had caught God’s eye, and the earth was safe for another day.”

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