Sunday, May 12
The first time I “met” him was October 12, 2014. He was lying on his back in the middle of Clark Street on the north side. It was the day of the Chicago Marathon and as a participant runner I had just passed the mile 8 marker and as I was heading south on Clark with thousands of other runners, I saw what seemed like a commotion just ahead of me. Sure enough, as I got closer to the scene, I saw what every runner fears: someone who has gone down. And while most race-ending injuries usually are in the orthopedic form of a twisted ankle, bum knee, or inflamed IT band, you seldom think of one related to the heart. As I approached the crowd of people huddled around in a circle with paramedics doing their heroic work, in the middle on the ground I saw a man whose face was a shade of blue receiving CPR. I was stunned by what I saw.
Going with the flow of people I ran about another block and then decided to go back to this horrific scene. Though I didn’t want to intrude or cause an undue burden by having one more observer get in the way of this critical situation, I identified myself to a police officer as a Catholic priest. The gentleman officer just simply whispered: “you better say a prayer, Father, this is not a good situation.” Do you know his name, I asked? The cop told me his name was Robert. Although I was frazzled and not sure what to utter in my prayer, I turned off my iPod music and continued on in silence for many more miles thinking about the young man I had seen on the ground. When I finished the race I returned to Old St. Pat’s and told everyone at the 5:00 p.m. mass what I had witnessed and that we need to pray for Robert and his family.
Word must have spread that Old St. Pat’s prayed for Robert because two days later I received word from the Marathon office that after successful CPR and other critical measures, 29 year old Robert survived and was still being hospitalized. Later that year, on the night before Thanksgiving, to my absolute wonderment and delight I received the phone call of a lifetime from a young man I never met before: it was Robert. He somehow got my name and number and called to thank me and the people of Old St. Pat’s for their prayerful support. Robert has called me on marathon day every year since 2014.
This past Tuesday I was able to meet Robert in person for the very first time. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and newborn baby Nathan and so he called me to tell me that business was bringing him back to Chicago. It was one of the most special encounters I’ve had in my life. Although I had only heard his voice through a cell phone I had never been able to see him.
During our special visit over at the Standard Club where he was staying, we talked about October 12, 2014. He wanted to know what I saw and for me to share with him the details of his traumatic experience from my perspective. Needless to say, it’s a bit surreal when you’re telling someone: I saw your blue face and I was shocked. As you can imagine, Robert (or Robby as he likes to be called) is a special guy. He lives from a place of deep gratitude for being alive. Robby is Jewish and he spoke so eloquently about the mystery of God who brings people together, no matter what their faith tradition is. Every year, his mom sends a donation to Old St Pat’s in the amount of $118, a number which has special significance in the Jewish tradition.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday and Mother’s Day, I stand so grateful for the sacred encounters we have on this journey of life. To the God who calls us together and whose voice is one of compassion and love, I give thanks today not only for my own mom, but for the opportunity to meet face-to-face with my new Jewish friend from San Francisco.
Father Tom Hurley