Every day, unless it is raining or snowing, she walks Founders and Kamp Streets in Northbrook. Elderly, petite, bent double over her walker, I’ve never seen her face. But her slender, curved, determined figure is so familiar, I feel that I know her.
Most seasons, she walks on the sidewalk, separated from the street by a grassy berm. But now that snow banks have closed the sidewalks, she walks in the street, hugging the snow-packed curb. Her proximity to traffic terrifies me. When I see her, I slow way down and give her a wide berth, sending evil stares at drivers who disregard her. Does no one notice her but me?
That question was answered earlier this week in a big, Blue way. As I turned onto Kamp Street at the end of my work day, I was slowed by a Northbrook police SUV inching down the street ahead of me, straddling both lanes of traffic. It seemed odd. I couldn’t see an emergency; the officer hadn’t turned on the flashing lights; there were no geese crossing the road, as there so often are in the spring and fall.
What was the officer doing? Protecting the Walking Woman as she pushed her walker in the street. Traffic piled up behind the cruiser as the officer shielded her from inattentive drivers, while my elderly friend maintained her steady, stooped pace. I was moved almost to tears as I crept along behind the police car—she had been noticed and deemed worthy of protection. Protection from impatient drivers who might not have noticed, who might have, inattentively, harmed her.
In these angry days in our community and country, I have tired of the things we choose to notice: other peoples’ faults, wingnuts in positions of power, inconsistencies in action, failures in judgement, petty slights blown out of proportion. We attack one another with “Yeah, but . . .,” creating false equivalencies. We condemn one another for the things we ourselves have done. We dwell on the darkness in others, imagining ourselves to be the only reliable arbiters of truth and justice. Have you noticed?
That’s why that kind police officer, shepherding a strolling citizen to safety, caused me so much joy. Rather than ticketing the Walking Woman for impeding traffic or loitering in a public place, the officer honored her daily walk with a slow-moving vehicular parade. The officer noticed her.
Sunday’s gospel reading calls us to “notice,” as well. (Mark 1.29-39) Jesus, fresh from a synagogue sermon that went viral, stopped by a disciple’s home for Sabbath Dinner. But there was no dinner on the table. Though the pot roast warmed in the oven, fresh pies cooled on the counter, and the table was set for guests, there was no host. Where was the disciple’s mother-in-law, who had extended the invitation in the first place? Mark tells us she was sick in bed, fighting a fever, completely unable to welcome her guests. I am sure that some in attendance were irritated with her for potentially exposing them to illness. I imagine others poked at the pies with a fork, quietly helping themselves. Others might have picked up the phone to order take-out. But Jesus? Jesus wondered about the woman, worried about the woman. Jesus stuck his head into her bedroom to check on her, as a parent checks on a feverish child. Seeing her abed, unable to rise, Jesus touched her hand, helped her to her feet, cooled her fever. Jesus chose to not notice the rudeness of his disciples or the rumbling in his stomach. He noticed her.
Both the Northbrook police officer and Jesus have reminded me this week to notice. To care. To imagine the other’s need, rather than dwell on my own. Its not really that hard. To simply notice.
Though the weather outside is frightful, we will gather for live zoom Worship on Sunday, as we have for the eleven months of the pandemic. Eleven months. Sigh.
On that note, I have called a meeting of our Community Life Team, the wise women and men at Ascension who have been guiding our response to the pandemic. Now that our region has moved to Phase 4, and vaccine distribution accelerates, I want us to start imagining the day when we will resume in-person worship and congregational life at Ascension. It won’t happen for a while, but it finally feels as though our pandemic-driven distance from one another will, eventually, lift, and I want us to be ready. We’ll keep you posted.
Today I ask you to do a simple thing—notice. Notice something good. Notice someone in need. Notice that, today, the sun will shine three minutes longer than it did yesterday. And to flip a fear-based trope, “If you see something, say something.” Something good. Something kind. Something hopeful. Today let’s choose to notice the things, the people Jesus notices.
I still worry about the Walking Woman in this horrible weather, on these slick streets—there might not always be a kind officer to protect her. But perhaps others are noticing her, as well, shielding her from danger, shepherding her to safety. Maybe that “noticer” will be you.
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post