April 22, 2011

Emmaus Walk / Debra Tomaselli

Hovering over a distraught soul on a wing and a prayer

Debra TomaselliI knew something was amiss when I arrived home to the sound of a helicopter hovering over our neighborhood. It hung in the air beating an ominous tune while I unloaded groceries from my car, put them away and headed toward the computer.

I keep the books for my husband’s business, and my goal was to enter a long list of invoices that afternoon.

As usual, I checked my e-mails before starting and, there, a neighbor had issued a warning: Residents, Lock your doors and stay inside. A gunman is loose in the area. Will keep you posted.

I shook my head, but felt strangely calm. Rather than fear for my own safety, my thoughts turned to the distraught gunman. How desperate he must be, I thought, to resort to hiding behind the barrel of a gun.

With that, I began the tedious task of inputting vendors, dates, dollar amounts and purchase order numbers. As each invoice was completed, I checked it off and moved on to the next.

About an hour later, with the helicopter still beating incessantly, another e-mail appeared. The gunman is holed up in an apartment nearby. SWAT teams are at a standoff with him.

A wave of compassion swept over me.

How fearful it must be to hide behind the barrel of a gun, I thought. How desperate, how alone and afraid, small and powerless he must feel.

And as horrible as his life must seem now, I thought, it most likely was about to get worse. I whispered a prayer for the desperate gunman, and proceeded to the next invoice.

Helicopter blades pounded overhead as the urge to pray grew into outright compulsion. Something was pushing me to pray, and trying to ignore it was like trying not to blink for 30 minutes. I couldn’t disregard it. It was uncontrollable. It had to happen.

Suddenly, I jumped from the computer and raced to a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that hangs in my bedroom. There, I dropped to my knees.

The prayers gushed forth.

I pleaded for the gunman. I prayed that his fear would subside. I prayed that he wouldn’t complicate matters by harming someone else. I prayed that Jesus would intervene. I prayed for a peaceful resolution. I prayed for the stranger’s conversion.

There, on my knees, an intense litany surged forth for this unknown gunman. Finally, after about 20 minutes, I relaxed. The prayer was done. I stood and looked at the picture of Jesus.

“He’s in your hands,” I said.

I returned to my desk and finished invoicing.

The helicopter still hovered when my husband and I went out to dinner that night, but when we returned the skies were silent.

The next morning, I searched the newspaper for information on the incident before finding a brief story: Altamonte gunman surrenders, it said, after holding police and SWAT teams at bay for more than seven hours. He submitted peacefully at 7:40 pm. No shots were fired. Nobody was hurt.

(Debra Tomaselli lives in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Her column appears in several diocesan newspapers. Her e-mail address is dtomaselli@cfl.rr.com.)

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