Monday, May 13, 2013

May 13, 1981: On the Edge of the End of the World

Blood on the white cassock of Blessed John Paul II
May 13th commemorates the first appearance of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima, Portugal in the year 1917. May 13th is also a day that commemorates another event, an event undoubtedly linked to that other afternoon in 1917, an event which remains so vivid in my memory. Every year, I remember May 13, 1981.

An 18 year old boy, a few weeks from graduation from public high school, walking through the noisy hallway. It was around lunchtime in America. More than two thousand kids were in motion in the halls of that school. Not many of them were Catholic. I was going to my "home room" classroom. I can still see the door in my mind. I can see the hallway. I am almost ready to reach for the door. Its something I've done hundreds of time; its almost automatic....

And here is Christine (she was also Catholic, nice girl... no I didn't have a crush on her) and she is in shock. Here face is pale, so pale....

"The Pope has been shot."

It was about the strangest thing anyone had ever said to me in my young life. "What?"

Thirty two years ago, what were you doing on that afternoon? Where were you when you found out?

After this, my memory blurs. What happened to the rest of the school day? At some point, we were all in our various classrooms watching the news reports. The routine was utterly broken. The heads and the jocks, the smart kids, the nerds, the heavy metal kids, the tough kids, girls and boys, all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, kids with all kinds of beliefs and ideologies and adolescent confusion, students and teachers too: we all watched the television and we were just people, just frail people holding onto our own lives by the thinnest of threads.

On television, the newscasters (themselves visibly disturbed) described with diagrams the surgery that was to take place. All over the world people prayed. I felt numb, with people I had known for the last four years without ever really knowing them, in a classroom of a large public school watching the TV that was on in the room. Did I pray?

My Jewish friends wept, and hugged me, as if it were my own father (and it was). Kids who called themselves atheists sat with their heads in their hands. It was like everyone's heart was trying to pray, somehow. Everyone was suffering.

The human race was attacked on May 13, 1981. Somewhere in their depths, people knew it. They felt it.

History was riding a bullet fired at close range into a man's abdomen by a professional assassin who knew what he was doing. He never missed. And on that day, he didn't miss.

But “It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path,” the Pope said later.

Can you possibly imagine what the world would be like -- what your own life would be like -- if that bullet had not been guided by a mother's hand thirty two years ago, on this day?

Our Lady of Fatima, thank you for saving the life of Blessed John Paul II!