By Sister Pat Kenny
Once in a while, out of the waterfall of sounds that provide background music for the events of our lives, a handful of words, a line from a song perhaps, or the last words of a conversation keep replaying in my mind. It seems they want to be remembered or mulled over a bit before they’re forgotten.
A line from one of the thousands of commercials on TV keeps coming back to me lately. A car has run off a busy roadway into a ravine; it appears almost unnoticed by the trucks, bikes and buses passing above. A firetruck slows, and a fireman makes his way down the slope. The car’s driver, a tearful young woman asks, “My son?” “He’s fine,” the fireman says, and then adds, “You’re safe now.”
The scene takes less than 10 seconds but it captures a world of meaning. In times like ours, when life seems so precarious, everyone takes chances and sometimes things go wrong—that’s just how it is. Even though we try to be careful, in a single moment everything important in life can collapse. Life goes blissfully on for the rest of the world, but if that woman’s son were dead, her life would never be the same. Those words, “He’s fine. You’re safe now,” suddenly assume a meaning that cannot be measured by any calculation.
Safety, according to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as described in his 1943 study of human motivation, is at the base of a five-tiered pyramid, just above air, food and water.
Security for ourselves and those near and dear to us undergirds our plans, decisions and actions, whether we’re consciously building it in or not. But what about safety for others?
The danger to our collective health presented by the COVID-19 pandemic was tragically evident worldwide in 2020. In addition to ongoing risks inherent in air and water pollution, drunk driving, stray bullets, lead paint, careless maintenance and daily human mistakes, we were all exposed to a danger even more deadly and almost impervious to ordinary precautions. The best we could do was put on masks and keep safe distances between ourselves and others.
Masks, bothersome as they were, became the best and almost only method for keeping ourselves safe and ensuring some safety for others, as well. It wasn’t all about me and my safety; it was a powerful example of human caring for others.
I ponder this each time I see that commercial. It reminds me of how necessary it is to be mindful of all the ways and little things I can do now for those whose lives I touch to make life safe for them. A word of caution, a helping hand, a reassuring smile or gesture—something that says, “You’re safe here, you’re safe now.”