Another Voice: Acts of compassion make it a Feast Day to remember

Flowers fill St. Mary’s sanctuary for Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12.

When I woke up on Dec.12, I knew that it was going to be an emotional day, honoring the memory of a ceremony around my mother’s passing. But I could never have predicted the events that happened just moments later that blended tragedy with miracles of kindness.

The day started quietly with my morning ritual of coffee in bed, and hanging out with Stony, a 17-year-olld Maine coon cat that I am caring for while house-sitting this winter at a cozy home off Tucker Road. The plan for the day was to drive to St. Mary’s church, for it was the annual Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day. It was also the eight-year anniversary of a memorable ceremony there that I witnessed in honor of my mother’s December passing (more on that later).

Less than a minute into the drive, I noticed what seemed like a pile of clothes on a bend in the road near Nobi’s gas station. As I approached, I saw a man racing to the clothes pile, which I now was horrified to discover was a person. He gave me the universal signal of thumb in the ear and pinky finger extended which meant — hey, do you have a cell phone?

I pulled over, sprinted over to him, dialed 911 and gave him the phone. My gaze fell upon the injured person, body motionless with a head trauma too severe for words. While the good Samaritan was engaging with the 911 operator, I knelt and calmly told the person not to move, and not to worry because help was on the way.

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Within minutes, dozens of passersby stopped to offer assistance. One woman ran over and covered the injured person with blankets. Two others immediately started directing traffic. An elderly woman walked up, her hands on her face in disbelief since she recognized the woman on the pavement. She called out her name and repeated over and over, “Please don’t move — help is coming.”

Within minutes, a sheriff’s deputy arrived, followed soon after by ambulance and firetruck. With all the help she needed on scene, I got back in my truck and began to drive away.

Shaking and feeling a wave of emotion bubbling up, I remembered my original plan to go to St. Mary’s, which now seemed more urgent and poignant than ever.

I slipped in the side entrance of St. Mary’s and immediately felt surrounded by a peaceful, loving feeling. Dozens of candles and bouquets of roses were displayed beneath an iconic painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In 1531, she appeared in an apparition to an indigenous peasant farmer, Juan Diego, on a remote hillside in Mexico. She was dressed in indigenous clothing, brown skinned, like Juan Diego, and spoke to him in their indigenous language. She asked him to approach the local bishop about building a church there. The bishop doubted his story and asked for proof. Juan opened his tilma (a simple cloak) and, as the story goes, fresh roses tumbled out and Mary’s image was imprinted on the cloak, which today is still visible on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Over time, the event has become commonly known as the miracle of December. The message she left with Juan Diego emphasizing the need for love and compassion to all, and her promise of help and protection to people in desperate moments, has resonated profoundly with the Hispanic community and Catholics worldwide.

I knelt before the flowers and prayed for a December miracle that this woman’s life be spared. It was the very same space where, eight years ago, in the pre-dawn hours, I stood with hundreds of worshipers who had begun arriving at 3 a.m. in order to get a seat for the celebration Mass, which incorporates Las Mañanitas, a traditional sunrise celebration song. I was there to heal the pain of having just lost my mother and to honor my mother’s devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. By 5 a.m., the church was overflowing so much that the priest invited people to come occupy extra space around the altar. For anyone who has never experienced this event, it is beautiful beyond words. The reverence, hope and adoration that comes through in the Spanish language hymns adds a whole new meaning to song as prayer. And there is magic in a room illuminated by candles, defying winter’s darkness and embracing the season of miracles.

Upon leaving the church, I chose to take a shortcut to I-84 for an errand to Portland. Just as I was passing the Hood River Fire Department, I witnessed the same ambulance staff assisting in carrying the injured woman to a waiting Life Flight helicopter, indicating her tenuous hold on life. My mind was racing, taking this all in. Mere moments in a day, the timing of comings and goings, are all that separate the ordinary from the deeply extraordinary.

Life is so precious. In an instant it can be over. I pray that she survives, and if not, that she was conscious of all the compassionate and caring people who rushed to her side.

The events of Dec. 12 remind me the importance of living fully in the moment, to express love and gratitude without filters, and to recognize that we all have the capacity to rise up in a moment of need. The selfless acts of compassion and caring I witnessed Dec. 12 will forever make this a holy day to remember.

Editor’s Note: The victim was released from Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

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