How To Save A Life: Mary Beth Style
It was a very hard Lent. My wife Mary Beth kept telling me, “Lent is always hard. God is going to put you to the test.” But, this one seemed different – sharper and clearer. There was definitely angst and worry mixed in, as always, but I had a gut feeling it was trending toward something positive. I thought it might be about my work. All the trouble would lead to some stable work or good news on that front.
I do freelance video producing and editing, and I am trying to help get two feature films off the ground. But, the first big mushroom cloud of the penitential season came from one of my biggest clients, Viacom. As cable TV continues to gasp through its terminal illness, they let go 41 people – including all the producers who bring me in freelance. Most of them got decent severance packages, but we freelancers are left to our own device$.
One of the terrific guys who got hit much harder than me was my friend Mike. He’s the same age as me, also an Editor – also married, no kids. He had been a “permalancer” at Viacom for a decade – and worked there off-and-on for a few years even before that. He actually had the gig partly because I recommended him when I left to take another gig 10 years ago. Mike was a guy’s guy – loved cars – and always worked hard. He had a horrible back problem, but he never complained about it. Only way I knew about it was because I subbed for him when he had doctor appointments (and the smell of muscle cream in the edit bay sometimes.) He turned in great edits quickly, and I never noticed that he seemed stressed. He always just said, “Awww-right,” no matter what the crazy TV life threw at him.
Well, it turns out that it wasn’t “Aww-right.” After our unceremonious and unofficial freelance free-fall, he had financial problems to add to his health issues. As the final week of Lent got underway – Holy Week – I heard the news, while I was watching coverage of Notre Dame burning, that Mike was dead. He was found in his garage, sitting in one of his classic cars. A change in his meds had made him all over the place the last few days. He was not himself, and I’m asking anyone reading this to please say a prayer for the repose of his soul. Mike was one of the nicest people I ever knew, and I have never heard one ill word about him.
I was devastated, because it felt so unfair. I was mad too, and I went to the batting cages to crush a couple buckets full of softballs. For some reason, I couldn’t cry. I could not stop thinking about it all Holy Week, and I was really nervous to go to the visitation at the funeral home because I thought I was going to lose it at any minute. The calling hours were on Holy Thursday and the funeral was Good Friday. Now, I was just as sad as I was mad, but still no tears.
Mary Beth was next to me the whole way, kept praying with me and praying for Mike and his family. She was super busy with a bunch of things, but one of them was she was going all-out for Easter-dinner this year, and had invited over 6 people, mostly from church. I had to cut a board to make an extra leaf to extend our dining room table. She did pretty much everything else. Then, in typical Mary Beth style, as we were leaving Easter Mass, she said, “Wait hold on.” She went to invite another woman who she knew was new in town to dinner. “Can we fit another person at the table?” I asked. “Yes, we will!” she smiled.
Her meal was awesome – ham AND lamb – and lots of other goodies. For some reason, pretty much everyone left at the same time, and it was still light out. I started in on the dishes, but Mary Beth had another idea. “Let’s go get in a quick hike before the sun sets – work off some of the calories.” We grabbed our six pound attack dog, Louie, and headed for a local park. Our favorite hike is about 25 minutes up. On the way there, we cross this super-high bridge. It has amazing views and people show up every evening to catch the sunset there. The usual sunset crowd was arriving, but the bridge was closed by cop cars. We were not going to make our hike.
One of the pedestrians said there was a guy on the ledge, and the police were trying to talk him back. Mary Beth predictably said that we had to pray. But, Louie was starting to yip because we had stopped and he wanted his walk. I wanted to walk him first, but she pulled out a couple of rosaries and just started walking out onto the bridge. Louie poked around and I had trouble keeping up. She was out there standing on the bridge about halfway between the cop cars and where everyone else had waited – out there by herself, rosary dangling from her right hand.
So, I pulled out my beads and Louie and I caught up to her. Now, I was close enough that I could see the guy clearly. He had red hair and a beard, baggy clothes, maybe 30 – seemed middle class, like someone in a cubicle who did computer stuff. As we prayed the Glorious mysteries, I could hear him shout out at the two cops sometimes. “I don’t WANT to be doing this, you know!”
And then, as we prayed, it all zeroed in on me. Mike was on my mind the whole time, but as we got into the second decade, I felt like I was seeing him out there. I could not hold it in, and just cried like a little baby. Mary Beth just put an arm around me, rubbed my back and kept saying the prayers for me, because I couldn’t talk. I knew I could not bear to see this happen – not this week.
Mary Beth had already suggested going out to talk to him. I had told her they have professionals to do that. What if I said the wrong thing? I told her I trusted her, and if she felt called to go there, I would go with her. But, we kept praying. I regained my composure a bit as we go into the 4th decade – the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Assumption is our parish. At about the 4th Hail Mary, she said, “I think I have to go talk to him.” I said, “Let’s go.” We kept praying as we walked.
Louie had been uncharacteristically calm. If you know Yorkies, they don’t like to sit still. So, he was happy to be on the move again, and as we passed the cop cars and Louie saw the three people up ahead, he let out one of his joyous little barks. The cop turned to us and barked right back, “Hey, would you two just back up. You can’t be out here.”
For such a beautiful place, this bridge had been getting lots of bad publicity. A few too many broken souls had taken advantage of it’s 14 story height and 32 inch “railings.” If you are afraid of heights – like Mary Beth is – you probably will not even want to walk out on the bridge. As a matter of fact – even though we have driven it dozens of times – Mary Beth refused to walk out there again after the first time we did a number of years ago. She wasn’t thinking twice about it today. We were now at the highest point of the bridge.
A bill had recently been introduced to make those railings higher. But for now, the man was perched with a leg on either side. And he – like the cop – had a definitive opinion about me, Mary Beth and Louie. “Hey, they’re not PAID to be here, like you. I’d rather talk to them!” The cop waved us over.
Mary Beth just started talking to him from about 6 feet away. She told him we were praying for him, that we loved him, that God loved him. She asked his name. Tim. She said we’re pro-life, and that his life mattered. She told him some personal stuff about some of our sufferings. He was listening. He was interested. She told him about my friend Mike dying.
Now, at this point, I was crying again. I was hiding behind my sunglasses, but I don’t think it was working. So, I told him that I missed Mike and that a lot of people were hurting so much because he was gone. I said Mike was in a lot of pain, and I bet you are too. He told me it was too much to bear. I reminded him it was Easter, so please just don’t. His reply was almost apologetic, “I didn’t plan this for Easter. I did not mean for that to be a part of this.”
Mary Beth took over. She told him we were Catholic and this was a rosary, and it had a cross on it. He said he did not have a cross of his own. “You can have mine.” She turned to the cop, “May I give this to him?” He waved her forward. My wife walked up to him and handed him the rosary, and as she did, she put her arm around his shoulder, just like she had done to me a few minutes ago. She said she was going to pray with him, and started in on an Our Father. She waved for me to say it with her. I was having trouble speaking, but she was clear as a bell… calm as a breeze.
Then she told him she was going to pray to Mary, Jesus’ mother. She explained that Mary was with Jesus at the cross, and can pray for us from heaven. “At the cross, Jesus told Saint John, ‘Behold your mother.’ And He wasn’t just giving her to John; He was giving her to all of us as a mother. She is your mother too, and she loves you and cares for you.” She started saying the Hail Holy Queen prayer, and I was finding my voice now better, when I heard hers finally waver.
Then Mary Beth said she was going to pray to Saint Michael. She told the two stunned, quiet officers that Michael was the patron saint of the police. When she got to the line about rebuking the devil, she shouted it.
Now, we had been told before we went out there, that Tim had been on the edge for over an hour. But, in about 5 minutes, Mary Beth had turned the tide. (She would be shouting at me if she saw me writing this that “God and Our Lady and Saint Michael had turned the tide.”) Some other officers were arriving and one stood close behind Mary Beth and Tim. He said, “we would really love it if you could just flip that other leg back onto the bridge,” Tim didn’t move. Mary Beth said, “yes, please come over here.” He did. He walked with the officer and Mary Beth away from the railing. Louie barked. Mary Beth hugged Tim, and insisted we get his contact info. She kept telling him we had so much left over food from dinner. Can he come over and eat. He said the police were going to take him somewhere. So, I got his phone number.
Mary Beth refused to walk off the bridge until Tim was safely in the police car and driving away. Even then, she was like, “we didn’t finish the rosary yet.” I tried to urge her to walk back to the car while we prayed it. But, she interrupted to talk to one of the last officers there. “Where will he go? Can we visit him? What happens next?”
Now another officer comes over… still no one had thanked Mary Beth. I thought maybe this female cop would.,,, Nope. “That was dangerous. You should not have been there. We have protocols and people who deal with this…” Mary Beth just told her calmly, “I didn’t know that. I understand. It was God.”
We sat in our car for awhile, and then drove around to see the bridge from below. And yes, we eventually finished the rosary.
I never have been prouder of my wife. She is a true hero. A life saver. I keep telling her this, and she keeps saying it was God. And tonight, she would not rest. Tim had not returned our text message. She called the police, asked if he was okay. Can we visit him? Where is he? He’s ok. HIPAA regulations, so no real answers. So we prayed some more, and finally Mary Beth went to sleep.
But, I can’t sleep thinking about how blessed I am to have such a wife, and such a God. Thank you, Jesus, for your many graces, and – even for the tough Lent, because You were preparing us for today, weren’t You?
Please pray for Tim, pray for Mike, and say one for my wife Mary Beth too… because she lights up like fireworks when ANYONE tells her they said a prayer for her! (If you have a Mass said for her, you will get a handwritten note via old fashioned US postman too…)
Happy Easter, everyone! He is risen!
Update / the next morning: The joys of working from home. Mary Beth pulled me from my office and said we have to go see him. We guessed the correct hospital and a retired volunteer in ER heard the short version of our story. “My wife talked a man off that same bridge 5 years ago,” he told us! He went back, found Tim, and reported to us:
Tim is here and is ok. His family came from out of town and is with him. MB wrote him a long note because we cannot go back there due to HIPAA regulations. The volunteer is going to take the note - along with MB’s Sacred Heart picture - and Easter dinner leftovers - back to his room.
Tim’s brother James and another relative came out to talk to us. Beautiful people. James told us that the cop who was there came to talk to them. He was in tears and said the reason he broke protocol and let MB approach is because he felt they were out of time. James played us a video of his fiancée singing opera.... Ave Maria was the song.