Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. [...] Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
-Romans 12:12, 15
I happened to be one of the millions of people watching the Monday Night NFL game on January 2nd with my sons when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed in cardiac a few moments after making a tackle. I won't offer more details now, except that for many minutes, CPR was administered on the field, and as the ambulance drove off across the grass to the nearest hospital, the watching world held its breath. It was as if all of the athletes, coaches, commentators and officials were actors who had suddenly forgot their lines. Something had just happened that was so significant that the game, the production, the conversations.... had completely lost their meaning. A man's life was in limbo. Athletes lost composure as they processed emotions, and it became clear that continuing a game of football was no longer possible or relevant. We sat there watching an empty field, not being able to think about anything else. When they updated that Hamlin had left in the ambulance 28 minutes earlier, my son said, "that was the fastest half hour I've ever experienced." We were just frozen in one unending moment of fear and heartache.
Not knowing what to do, the network continued to send the broadcast back to the football analysts in the studio. But these commentators had no idea how to handle the moment. They spoke in short, hushed phrases. Every time one of them would try to start a conversation, it would fail, and there would be a heavy silence left behind. Because sometimes there are no words, and the only authentic thing is holding silence together. One commentator even spoke a simple prayer aloud because no other words seemed right.
Here's what I saw in the anxious silence. I saw an entire community value a life (a black life) above profit and above comfort and distraction. I saw a country, for just a moment, believe in the power of compassionate prayer and understand that a life is more important than millions of dollars (even USA Today ended up writing on prayer after that night). I saw a country acknowledge our twisted priorities. I saw a country view a professional athlete as a human being and not simply a commodity for entertainment. I saw a world publicly wrestle with the discomfort of sorrow.
And all of that is giving me hope today. Every now and then, in a world that still lacks equity and justice and does not value each life, we get a glimpse of what is possible when compassion reigns. Yes, this was a sports star on prime time television, and millions of God's children are in crisis each day that do not receive compassion and attention. But perhaps we should let certain moments in our world illuminate would could be true of all humanity if we choose to put love and compassion over consumption, tribalism, and distraction. What if we all were willing to pause our regularly scheduled lives when we knew someone was suffering, to reprioritize things until we knew they were ok? Even if it's uncomfortable?
After days of intensive care and millions of people praying, Hamlin began to make a miraculous recovery. From what we can see, it is the best possible outcome of one of the worst possible moments a person can experience. It's not always like that, but praise God for such a beautiful journey of healing. It's incredible.
It's so easy to look around and complain about all that's wrong in the world. Yet on this week, only a few days after celebrating the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, may we have courage to pause and hold in reverence the heavy weight of sorrow and pain, and at the same time find hope in the moments where we see light and love overcome despair and distraction, and where we see compassion win over profit. And may we live into that world more and more every day, working to bring about a humanity that reflects Jesus' vision for us all.
The next time the Bills suited up for a game a week later, Hamlin was well
enough to tweet out from his hospital bed a simple message:
"GameDay … Nothing I Want More Than To Be Running Out That Tunnel With My Brothers. God Using Me In A Different Way Today..."
Indeed, Mr. Hamlin. Indeed.
I'm prone to think that Jesus was heartened when he saw a world that was broken by compassion, and touched that young man's life. I don't know. But I do know that there is great beauty in a humanity created in God's image, as we continue to work toward the ultimate ethic of love that Jesus revealed. In the darkest moments, may we contribute to our world looking just a little more like God's beloved community.
Jesus, give me a vision for a world that reflects your compassion, and turn me into a healing presence.