Speak Eagle

Sacred Community

Sirens blare and lights flash in our neighborhood outside my boys’ bedroom window, jolting me out of bedtime stories. I pull up the window to hear a woman wailing, wails that can only mean someone is experiencing something unthinkable. I bolt down the stairs, out the door, and up the street.  Is it Heather?  Melissa?  Ginny?

It’s my new neighbor.  I don’t remember her name.  I wish I knew her name.  I push away the shame and wrap my arms around her anyway.  Her husband is laid out on the grass, shirtless.  Paramedics compress his chest so insistently that the rise and fall of his body seems almost violent in the streetlight.

Suzie, who almost lost her husband last year, stands next to me.  Chris, a nurse, stands nearby, ready to help.  I rub my new neighbor’s back, grasp her hand, tears running down my face.   The medics work tirelessly.

She turns away, moaning, “Oh, God!”  I hang onto her, steady her from falling.  Her hands shake as she hands the phone to me to call her son.  She tells me the numbers.  I push them, searching through my mental files for words to say.

His teenage voice answers sharply, annoyed that his mother has interrupted his Saturday night sociality.  I explain that I’m using his mother’s phone to ask him to come home- now.  He wants to know details.  I dodge, insist again that he come home.

I hand the phone back and wrap my arms around her again.  She turns and looks at me full in the face, her eyes dark, wild, searching, as if wondering exactly who this person is on the end of the arms.  “I’m Heidi, your neighbor across the street.” She nods, looks back towards her husband.  The medic rubs alcohol on his leg to prepare a new line.

We had talked days before of the beautiful fall weather as she walked her little black dog past my house.  They were the newcomers to our tight, little neighborhood.  A neighborhood where we clasp hands in the hard times, offering wild rose clippings and unexpected pots of potato soup.

I’m whisked back to the memory of Lynn, my then-unknown neighbor from a few streets over who jogged by and was tackled by my 6-year old to come in and hold our newborn as I frantically called an ambulance for my asthmatic toddler.  Tragedy inexplicably bonded us to each other that day.

I grasp my neighbor’s hand as the paramedic approaches and explains that her husband is not responding to their efforts and is not breathing.  They are taking him to the hospital; she could ride in the ambulance.  We offer to wait for her son and bring him to the hospital.  She runs inside to get her purse.

Melissa – who brought me muffins after the birth of one of my boys – bows with me and we pray a fervent prayer.

I walk the brokenhearted to the ambulance, still holding her tightly, reminding her of our presence, our prayers.  Then, I turn and fall into Linda’s arms to cry- the neighbor who became a bosom friend through her journey with breast cancer.

Late that night, I learned the man had a massive coronary as he arrived home from work.  Neighbors drove his wife and son home from the hospital- alone.

Today is the funeral, and I will be there.  Because such is the stuff of communities.  Sacred communities.   Ushered by mere proximity into the most sacred moments of life and of death.

Now I know- her name is Lila.  And I will never forget it.

8 thoughts on “Sacred Community”

  1. Pingback: 5 Things You Can Say to Your Friend When Tragedy StrikesDr. Heidi Petak

  2. Wow..Heidi. I’m crying as I read this story of community. My heart breaks right along with yours as I envision you holding this lady.
    Will you please let me know if I can do anything to help Lila. I’m praying for her and her son.

    1. heidi noelle petak

      Lynn- You continue to bless our neighborhood and my life in untold ways! Thank you for your prayers and love. Yes, I’m going to go over and visit with Lila in the next few days and will see what we can do for her. I will let you know!

  3. God is glorified in the way you reach out and love on others. Thank you for sharing this story and others. Your ministry is boundless. I’m so glad to be getting to know you. What an honor!

  4. Oh Heidi, what a heartbreaking story… but I am thankful that God led you to her & I will pray for her and her family as the deal with these terribly hard circumstances.

  5. Wow God’s timing to have you and others there at that moment. He is Compassion and you were Jesus with skin on. Praying for Lila and her precious hurting family and “the hood!”

  6. I prayed for Lila and you today. It is so very sad. I’m grateful that Lila knows you now as you give comfort and speak truth into her life. You continue to be a remarkably amazing woman, Heidi.

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