Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering


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Bugs on the Bumper


Earlier this summer, Henry and I traversed this country by car. We drove from Tucson to Boston and Henry returned via the southern US, making a number of genealogy-related stops along the way. It had been years since I’d been on a road trip this long—since we moved from Boston to New Mexico in 2006, in fact.

When I was a child, we took a number of summer road trips: mom and us kids in our blue pickup truck with camper shell, camping our way across most of the contiguous United States over the course of my teen years. This year’s trip was different in a number of ways. For one thing, no one was enforcing seat belt laws when I was a kid, and we bounced around on sleeping bags and a built-in shelf in the back of that covered pickup truck, communicating with our parents through the sliding window in the back of the pickup cab. I find the front seats of our Altima quite restrictive in comparison!

Another thing I don’t remember is all the bugs we killed with our car. Perhaps they were there, and my parents diligently cleaned them off the windshield every time they bought gas, as I did this year. But one night, as we were driving west of Cleveland, I actually thought it was raining because of the volume of bugs hitting the windshield!

DSC_6809One of the songs we heard on the 70s radio station during our trip was “Convoy,” that hilarious song about truckers that includes the reference to cops gathering as thick as “bugs on a bumper.” As you can see here, our car illustrates that image quite well. Henry commented at one point that there might be a blog post in that, and I pulled out my laptop to see what developed.

What initially came to mind is that, if I were Buddhist, I’d be in real trouble, because of their reverence for life and desire to do no harm. Then I thought about how I, as a Christian, prefer to do no harm, either. In fact, reverence for all creatures is behind the robust environmental ministry undertaken by one of my former spiritual directors, Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. She and many others are advocating for the earth because way back in Genesis we were told by God to care for the earth—what Richard Rohr calls “the first Gospel.”

Driving across these United States also really helped to connect me with the states more fully. I had many hours of opportunity to admire this land, to appreciate its variety, its many forms of lush greenery, the picturesque old buildings and innovative new ones. I found myself giving thanks, multiple times, for the opportunity to travel and for the beauty of creation.

But that travel comes at a cost. We consumed quite a bit of fossil fuel on this trip and we killed an awful lot of tiny creatures. (We also saw a lot of larger roadkill, ranging from squirrels and raccoons to a startling number of deer.) It reminds me that our impact on our environment is never straightforward. Every choice we make, every pleasure we take, has consequences. I don’t regret our trip…but it does make me think seriously about how we travel, and how I might somehow atone for that excess here at home. One way I know I do that is through working at home. At least I have a zero-emissions commute!

When have you taken a road trip? What did you notice? Did you remember to give thanks? How might you give thanks for creation by making conscious choices to atone for your use of fossil fuels?

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Survival Miracle


Henry and I are traveling this week. A few hours ago we were driving in Queens, New York and rounded a corner to find traffic stopped on the Jackie Robinson Parkway ahead of us. As Henry brought our rental car to a stop, we saw people leaving their cars and running ahead down the roadway, to where our lanes passed under the surface-level street overhead. A closer look revealed that the chain link fence and older metal railing had both been torn away from a section overhead, and–unbelievably–there was a dark SUV upside down on the concrete jersey-barrier-type median between the inbound and outbound sides of the roadway.

Henry’s response was to say, “I wonder if they need a priest.” He grabbed his anointing “oil stock” out of the trunk of our car and ran ahead while I moved into the driver’s seat of the car, ready to pull over to the tiny shoulder area if traffic started before he returned. I found myself automatically praying for the people involved in the accident. Drivers from nearby cars were milling around, talking with each other. The relatively short distance between our car and the accident told us that it had happened mere moments before we turned that bend in the roadway.

A few cars began to pass by from the other side, and (quite quickly) siren sounds began to approach from both directions. As people began returning to their cars and driving onward, Henry returned with the good–and again, unbelievable–news that the accident victims had somehow walked away from the overturned SUV. He climbed into the car and we slowly continued on our way, past the vehicle and the group of victims and good Samaritans huddled by the side of the road under the underpass. As we drove on, we marveled at the miracle of survival that we had just witnessed.

05__Caraccidentjackierobinson_RH.JPGNeither of us thought to grab our cameras and record the image of the vehicle, upside down across the median. That wasn’t our primary consideration, despite the fact that we are both photographers. Our thoughts had been for the victims, and for our roles as priest and intercessor. And so, as I thought about writing on this accident, and the miracle of survival, I did not have any photos to accompany this story.

A part of me thinks that this is just fine–but another part of me wants to emphasize the amazing good news that this story is. So we found a news article on the internet and I copied one of the photos from that news article (thank you, Riyad Hasan) to include here. Unfortunately, Riyad was taking photos from above, after the SUV had come off the median, so it isn’t as dramatic as what we saw–but the damage is clearly there.

My questions for pondering are twofold.

First, what do you believe would be your initial response to witnessing disaster? Have you ever had the chance to “test that theory” in an actual disaster situation?

Second, have you ever witnessed a survival miracle? What was your response? What goes through your mind when you hear about such stories?