Today is Sunday, July 19, and after a busy day of Zoom meetings and online liturgy, my family and I headed for Huntsville State Park for some socially-distant sight seeing. As my wife and daughter listen to music, I find myself remembering an accident I witnessed exactly 4 years ago today.
I was driving to the Solomon Conference Center in Robert, LA, for a meeting, and for some miracle I could not understand, Interstate 12E was nearly deserted. I turned on some of the “old” music my kids didn’t let me listen to in the car, and I hummed along to tunes by Bon Jovi, Queen, Rolling Stones, and a little Bob Dylan thrown in for good measure. Life was good: the ministry was going well, the kids were healthy, and the wife was happy in her new Job at Electronic Arts. I couldn’t ask for anything more!
By the time I approached my exit to Robert, I was in a trance. So much so, that I missed the entrance all together. I got a bit annoyed with myself, but I kept on driving to the next exit, intent on catching I-12W to reverse my course. As soon as I took the exit, I realized that there was trouble ahead. The traffic had come to a stand still, and I could see people in the distance rushing to help the passengers of an overturned sedan. I was too far back to provide any assistance, so I turned the radio off and prayed for any victims of the accident.
After several minutes, I heard the sirens of ambulances approaching from a different direction. A few seconds later, the traffic began to move slowly. As my car crawled down the exit, I drove by a policeman who was directing traffic a few feet away from the scene of the accident. I could see paramedics attending to one of the victims laying on the ground. There was another victim already in the ambulance.
The policeman looked directly at me and saw my clergy collar. He directed me to lower the driver’s side window and asked, “Are you a priest?” I said, “I am an Episcopal Priest.” He replied, “Good Enough! Park on the grass behind that ambulance, we need you!” I did as I was told and followed the policeman. In my haste, I forgot my Bible and Book of Common Prayer in the car. I was flying solo!
The policeman directed me to one of the victims in the ambulance, and I was immediately surprised by the urgency in his voice. The young lady seemed to be fine. She was sitting on a stretcher, feet dangling off the side, head bent down almost touching her chest. She was crying loudly, but didn’t seem to be injured. The policeman said, “She is refusing to talk to any of us and we need to know the child’s name, age, medical history, stuff like that. Maybe she’ll talk to you!”
The child he was talking about was about 12 years old, and he was the one victim the paramedics were working on. He looked injured and would need to be taken to a nearby hospital. They first needed some basic information from the young woman, who was in too much shock to answer their questions.
I crouched in front of the lady and said, “I am Fr. Roldan.” She lifted her head and looked at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen. She asked, “You Catholic?” I said, “Used to be, I am an Episcopal priest now.” She said, “I used to be Catholic too.” I waited for her to continue. “I was fighting with his dad,” she said. More sobbing and more silence. “On the phone, I mean. He made me so mad. I just Iost control of the car.” She started sobbing again: the result of exhaustion, adrenaline, and guilt.
I continued to listen as she described the fight. At some point, I used one of her pauses to ask the questions the emergency personnel needed answered. Eventually, Nathan, the injured boy, was lifted into the ambulance and both mother and child were taken to a local hospital. Before they left, I asked if I could pray for them. The Paramedic said, “Make it quick, Padre.” I prayed for healing of body, mind and soul, and I placed my business card in the young woman’s hand. I then closed my eyes for a second as the sound of the sirens grew softer. For a brief second, I thanked God I got lost, I was a priest, and I was able to help Wendy and Nathan.
Several months later I got an e-mail that simply read, “Dear Fr. Roldan, we just wanted you to know that Nathan and me are doing fine. We are in Alabama in my momma’s house. It’s just the two of us now, but that’s OK. Thanks for (what) you did for us back then. Please continue to pray for us, W.”
I e-mailed Wendy several times that year, but I never got a reply. That one brief e-mail was my last communication with her, and I am grateful she sent it to me. I still keep both of them in my prayers.
Today, I find myself reflecting on my ministry, my life, and my family. There is so much to be grateful for, even in the midst of this Pandemic. Most of the greatest moments in my ministry have come as I interact with the people God places in my path. Ministry is an all-encompassing lifestyle that is often filled with indescribable joy and the weight of human suffering. Yet, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
I am especially thankful for you all today. Thanks for your friendship, your commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you generosity of spirit, and your love for the least and the lost in God’s kingdom. I have known a few of you for four months now, and even though the great majority remain unknown, I am deeply impressed by your faith, the amazing way in which you do hospitality, the energy many of you bring to our ministries, and your thirst for Bible knowledge. You love one another in a genuine and unpretentious way. And it is impressive how deeply involved in the affairs of this community you are. This truly is a remarkable place and I feel honored and grateful to be your pastor.
May our Lord continue to bless you,