By Joseph G. Bozzelli
Editor’s note: With this story, we begin a regular feature for Vision and NACC Now in 2015. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we will be sharing chaplains’ most memorable stories of moments when their work and their mission suddenly came into focus.
There was hardly any wind at all the day that a friend and I decided to go sailing. In fact, the wind was so mild that we debated whether to sail at all. But our hearts were set on sailing, so off we went in my little boat.
Maybe I was preoccupied with helping my friend get situated, but for some reason, instead of untying the rope that allowed the main sail to move freely, I still had it secured. Did I tell you that there was hardly any wind that day? Anyway, shortly after we pushed off from the dock, a sudden gust of wind caught the main sail, causing us to shift our weight, which tossed my friend and me into the water and flipped my boat on its side.
After surfacing, we both checked to make sure we were OK. Besides being embarrassed and a bit stunned, we were both fine. The sails, designed to be filled with air, were now filling rapidly with water. They had so much water we were unable to right the boat. So there we were, treading water and trying to figure out what to do next.
Suddenly a pontoon boat pulled alongside our sinking vessel. “Need a little help?” the pontoon captain called. Desperately treading water because I neglected to wear a life jacket (remember, there wasn’t much wind that day), I chokingly replied, “We sure could, thanks!”
“No problem,” he replied, as he threw a rope for me to attach to the boat. Meanwhile, my friend made it safely aboard the pontoon boat. As I was treading water and trying to fasten the rope, the captain cried out, “Hey, I know you! Aren’t you a chaplain at St. V’s?”
“Yes,” I said, sarcastically saying to myself, “maybe we can save the introductions until after my catastrophe-at-sea ordeal is over.” He continued, “Yes, I remember, you were with me six months ago when my daughter died in the ICU unit.”
The memory suddenly came to me as the urgency of my crisis sank. I had been called to be with him when his 24-year-old daughter had died, unexpectedly. Earlier that day she was found unconscious at home, and despite everything that the doctors could do, she died. The sadness of that night came quickly back to me. I muttered something like, “Yes, Mr. Smith, I remember … such a shock … so very sad.”
I tied the rope to my boat and got aboard his. We talked briefly about that evening, his daughter’s death, and his subsequent healing. Drenched and shivering, it was difficult to offer much support. He towed my water-laden craft back to the dock. I thanked him for his help and said goodbye.
I’m not sure why this incident holds such meaning for me. Maybe it’s because it’s such an unusual moment. After all, what are the odds that of all the people to come to my rescue, it was the father of a patient I was with when his daughter died? Was this just a coincidence, or something more?
I’d like to believe that it was something more, like a “God thing.” It’s as if God used that moment to support this father in some way. By helping me, maybe the father was able to feel a sense of giving back, for the support that I hope I gave him when he was in need. Or maybe our chance encounter helped him in his grief, by just talking with someone who was there when his daughter died. Perhaps, our meeting was more for my benefit. He helped to remind me of the important role that chaplains can have on a person’s life.
I imagine that there can be several ways to try to make sense of such a random encounter. It may not be necessary to try to find meaning in it at all. But I’d like to believe that for some reason, God brought this father and me together, again. This day, we shared in common how unexpected events can alter your life. Certainly, his daughter’s death had altered his life far more than a gust of wind had altered mine. But the lesson for me is to hold on to the belief that regardless of the events that happen in our lives, the winds of God’s grace and love are always with us to guide us on our journey. It just helps to make sure that we have our sails properly aligned.
Joseph G. Bozzelli, D.Min., BCC, is director of pastoral care services at St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Edgewood, KY.