Some of us may have been surprised by Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’
, emphasizing our responsibility to care for the environment. After all, maintaining our planet’s well-being isn’t the Church’s top priority. But there is great wisdom in the Holy Father’s exhortation because in caring for the earth, human beings actually show their love for God Himself, and ensure their own well-being — mentally, spiritually, and physically. The inspirational story of a man named John Beal is a perfect demonstration of this.
Beal arrived home in Washington state in the late ’60s after fighting in the Vietnam War and, as his daughter, Liana, explained to KUOW.org
, “he seemed somewhat lost.” In the coming months, his health declined drastically and within a year he had suffered three heart attacks. While in the hospital, the husband and father of four was diagnosed with PTSD and was sadly informed that due to his heart failure, he had roughly four months to live.
When he left the hospital, Beal made his way to Hamm Creek, which at the time was severely polluted. While pondering his fate, the veteran decided that in whatever time he had left on earth, he would labor to clean up the river. Four months passed and Beal was still alive and hard at work restoring the body of water. To his surprise, it required far more effort than simply removing the trash and debris. As KUOW.org put it, “The thing about cleaning up a river is that for every step you take, a new step arises. [Beal] removed the trash, then realized he would have to remove the underground pipes.”
Amazingly, the enormity of the growing task never sent him packing. And Beal lived 27 years longer than doctors predicted he would, passing away in 2006 from a heart attack. Thanks to his dedication, Hamm Creek has been transformed into a peaceful, thriving slice of nature “in the otherwise largely industrial neighborhood of South Park, Seattle,” as Solid Ground described it. His work earned him a reputation as an outstanding environmentalist.
Most importantly, the work Beal did for the creek invigorated his spirituality. According to The Seattle Times, Beal’s wife, Lana, declared that Hamm Creek is “where he met God.”
John Beal’s isn’t just another inspirational story about defying the odds. It’s a testament to the intricate connectivity that human beings share with the planet that sustains us. As Pope Francis declares in Laudato Si’
, “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”