The boy didn't know the policewoman, but when they met on his way to school, he asked if they could say a prayer together.
Every day brings us the gift of unexpected allies. Paying attention and recognizing them is a bit like playing hide and seek, because they tend to be hidden—or rather, we’re almost always busy looking at something else, something “urgent,” something that troubles us. Consequently, we lose sight of precious opportunities.
A few days ago I found myself sharing this idea while talking to some teachers about the writer Charles Dickens, an author who filled his stories with a multitude of characters. Around every corner someone pops out, makes a move, and then leaves.
And this depiction of life is profoundly realistic. We’re constantly running into “extras” who fill our days, even though most of the time we want to be the only narrating voice of our story. A small news story from late last year (yes, some good things did happen in 2021!) is a great example of how significant a chance encounter like this can be.
Shall we say a prayer together?
On the Facebook profile of the Police Department of Louisville, Kentucky, a photo appeared showing a police officer kneeling in front of a child with a school bag. Accustomed to negative and tragic news, we might be led to think that something terrible has happened. Instead, this is one of those truly significant events that we could superficially dismiss with a nice “no big deal.”
Quite simply, the child in question met the policewoman—whom he didn’t know—on his way to school and asked her if they could say a prayer together. Officer Jan Dykes certainly didn’t expect to start the day in such an unusual manner. WTVM reports:
“He stopped me and was like, ‘Hey, before you leave, would you mind if I prayed with you for your day and my day going to school?’ […] It was great,” she said. “He said, ‘I want to pray for this officer’s safety. I made a new friend. I really hope her day goes great, and hopefully she makes a lot of lives better and going to school and meeting new people.’ It was really great to think this kid had this much excitement.”
We need these sudden, “insignificant” interruptions, gestures that are so revolutionary that they overturn the status quo of our morning autopilot: they make us start the day by trusting and connecting with others, instead of being focused on ourselves.
Everyone in his place
Only the audacity of a child can bring a police officer’s day closer to that of an elementary school student. We adults tend to separate people too much; we should become as children once again in this respect, too.
This child who wanted to pray along with the police officer allowed us, for a moment, to remember the true glue that binds us together: to be part of a story in which everyone, by being in their place, says yes to God’s plan.
Kneeling before a child
WTVM reports, “Dykes said she was stunned by the child’s kindness and open heart. She even went back to the bus stop to try to find him at the end of the school day, but didn’t have any luck.”
There are strangers we meet on the way, unexpected allies who enter our lives for a moment and then disappear—but their presence remains. How many go unnoticed? For a minute or so, Officer Jan Dykes was on her knees in front of a child, and the photo elicits a strong reaction in us. Kneeling is an act of respect and surrender: it means acknowledging that we are in front of something or someone that deserves our full attention, who deserves to be given priority over all else.