- Every Danger Otherwise the Same, and: Jesus, Take the Wheel
Every Danger Otherwise the Same
Plane goes down in the Potomac through the ice. As helicopters dangle an icy cable, Arland Williams passes it, person after person. Sixth time it comes back he’s no longer there.
Jet engine chokes on sea gulls. It’s too late to find a runway, city everywhere. Sullenberger sets that sucker down on water, doesn’t flip it.
Third plane goes down, cornfield this time. Mother is told her baby’s safest on the floor. Crash. She’s hustled through clouds of oily smoke, babyless. Another woman’s groping toward the exit, spots a baby, picks it up, makes it to the corn. Pea-brained reporter tells her she’s a hero, and she is, since she snaps, “Who wouldn’t pick a baby up?”
OK, forget planes. A house is burning. A small child may be trapped in a back bedroom. The roof’s about to go. Toting fifty pounds of gear, the fireman goes in. Mike points out the paradox:
If a child is huddled in the closet and the fireman carries her to safety he’s a hero. If there’s no one there, every danger otherwise the same, he’s not. Is courage insufficient, then? [End Page 108]
Is death requisite? Does context count? Because I’m thinking of that afternoon in Brooklyn, venom pouring onto Robinson from the stands. Pee Wee Reese walks over, puts an arm around his shoulders. Or a hand on his arm. Just talking to him. [End Page 109]
Jesus, Take the Wheel
It’s on the radio again, that song where the distraught young wife packs up the baby and heads back home to Mama—but black ice spins the car, and her reaction (chorus) is to lift her hands and holler, “Jesus, take the wheel.” I always picture Jesus steering into the skid while hollering back, “Girl, it’s supposed to be a metaphor!”
Then there’s Saint Francis in the ruined chapel of San Damiano, when he hears God say, “Francis, repair my church.” So Francis steals some velvet from his father, hires masons to rebuild the chapel while God smacks his forehead. The double joke, of course, is that it worked as metaphor, too. The Church, influenced by his example, improved, and if it wasn’t perfect, well, householders know it’s always patch, patch, patch.
And Francis’s joyful goal was to become like Jesus in all things, and even he would have granted this meant actions, but just once God played it his way, willing to become as flat-footed literal as any saint. So September 14, 1224, before dawn, a six-winged fiery seraph appeared in the sky over Mount Alvernia, caused Jesus’s wounds to appear on Francis’s body, stuck around for an hour, and took off. [End Page 110]
But I’m Protestant, modern, and what persuades me are the unwilling witnesses in the footnote. While the seraph lingered in all its brilliance, rooster-roused farmers went out to feed the stock, thinking it was day, and a team of muleteers at the inn woke, harnessed up, and hit the road before the light dimmed, before the sun came up. I can be polite about stigmata, but the oaths of cussing muleteers are compelling, and confused chickens convince me every time. [End Page 111]
susan blackwell ramsey’s book, A Mind Like This, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. She lives in Kalamazoo.