I was standing in line at the post office—a situation I usually manage to avoid with prepaid labels. I could hear the phone ringing in the back, but the lady manning the desk that morning ignored the call and continued helping the customer in front of her. The caller tried again, and someone said, "You can get that if you want." But she replied, "No, the people in front of me are more important."
Since I was fifth in line and had time to think, I pondered that principle. As the desperate caller tried, again and again, I wondered what made the person at the till more important than the one making the phone call. The distance does not make them more or less human, and their persistence indicated that the request was urgent.
There seems to be an unspoken rule that the person close by takes priority. We all know how rude it feels when someone pulls out their phone in front of us. Every day I attend to my daughter first, even if I have a dozen clients waiting for emails.
Of course, this led me to consider a relationship with the closest proximity of all: that of a mother and her unborn baby. Who, more than anyone else in the world, relies on her love?
But, what if a woman sees those two pink lines and imagines the person she wanted to be vanishing under the weight of this new reality? Her reputation, career, relationships... these might be in jeopardy if the pregnancy is unexpected. Motherhood is no trivial thing, after all. Does she not have an obligation to her future self to make the awful but necessary decision to divert this stream back to the river she had painstakingly carved out for herself?
But, in a strange way, is not the beckoning of her future self not a little like that phone call at the post office? Her future is absolutely something to be concerned about. Still, tomorrow is not promised us any more than we can know if that irate caller actually had an important matter to discuss. Here is a person, not in front of her but within her very body, demanding her love and attention—not with words but by their proximity and dependency.
Such was the situation that St. Gianna faced she discovered that she had a tumour on her uterus. Her future cried out in desperation—think of your children! Your husband! Your patients! What shall they do if you do not survive? But, with the stubbornness of that post office lady and the bravery of a soldier riding into battle, she insisted on protecting the child within her. That decision saved her daughter's life and cost her own—a tragedy that we should remember with sobriety even as we honour her courage. But the paradox of her sacrifice is how she blessed far more people than she could have ever imagined—not only those who have been inspired by her witness but all those who have been touched by the life of her beautiful daughter too.
The challenge before each of us now is this: who is before you, demanding your love by their proximity? Perhaps you are a parent, with little children at your knee. Maybe you have a customer or coworker who needs your help today. If you are a nurse or doctor, you have patients under your care. If you are a teacher, your students. Perhaps you are that mother wondering if she should end her pregnancy. Every day we encounter souls thirsting to be reminded of the love of God, and we are the ones to do it. For we are his body in the world—his eyes and ears and hands and feet. If each of us loved the people near us, perhaps no one would go unloved.
"Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."