Recently, in Detroit, Michigan, there was a man standing on a ledge on top of a high bridge, threatening to take his own life. Police officers calmly tried to talk to him while their colleagues on the highway stopped truck drivers and instructed them to position their vehicles in a straight line, directly beneath the entire length of the bridge. The trucks thus became like a safety net so that wherever the man might attempt to jump, his fall would be broken by a parked lorry.
The man explained to the police that family issues had driven him to desperation. Thankfully, after four long hours of sensitive listening and talking, with the parked truckers waiting below, the police eventually persuaded him from his precarious perch, thereby saving his life.
Thirteen truckers had willingly stayed under the bridge for a complete stranger, doing everything in their power to help him. People power had truly helped to save the life of someone in his hour of greatest need. Those truckers gave up a huge block of time despite recognising the inevitable impact on the rest of their day – or possibly several days – as they dealt with the ensuing backlog of work. It was time that could never be clawed back.
Recently, a delivery driver coping with Liverpool’s frantically busy Christmas season came across someone who had fallen off his bike. The cyclist was cut and dazed. It was dark and raining very heavily and the young man had many more deliveries to make but instead of concentrating on his own needs – which would have been understandable given all the packages still to deliver – he gave both the cyclist and the damaged bike a lift home to safety.
Time is so precious and we all experience satisfaction when we are allowed to use it positively. Who wouldn’t feel frustrated when, through no fault of our own, time is wasted, for instance, in motorway traffic jams? In such situations, resentment can build up rapidly as we reflect on all the things we should be doing rather than sitting trapped in our cars. We can kill time, be on time, save time, lose time, but we can never reclaim it.
However, if we think only of ourselves, our selfishness drives away others. We must shift the focus away from ‘me’ and respond to ‘you’. Pope Francis, when meeting with German altar servers in August 2014, told them: ‘Our life is made of time and time is God’s gift, and it is therefore important to make use of it by performing good and fruitful actions.’
Often, one person’s good deed has a ripple effect among the community. Donating time and good will to help others does not just make the world a better place – it also makes us, as individuals, better people. Time that is given freely in the service of others can have no greater use. The lorry drivers who prevented a man from committing suicide and the van driver who cared for the cyclist will never regret the time they forfeited.
In Matthew 20:28 we read: ‘Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Jesus came to serve and to give and these two things define what it means to follow Jesus: in serving others we serve our wonderful God who will never be outdone in generosity.