by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (June 5, 1996)

Caring: A Sign of God's Presence

A man was on the ledge of a 32-story building in Manhattan, weeping. The first police officers who responded tried to talk the man away from his dangerous perch. They talked, cajoled, and pleaded. It was all pointless, though, because the man was deaf and mute.

Eventually a neighbor told the police what they were facing. They immediately sent for a property room clerk from a police station in the Bronx. Officer Elizabeth Cook has a brother who was born deaf, so she is fluent in sign language. With more than a dozen other officers standing by and with a crowd of gawkers hundreds of feet below, she began trying to make contact with the 31-year-old man.

She waved her arms and tried everything she could think of to attract his attention. When he looked up several minutes later, Officer Cook signed: "Tell me what happened. I'm here to help you. Tell me what happened. I'm here to help you." Over and over, she repeated her offer to "listen" to a man who can't talk.

He finally responded by signing to her. "My girlfriend died in a car accident last week," he told her through deliberate and slow hand movements.

"I'm very sorry," she signed back. Reaching out to a man trapped in the terrible solitude of his grief, Ms. Cook reminded him that there were people who loved him and needed him. She promised that there were people willing to help him cope with his pain.

Finally he conceded that he wanted to live. He demanded that all the other police officers move away. Then he worked his way off the ledge and through a window. He and Officer Cook collapsed into each other's arms. Both sobbed.

Because of her own brother, a woman understood how intense the loneliness of a silent world can be. As she put it afterward, it can make a person feel that "no one's listening." So she could reach to the man, genuinely care about him, and save his life.

The New York Times story of this rescue ran under this headline when I saw it: "Signs of Humanity Help N.Y. Police Save a Life." Listening to and caring about another's plight is a sign of humanity, all right. Helping that person through a tough time is also a sign of God's presence. At the last day, Jesus will say, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

The next time you see someone who is hurting and feeling isolated, you may be able to make the connection that makes the difference. The secret is caring and seizing the chance to do something for Jesus.

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