When I lead retreats, I encourage dialogue—dialogue with God, with the saints, with nature, and even with so-called inanimate beings. I believe everything has the capacity to be revelatory. Every person, tree, stone, or even man-made thing has wisdom to share with us. All we need to do to discover that wisdom is to slow down, pay attention, and imagine. With that in mind, here is a dialogue I once had with the fire hydrant in front of our house.
Hi, Mr. Fire Hydrant. How are you today?
*Same as ever.
I almost didn’t notice you standing there on our tree lawn.
*Few people do.
But you’re bright red. How could I walk past you almost every day on my way to church and not notice you?
*Because I’m always here, that’s how. We tend to overlook things that are always there. Like trees. Like buildings. Like people even. We take them for granted until they’re not there.
That’s true. Yet in most towns and cities, you fire hydrants are painted bright red, yellow, silver, or even blue to make you stand out. You’d think we’d notice you more often.
*Fire fighters notice me. You can bet they know exactly where we all are in this town. And I’ve been told that a fire hydrant in front of your house can increase the value of your house to potential buyers. I guess we exude a sense of safety and security.
I see. Tell me. Do you have a name?
*My friends call me Sentinel.
*Thank you. What’s your name?
*Melannie… Melannie. What a cutsey and upbeat name! And it has three syllables like my name—with the accent on the first.
You’re very attentive, Sentinel. Tell me, what’s it like being a fire hydrant?
*Well, sometimes it’s not easy. Dogs pass and use me for you-know-what. And birds sit on top of my head—and they do their you-know-what on me.
I’m sorry about that. (I notice a little dried birdie poop on his head.)
*That’s okay. Everyone should be able to take a little bit of you-know-what every now and then. It’s just part of life.
Thank you for that piece of wisdom. Do you have any other wisdom you could share with me?
*Well, as you can see, I am not very attractive.
Oh, don’t say that!
*But it’s the truth. If someone said you looked like a fire hydrant, would you be complimented?
*See? But that’s okay, because self-knowledge and self-acceptance are very important.
That’s very true…
*But despite my chunky looks, I am very important. When this valve is opened, a great surge of water will come gushing out—to be used to put out a fire. Most people don’t appreciate me until there’s a fire. Years ago, after I helped put out a small fire on a lady’s porch, she ran to me and gave me a big hug. The first and only hug I have ever received. It was…it was…quite wonderful…
I’m sure it was… I notice there’s a long metal pole sticking straight up on you. Is that because of all the snow we get?
*That’s right. In winter I can get buried under the snow. The pole tells firefighters where I am. We fire hydrants adapt to our surroundings. My cousin hydrants in Florida, where they get hurricanes, have reflective markers embedded in the road to help locate them if they’re buried under trees or debris.
Well, I thank you, Sentinel, for talking with me. I will never take you for granted again.
*Why, thank you, Melannie. I have one question for you. Why are humans always rushing around? They jog past me on the sidewalk and whiz by me in their cars. Personally I think rushing around is highly over-rated, as if we attain our importance by how fast we’re going. But look at me. Here I stand. In one place. Day after day. And yet, I am still serving. Serving is the important thing—no matter what form it takes. I think if we all slowed down and found ways to serve one another better, this world would be a better place.
I couldn’t agree with you more.
(I take leave of Sentinel. But before I do, I check to see if anyone is watching us. No one is. So I bend over and give Sentinel a quick but firm hug. And when I do, I feel his chunky metal body soften, just a little bit.)
Does anything in this reflection touch you?
Has something—a cat, a tree, a rock—ever revealed its wisdom to you? If so, what and how?
You might want to dialogue with something—with anything—-and and see what happens…
PS: I ask your prayers for a retreat I will be leading this Saturday, August 18, for the Catholic Women of the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama. I will focus on “Three Signs of a Healthy Spirituality: Friendship, Courage, and Hope.” Thank you!
Yes, I did find a few fire hydrant songs on Youtube—most of them for children. But I thought I’d pick something more inspiring. The fire hydrant’s name was Sentinel. Someone on watch. Someone protecting us. God is our Great Sentinel. This song, by “Casting Crowns,” celebrates this belief. It’s called “God of All My Days.”
Would you like to respond to this reflection in any way? If so, please do so below.