Dialogue with a Fire Hydrant

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.

The fire hydrant in front of our house. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Sandy Nativio, SND.)


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.

Sentinel. That’s beautiful—and appropriate.

*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?

Well, well…

*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.

No Comments

  1. Judy on August 13, 2018 at 5:08 am

    Prayers for Birmingham retreat, Melanie!❤️

  2. Kathleen on August 13, 2018 at 6:11 am

    Good Morning Sr. Melanie!

    I like your reflection today. Sometimes, I like to find the almost hidden moon in the morning after the sun is up. It is like a little treat both there at the same time. God’s surprise for the day!

    Praying you have a blessed retreat with the women.


  3. Ed J. on August 13, 2018 at 6:51 am

    What a delightful reflection….whimsical but very insightful. I must admit that while I’ve never had a conversation with an inanimate object, perhaps I’ll do so on my my next morning walk. Plenty of trees, plants, grass, and even concrete, to speak with. As I’ve grown older, I find myself becoming more mindful of God’s wonders all around me; and trying to take the time to appreciate them, and their importance in my life. And if I do give that tree a hug, I too shall probably look around before doing so! Thank you, Sister.
    Ed Johnson

  4. Rosanne on August 13, 2018 at 8:03 am

    When I read the title, I paused not thinking I would read this reflection, but your gift is to take the ordinary and help us better connect with God. I will never look at a fire hydrant the same. Thank you for all that you do to spread God’s message. (The songs you choose are just icing on the cake.)
    I will pray for your up-coming retreat that it provides everyone the nourishment they need at this time in their lives.

  5. JoAnn on August 13, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Sr. Melannie…I have not spoken to any fire hydrants lately, however, on my way home the other day I was on a country road lined with trees and noticed fire hydrants along the road, which surprised me. There are homes across the road from the hydrants so I suppose it wasn’t so unusual. Next time I drive down there I will say “hi” from Sentinel!

  6. Thomas DeFreitas on August 13, 2018 at 8:43 am

    There are annunciations in the strangest places! My friend Elena is a poet, and she has written so many poems that speak to this truth.

    Thanks, Sr Melannie, as always for your reflection. I will pay closer attention to the fire hydrants of the world! (Didn’t the Miserable Offenders have a song called “Pay Attention”?)

    Peace and light, T.

  7. NANCY MATRAS on August 13, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Why hide when hugging a tree or a fire hydrant? We look at a $1.00 bill but does that $1.00 hide because of inflation and not being a “real” $1.00 bill? I’m not sure what the value of the bill is but we still use it as a $1.00 currency. Does God value us any less! Is it better to appreciate than to depreciate!

  8. John Hopkins on August 13, 2018 at 9:50 am

    Good morning, Melannie! Thank you for the reflection. Fire hydrants are life savers! And so, to paraphrase psalm 148: “Praise the Lord, sun and moon;/ praise the Lord, all shining stars./Praise the Lord, all the fire hydrants!/ And while we’re at it, let us praise you, sentinel of life-saving water!”

    • rita rings on August 13, 2018 at 10:30 am

      Hmmm, inanimate…I will think about that today. But this summer I saw some Black Swallowtail caterpillars on our parsley and they ate with utter abandon and it reminded me of the Eucharist! Daily Bread, indeed. We saw several Black Swallowtail butterflies in our yard at our parsley a week later.

  9. Sister KC from Cullman on August 13, 2018 at 10:03 am

    We are eager to welcome you back to Alabama again Sister. You always offer such nourishing SOUL-food, both in person and through this blog. Bless you.
    Sister KC from Cullman

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on August 14, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      Dear KC, I have only fond memories from my week in Cullman, AL with your beautiful community! Melannie

  10. Pat on August 13, 2018 at 10:30 am

    What an inspirational reflection, Sister! My husband & I talk to the wonderful old school, Highland, that our grandson attended many years ago. We began acknowledging Highland as we drove past him with our grandson on our way to church & continue the same today. May God bless you daily!

  11. Carol on August 13, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Good morning Melanie,
    I’ve been thinking of my need for patience,
    especially in times of waiting. (The fire hydrant had
    been waiting a long time for your blessing!)
    Last night I watched the night sky, waiting
    for a shower, or at least one meteorite to appear.
    After more than hour, when I was about to lose patience,
    a glorious light flew across the sky. I called out my
    thanks and praised Our Creator God.

  12. Terri on August 13, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Dear Sr. Melannie,
    A playful reminder to be present and to pray always! Thank you…

  13. Roseann on August 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Fire hydrants were an integral part of my childhood, growing up in a big city meant encountering a fire hydrant on almost every other city block. They were painted black on the bottom part and a bright silver on the top. Fire hydrants provided cool water “showers” on hot summer days for city kids and also participated in various “games” played serving as the bases, etc. And, oh yes, most important of all, putting out fires that inevitably occur frequently in big cities. Thank you, Sr. Melanie, for the wonderful reflection on Sir Sentinel Fire Hydrant. Praying you have a most blessed retreat.➕

  14. fran on August 13, 2018 at 10:57 am

    When I look down and see a rock that’s smooth and uniquely shaped it reminds me that God is my rock and my salvation. Do I pick up that rock in my hand? He’s waiting for me to respond. Will I?

  15. Jean on August 13, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Good Morning Sister Melannie,
    Thank you for another fantastic start to anyone’s week.
    Prayers for you and the blessed women of Birmingham.

  16. Mark Svoboda on August 13, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    Greetings, cousin!
    What stood out to me in this reflection was the mention of the “tree lawn”. Having been born and raised in Cleveland, I know that a tree lawn is the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk. Having moved away from Cleveland, I found out that not everyone knows what a tree lawn is. Some people call it a berm, a devil’s strip, a parkway, an easement, a parking strip, or a verge, and some people don’t even have a special term for that strip of grass. I don’t know if anyone outside of the Cleveland area calls it a tree lawn. It would be interesting to know what your readers call it, and where they grew up.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on August 13, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      Thanks for responding, Mark!
      Okay, Readers, what do YOU call that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street–and where do you live? I’d like to know. When I first ventured out of northeast Ohio as a child, I quickly learned about “local dialects.” Is it a frying pan or a skillet? Is it soda or pop or soft drink? Is it a water fountain or a bubbler?
      Thanks, cousin, for raising a good question! Dolly

  17. Joni on August 13, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    Too bad Sandy Nativio didn’t snap a picture of you hugging Sentinel!
    Missed you in June at the diam1ond jubilee. Hope all is well. Birmingham is beautiful. When ever a friend goes to KY I always say to her kneel down and kiss those mountains for me. A little more than a hug!

    Have a good retreat!

  18. Annie on August 14, 2018 at 1:13 am

    I loved this! I talk to things too! I can just imagine you hugging Sentinel!

  19. Odelia on August 14, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    I loved this reflection! There was a lot of wisdom in the hydrants
    Words. I often catch myself talking to the kitchen utensils, my knees when I am going up the stairs, my flowers,,etc..
    Thank you.

  20. Zuster Sylvia on August 14, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    Hello Sister Melanie,

    I was looking on my computer and red about websites from our sisters.
    And I saw your name. Nice remembrances came back in my mind about General Chapters and so on.
    But I red your text about sentinels.
    I was touched, special the sentinel was happy with that big hug from that lady.
    Everyone needs sometimes a hug, it gives warm feelings and also courage to go on.
    Have a good time in Alabama and give the ladies some good thoughts for their life.
    Greetings and a warm big hugh,


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on August 14, 2018 at 4:07 pm

      Dear Readers: Sister Sylvia is a Notre Dame Sister in the Netherlands. She and I attended a couple of General Chapter meetings in Rome. For one meeting, we sat next to each other for the entire month. I couldn’t speak Dutch, but I knew a little German. She knew Dutch, German, and English. But everyday, armed with my English-German dictionary, I tried speaking to her in German. We had many good laughs together!
      Danke, Liebe Schwester!

  21. Barbara on August 15, 2018 at 12:56 am

    It has been a crazy week and I just got your post read today. Then tonight I came across this joke on Mikey’s Funnies and I just had to share.
    “A nursery school teacher was delivering a van full of kids home one day when a fire truck zoomed past. Sitting in the front seat of the fire truck was a Dalmatian dog. The children started discussing the dog’s duties.

    “They use him to keep crowds back,” said one youngster.

    “No,” said another, “he’s just for good luck.”

    A third child brought the argument to a close: “They use the dogs,” she said firmly, “to find the fire hydrant.” “
    Continued blessings to you, Sr. Melanie, and to your ministry.

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