The almost 250 years since the invention of the spinning jenny have seen constant improvements in the quality, the length and the safety of human life. So accustomed have we become to warmth in the winter, cool in the summer, and food whenever and wherever we need it, that we have perhaps forgotten how tenuous all those things can be.
Some 330 high school students affiliated with the Archdiocese of Omaha, among whom was a contingent from Bellevue’s Gross Catholic High School, were reminded of those primeval realities Jan. 22 when they were stranded on immobilized buses for almost 24 hours during a blizzard while returning from the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Their story, related on the front page of last week’s edition of the Bellevue Leader, is one they will never forget. Years come and go, as do protest marches. One blends with another, until it can be hard to distinguish one from another.
Sometimes, however, the advent of life-threatening hardship imposes an easy distinction, and this was one of those times.
Their only refuge from the storm was the buses, and the engineering that kept the engines chugging and the warm air flowing. All through the night they waited for the storm to subside, struggling against the discomfort of their upright seats to snatch a few moments of sleep.
And then, in a moment of triumph over adversity and fear they gathered at noon the next day and said Mass in the cold and the snow. As cars struggled by on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, they followed in the footsteps of their most ancient forebears who stood for their faith in the most challenging circumstances and in very dangerous places.
They stood together, in spiritual and fraternal solidarity, and lived to tell a remarkable tale.
It is always the case that great challenge brings great growth. In a society where the existential challenges of food and weather are kept mostly at bay, and where the human genius that makes that security possible is too often taken for granted, a little reminder of our fragility, of prayer and the value of sticking together is always timely.
It might not have been scheduled on their curricula, but these 330 or so students, got quite a lesson in life, and may they never forget it.