I talk to God all the time. I don't mind admitting that.
My prayers these days are mostly asking him to make me smart enough to get out of the way and let him take charge.
It wasn't always like that. What I used to do was give him a list of things I wanted him to do. I might as well have said: God, grab a pencil and take this down. How arrogant.
Thank God he's God, though, because I believe during those times instead of getting upset, all he did was smile at me and say, Isn't that cute. When I finally came to realize the best thing about God is that he doesn't listen to me, our relationship really took off.
A lot of my chats with God, particularly on Friday nights and almost always on Saturday mornings are something like, So, got any ideas what I should write about? The cool thing is he often does.
Saturday morning, for example, I opened a section of The Times Leader that I normally toss aside along with the classified ads and advertising inserts. It's called Community News. What made me open it, I don't know. But who made me open it … well, I think I just explained that.
In the Community News section I came across an article about the upcoming inaugural fall banquet of JMJ Catholic Radio 750 AM, and the guest speaker Fred Berretta. We've been running little blurbs about this in the Dispatch the past couple of weeks and because of it Fred has been on my mind.
I got to hear Fred speak a couple of years ago at the Holy Name Society smoker at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church – in fact, as toastmaster, I not only got to introduce him, but also to sit alongside him during the dinner – and immediately bought and read his book, Flight of Faith, My Miracle on the Hudson.
It might seem crazy to say you love a person you've spent all of about three hours with, but love is the only word I can use to describe my feelings toward Fred.
The week after the smoker in 2010, I wrote my column about Fred and Saturday morning I decided to look it up to see what I said. You would think I have a big file of all the columns I've written, but I don't. I've never clipped out a single one to save and I don't even have a file on my computer. I've been writing columns for more than 25 years and always felt that once these things are written they have a life of their own. So, if I want to find an old one – even one from just two years ago – it can be an adventure. And not always a successful one.
That's another time I talk to God. Saturday morning I said, If I'm supposed to write about Fred Berretta this week, let me know by putting that old Dispatch in my hands. I had it in five minutes.
The headline on that column was A miracle within a miracle, and it began with this:
As Fred Berretta approached the 30 minute mark in his speech to the men of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church last Sunday night, I looked around the hall taking inventory of who was still with him. Half-an-hour is a long time to hold the interest of a crowd, but from my vantage point at the head table, it was clear Fred had lost no one. Every eye, and that included those of some teen-aged boys, was glued on him.
And why not?
Fred is not only a remarkably gifted story teller, he also has a remarkable story to tell.
On January 15, 2009, Fred was one of the 155 people standing on the wings of an airplane floating down the Hudson River after making an emergency landing. The rescue of every one of those people has come to be known as The Miracle on the Hudson.
What happened inside of Fred Berretta that day was the miracle within the miracle.
A pilot himself, Fred knew better than anyone on the plane, save perhaps pilot Chesley Sullenberger, what was most likely going to happen when that Airbus slammed into the Hudson at about 155 miles per hour. Even if it did not break up on impact killing all aboard, the chances of surviving in the icy water were 50-50, at best.
In those final moments, Fred says he told God, If it is your will for me that today I die, I accept that will.
And in doing so, he told the men at Mount Carmel, he found peace. I concluded my column on Fred's speech in 2010 with this: I wish all of you could have been there.
That wish can come true, in a way, on Sunday, Nov. 11, when Fred Berretta returns. The banquet is at 5 p.m. at St. Anthony's Center, Exeter, following a special 4 p.m. Mass at St. Anthony's Church of St. Barbara's parish nearby. For reservations, call 451-1903, 287-4670, or go to [email protected].