When you’re in a tight spot you can push people away or hold them closer. That’s what I learned when I saw over a million people fighting for the same place, a front row seat at the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It was like playing musical chairs with the city of Philadelphia. To describe it as “suffocating” would be a euphemism. Your first instinct in a tight spot is to push people away from you. Make space for yourself. But there I saw that people who had somebody close by were more likely to survive.
A tall Spaniard looks over the heads of the crowd and peers into St. Peter’s square—everyone’s final destination. We were still about 100 yrds from it and his wife was beginning to worry, “Is there still space, will we get a spot? It doesn’t look like it.”
“Sí, Sí,” he reassured her. “You can’t see the whole plaza from here. It opens up more.” So Mr. Reassuring kept his wife from calling quits on the crowd and escaping through a side street. He gave her the hope she needed to spend a few more hours in a wine press in order to be poured into one of the few remaining seats. While she may have quit without her man, it’s also true that he wouldn’t have made it far without her.
The crowd picked up and rushed forward. Everyone takes off—well, takes off at the speed of cold lava. “Vamos,” he shouts. While he rushes forward, she maintains enough perception to notice that her husband is missing something.
“Honey, didn’t you have a back pack? Where’s your back pack?”
Uh hu. Yeah. He left behind the backpack that had “everything”. Careful buddy, this is Rome. You lose your wallet and ten minutes later a gypsy is trying to buy the Pantheon with your Visa card. They may have landed a good seat for Mass but come evening they would have had much bigger problems had it not been for his wife.
In a tight spot we need to be reminded of those second grade backpack lessons. We need someone to watch our back and maybe our bags too. Having hundreds of thousands of people around can be suffocating, but having the right person by your side may be your key to survival. That morning I learned that just when you’re pushing away some people it’s good to have one you can pull closer.