MAYDAY!! Be honest: what’s your first thought? Is someone in dire trouble at sea, or are brightly-clad youths dancing with ribbons? Let’s look at a little history before we form too strong an opinion.
For millennia, May Day has been celebrated as a springtime festival. From ancient Romans and Celts to 21st century English villagers, May Day has meant the start of a season of awakening and growing. I remember from my childhood, May Day celebrations in Berea on the street in front of Boone Tavern with Morris and Maypole dancers wearing bright costumes and carrying garlands of flowers. This week in Berea a group of dancers will gather around a Maypole on the lawn across from the President’s home and dance to usher in the spring. Later, those same dancers will take the Maypole and other equipment to a couple of our local schools and dance a Mayday show for the students. When I was a student at Saint Mark School in Richmond, we processed with a floral crown for the statue of Mary in the church yard on the first day of May; a tradition which I hope lives on in that community. Colorful ribbons and costumes, music, dance, singing, flowers… May Day means things are looking up.
In 1923, a standard distress call was needed for planes landing and taking off from London, England. Senior Radio Officer Frederick Stanley Mockford came up with the idea of using the word, “mayday,” a variation of the French “venez m’aider,” which means, “help me.” Within ten years “mayday” had become the standard international radio distress call. Official practice in calling for help requires that the signal be repeated three times: “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is Unit 1 requesting assistance…” Mayday means things are looking desperate.
When we hear a siren in our family, we always say, “Listen – someone’s getting help!” And we offer a quick prayer for all those involved. A distress signal has been met with qualified assistance, and someone is being ministered to. Alfredo thought of that system, and it has proven very effective, both in giving us all something to do when we can’t do anything else, and in calming our fears when there is nothing we can do about a worrisome situation. He came up with the idea for Lydia’s sake. A houseguest who stayed with us for several weeks when Lydia was a toddler, worried aloud each time she heard a siren. And I do mean “worried aloud.” It was beginning to have a very negative effect on sensitive little Lydia, and she began running away saying, “oh, no! No-no-no-no!” whenever she heard a siren. We love our volunteer fire department in the Red Lick Valley. They’re good people, ready to respond whenever needed. No matter where in the valley they are when they hear the call, they put their little red light on top of their pickup truck and head down the road toward the situation. I think they ALL drive past our house on their way. The sirens and the worries were threatening to undo us, and I’m convinced Alfredo’s solution was divinely inspired. It gave each of us a place to direct our energy when we heard a distress call. The Volunteer Firemen, the State Police, the Sheriff’s Deputies, and Emergency Medical Personnel that tend to the people in our valley answer the calls for help with their expertise. When we hear their sirens, we can answer our call to pray for everyone involved, and to be grateful to God for equipping and sending trained helpers. Mayday leads to sirens, which lead to prayers, which connect our community, which responds in gratefulness.
Today in his sermon, our pastor gave us this quote, sometimes attributed to Hal Lindsey:
“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.”
“Mayday” is a distress signal, but there is a hope that lives in the Mayday call. People with no hope of rescue don’t need a distress signal. Things may be looking desperate, but there is hope that someone “out there” will hear the call and will answer with the kind of help that rescues. “Mayday” is a call for community, and when that call is answered, community is strengthened and made new, even in the face of tragedy and loss. That’s not so different from the ancient and still-practiced “May Day” celebrations held all over the world on May 1st. After the long winter, it is time for the community to come together in gratefulness and support, and in celebration of new life.
It’s our belief – our certain belief – that God answers distress signals too. He rides with the rescue workers in their be-sirened vehicles. He waits with the injured and comforts the frightened. Even when we don’t recognize Him, He is there. When the seas of our lives are too choppy and we fear our ship is sinking, He answers our “mayday” with His grace and salvation, and offers us the opportunity to start fresh – a May Day for our spirits to celebrate their new life.
Help me see this and every day as the first of many bright days in Your presence, O God. Amen.