I’m about as far from a medical expert as it’s possible to be, but it was my professional opinion that the woman on the floor of the restaurant that day was dead.
She didn’t move at all and there was absolutely no trace of color left in her face. She lay about 20 feet away from the table where two friends and I were eating lunch, and apparently had suffered a seizure.
We didn’t see her collapse and by the time we figured out anything was happening, 911 had been called and several people were gathered around her. Even so, as she lay on the hard floor, I remember thinking how alone she looked.
Seeing her there took me back a bunch of years to, oddly, the first time I’d ever been in a plane at night. A college student, I had felt my fledgling faith being shaken on that flight, and it wasn’t because I was convinced it was really impossible to find runways in the dark. It was all those lights.
As we flew over cities and towns, there were thousands and thousands of lights below me — on houses, office buildings, shopping centers, roadways and countless other places. How, I wondered, in the immensity of all that, could there possibly be a God who kept track of every one of us? I remember feeling pretty alone in the sky that night.
Being alone might be what we fear most, and living life still has a way of making us feel like sometimes we really are on our own.
But if I can get past those feelings to what I believe is true (a tough leap, at times, surely), I can arrive in a place where I don’t think either the unconscious woman in the restaurant or the college kid on the airliner was ever really alone, even if neither of us knew it.
During the recent Christmas holidays, many of us celebrated the arrival of the baby Jesus, who was called Emmanuel by the prophets, a name that means “God with us.”
God’s presence and intimacy with us is an amazingly comforting and inspiring idea, and I wish I could irrefutably demonstrate its truth, both for myself and for everyone around me. I can’t. And if I could, there would be no need for faith.
I do, however, have these words from a more grown-up Jesus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” And later, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I’m not sure we can accept those kinds of words until we actually try trusting and living them. When I can let myself do that, I sure do like knowing that I’m never outside of God’s care and presence, and that he knows the number of hairs on my head.
In the times when the prophets first called Jesus Emmanuel, names often came loaded with more meaning than they do today.
“By calling God Emmanuel, we recognize that God is committed to live in solidarity with us,” says writer and priest Henri Nouwen, “to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us. God-with-us is a close God.”
The woman on the restaurant floor proved my lack of medical expertise by reviving, and she was speaking with EMTs when I left. But even if she hadn’t, I’d still believe that God was closer to her than I’ll ever know.
I believe that because Jesus said it’s so. And I love the way the monk Thomas Merton puts it: “Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.”
We ain’t flying solo.