Thursday, October 20, 2011Tweet
How do we define a miracle? My weak attempt at a definition is this: A miracle is an event in which a positive outcome happens in defiance of what we understand to be natural law. It's something that known science, medicine, and logic cannot explain.
A wise priest, speaking about intelligent design, once said that securing our faith on our inability to explain something is dangerous, because as soon as science explains it, our reason for believing disappears. Which is why I'll say again that prayers and miracles are not the reason I believe. They simply are some of the things that help sustain me through periods of doubt.
The trouble with trying to apply human logic to miracles is that, by definition, they defy logic. We can't explain why this baby who should have died miraculously recovered, so how should we be able to explain why this other baby did not miraculously recover?
So I don't attempt to offer these stories as concrete proof of God's existence. Maybe they will be explainable 100 years from now.
I tell them because stories are meant to be told.
Many other people's stories have touched me as much as, maybe even more than, my own. I think that's natural: Things that happen to other people always seem shinier somehow, while we apply more scrutiny to our own lives. These stories shared with me by others will be with me forever.
So I could tell you about my cousin, who went to Moldova with a church group and gave out gift bags to children at an orphanage. Far more children showed up than they'd made gift bags for, so they had no option but to pray and start handing out bags. At the end, they had six bags left over, three "girl" bags and three "boy" bags. The head of the orphanage then came to them and asked whether they had any bags left over, as there were three girls and three boys who couldn't come because they were sick.
Or I could tell you about the people my grandfather the deacon healed with a glove that was Padre Pio's, like the man who discovered his body was riddled with cancer and his spleen massively enlarged, who came to my grandfather's house the next day and went back that afternoon to the doctor, who immediately got angry and said, "What are you trying to pull here?" because the man was completely cancer-free and his spleen normal-sized.
But you have the Internet and can find many more stories like this.
So I have to give you mine instead.
My freshman year of college, I went on a Spring Break trip with my scholars program to Paris. While walking around the city, I'd seen this shop selling cute T-shirts in French, but it was always evening when we went past and the shop was closed. The morning we were scheduled to leave France, I talked my friend Molly into walking down to the shop with me. It was finally open, and I quickly bought two shirts and we headed back to our hotel. There was a narrow street in front of our hotel, and a bus pulled up to the crosswalk just as we got there. I wanted to wait for the bus to pass, but the driver insistently waved us on, so we started to cross the street, me first.
The street wasn't wide enough for another car to pass the bus, but just to be safe, I looked to my left as soon as I was clear of the bus. There was a guy on a moped barreling down the street, and he was a foot away from me.
I didn't have even a split second to react before I slammed into the ground on my left knee and hand. It hurt like hell, but I was able to get up just fine, and even had enough of my wits about me to answer the moped driver, who was frantically asking, "Ça va? Ça va?" ("Are you okay?") "Oui, ça va."
Molly and I went into the hotel lobby, where our group was sitting with their suitcases, ready to go. I dramatically told my story about what had just happened, ending with, "And it ran over my leg!" But the second I said it, I knew it wasn't true. In fact... where had it hit me? Obviously it had hit me with enough force to knock me to the ground, but I had no pain except in my hand and knee where I'd hit the ground. And why had I fallen on my left side -- toward the moped -- instead of my right, or on my back, for that matter?
I must have asked Molly four times how exactly the moped hit me before her answer sunk in. She was showing me with her hands: "All I saw was it go in front of you." She'd seen the vehicle pass between us.
I've heard stories where someone felt someone invisible pushing them to safety. I never felt a push, yet the fact remains that I was knocked to the ground and uninjured. I have no explanation for it.
Mike and I spent the summer after we graduated living with his aunt in New Jersey. When it was time to head back to Chicago in August, we first went to Buffalo to spend a few days with his relatives, then got onto I-80/I-90 for the long stretch back to Chicago.
I was driving when we got to a part near Cleveland that we later learned is called -- no joke -- Dead Man's Curve. The freeway speed limit drops down to about 35 mph because the entire thing splits and turns 90 degrees in either direction. I was in the middle lane, surrounded by traffic on every side; it was the busiest and densest strip of highway we'd encountered so far on the trip, and I was just trying to breathe and focus on getting through Dead Man's Curve safely since (1) I hate driving and (2) I hate freeways.
Finally, we made it through to the other side, and I realized there was a semi to my left. I knew that my immediate priority was to get out of the truck's blind spot, and I sped up as much as I could until I was nearly clear of it. Nearly.
That's when the semi decided to change lanes.
I saw it start to get over and laid on my horn, while trying to get as far to the right as I could without running into the next lane. It tapped my bumper; the driver swerved to the left to try to stop from hitting me, apparently overcorrected, swerved back to the right and slammed into our bumper so hard that the car spun around 180 degrees and into the truck's path.
I don't remember much about the next few seconds except that my sunglasses flew off my face so I was momentarily blinded, I started screaming "Oh my God! Oh my God!" and I had enough time to think, "This is it. This is how I'm going to die. Brace for impact."
The impact never came. I heard Mike calmly say, "Pull over onto the shoulder." He doesn't remember saying anything, but does remember that his heart rate didn't even go up during the entire incident. I guided the car to the right in time for us to complete our arc around and slam the back bumper hard into the concrete median.
The bumper was smashed in on both sides and a panel next to the steering wheel had popped out, but amazingly, we were both completely unharmed and the car was drivable. A tow truck driver stopped and offered to turn the car around for us and park it on the opposite shoulder, up where the semi had pulled over. The police stopped all three lanes of traffic while we ran across to our car. It was surreal.
So that makes twice now that I should have been injured, maybe badly injured, and instead was completely unharmed. And it scares me -- a lot.
People get injured and killed in crazy accidents all the time. Why should I have been inexplicably knocked out of the way of a speeding moped, and had my car spun around on the highway without getting so much as a scratch? Am I supposed to take this as a sign that God wants me alive for something specific? That my work here isn't done?
Or is there some reasonable explanation for all of this that's just beyond my comprehension?
Miracles are scary, crazy, wonderful things, folks.