Emmanuel

So it’s Christmas.

For most of my life, I hated this time of year. I know I’m not alone either. If you have any “thing” at all, this time of year, this season of “festive family fun” is a tablespoon of lemon juice on whatever open abrasion is on your heart. If you’re like I was, it begins somewhere after Halloween and by the time you get to Christmas Eve, you’re an anxiety-ridden depressive, clinging to your sanity like a cat to a screen door. And who would blame you?

When I was 21, it was a particularly rough Christmas season. One night that year, in my friend’s car, after she peeled me off the emotional ceiling, she handed me a tiny little ring, one made for infants. Inside, in even tinier script, it read “Emmanuel.”

God with us.

That ring. That idea. That notion that Someone from the great Out There was intimately concerned with where I found myself, it was not a new idea to me. I heard it growing up in the fundamentalist church. I heard it at the Evangelical college.

But it meant nothing to me, in that context of grief and despair, until right that minute. It found me. There. In the front seat of her Chevy Lumina, somewhere around two in the morning.

That night began my journey to Orthodoxy, I know that now. That night, that ring, that idea, cast a thin thread of light into a very dark place.

God, my God, the Triune Creator of the Universe, the One who Is and Is to come, that One, is not distant. He is the One who seeks out. He searches until He finds us wherever we may be, in the sharp and jagged rubble piles of our lives, trapped by our own guilt, or the shame others have put on us, frozen by pain and anger and grief. In the Nativity, we have this idea, this promise kept. “I am coming to get you out.”

He uses us to do it. It’s really the most efficient way. We’re here. Now.

Even if you are not a person who believes in the God whom I worship, even if you believe in no God at all, you have to admit: there’s something about this time of year, this promise of something connecting us to each other, to something in the beyond pulling us up and pulling us in. It’s the kind gestures, the love of friends, the warmth of an embrace of one who comes alongside. It’s wine at the table and kind words between family. 

It’s grace.

In Orthodoxy, we recognize that as the energy of God. We cannot know Him in His essence, but we can know Him by what He does, for us and in us. And since we are in His image, we can do that thing too. We can reach out to others, connecting them to that thing beyond themselves. We can love, and hug, and cry with, and slip little gold rings, like life preservers, on fingers that say “you are not in this alone.”

It’s been nearly 20 years since that night. Twenty years makes just about all the difference. I’m not stupid, though.  I know that, as a human being full of frailties and vulnerable to my core, it would take very little to put me in another bad spot. 

But I know that if I am ever lost and trapped again, the God Who Keeps His Word will be Emmanuel.

With me.

With us.

Advertisements

The limits of observation, part II

There are cases that I can’t forget, stories I’ve written that I wish for all the world I could unwrite, erase from my memory, look into that pen held by the Men In Black, or shake out of my head like the drawings on an Etch-a-Sketch. To be honest, most of the dead children, those I remember. (what is wrong with me, though, that I say “most” and not “all”? yikes)

Michael Plumadore is one of those stories. And when it snows, like it’s been snowing, and there are Christmas lights on the trees and bushes outside, and little girls are wearing Christmas dresses, I can’t forget him. I can’t forget what he did, what we couldn’t do as a community, and the limits of what I could do as a journalist. Hell, the limits of what is available to you as a fellow human being is the most maddening of all the particularly maddening things about life here, no?

Anyway, a little girl went missing at Christmas. I blogged about it then, as best I could, but packed it back up, buried it in the back of all the other homicide stories, the robberies, and the daily debris of my life as a crime reporter. But now, two Christmases later, I still remember her. I remember how I left work on a Friday night, mentioning to our police reporter that there was something weird about a “missing child” at that time of day, at this time of year. I remember coming back into the office at 6 a.m. the next morning, and hearing the county police continuing their search. I remember my heart sinking into the pit of my stomach. I remember calling a police source, and asking if we could help, if it was time to say something to the public about this way-too-small-for-her-age girl and how she was not where she should be.I remember her little face, in the picture the police sent us, wearing her Christmas dress at the funeral of her grandfather. I remember posting those stories that day to the newspaper’s website. I remember listening all day to the scanner, my face buried in the soft fluff that was my old Golden Retriever who always accompanied me to the newsroom on those lonely Saturday mornings. I remember praying, praying, praying. I remember hearing them organizing volunteers. I remember them calling in the search dogs.

When I left that night, I went to church. It was Christmas Eve. By this time, the whole city knew. By this hour, this snowy evening, everyone was praying or begging or hoping. I lit a candle in the narthex. I prayed for her, by name. Someone asked me, she’s going to be found, right? She’ll be fine. I remember deciding right then to lie, at least partly. Yes, I said. They’ll find her. I sat in the pew, in the candlelight, thinking of so much that had nothing to do with Christmas, tears absolutely pouring down my face. Of course, I knew how this ended.

They found her alright. Cops cried on my shoulder the next day, at the press conference, where they told the city what we feared. As the story moved from the trailer park into the courthouse, becoming words on paper, hearings in cavernous rooms, drawing vultures like Nancy Grace into my world (she’s nuts by the way),  I remember just being stunned at this creature who did this. I was never in my life so grateful for a guilty plea. Only worthwhile thing that man ever did, I am damn sure. 

Saturday morning, I sat in a cold-ish barn, drinking too much coffee while I looked at excel spreadsheets and phone trees, planning out my goal for search training for the  year.  The people to the right and left of me, these really interesting and generous and smart people, and their amazing dogs — their names are all over the witness list in that horrible case. They did try. They did something.

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that the case of  that sad little girl didn’t push me a bit into wanting to try to help. I told one of my judges at the time I felt like a carnival barker in hell, doing nothing more than publicizing the sad freak show.  I know, at some level, that my work as a journalist did help a bit that day. We got the pictures out, we pushed the community to want to  help, if just for one day or so, to look out for things larger than the sales at Macy’s. At least I have told myself that for a couple years now.

I just want to do a bit more. And to my very core, I am so very grateful for this weird opportunity to try. I am still a little disoriented by the way in which I found myself here, and the rightness of how it seems to me. Tonight, when I got home after an hour-long commute, I put on my boots and Helo and I went out into the snowstorm, working on our stuff in the driveway. We have a long way to go, but I promise the one missing a year or two from now: We will absolutely be ready.