Yesterday, I was reading Tomie dePaola’s The Miracles of Jesus with my four-year-old daughter. She listened attentively, but I could see that most of the wonders didn’t impress her much. In these short narratives, some kind of grown-up problem is introduced—and then poof, God solves it, The End. I think she saw Jesus acting more or less like all adults act: making good things appear arbitrarily, making sick people feel better, occasionally being cranky and strange, and wishing people would say “thank you” more often. It was cool, but it didn’t mean much to her.
Jairus’ daughter, however, really got her attention—maybe because it was a full story, with suspense, despair, and a happy ending, plus the hint of a full life to come.
Jesus hears the news that the girl was sick, but He isn’t teleported to her bed—He walks, one foot in front of the other, on His way to her. And when He gets there, it’s too late—her family is weeping; the girl, the poor little thing who wanted to be healed, is already dead.
My daughter got very quiet at this point. We read on:
“But Jesus said, ‘Do not weep. She is not dead. She is asleep.’
And the people only laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.
She looked at me with big eyes. They laughed at Jesus!
Jesus took her by the hand and said, ‘Child, arise.’
And her spirit returned and she got up at once. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat.”
At this point, my daughter hurled herself at me and gave me a big, squeezing hug—she got that part! She knows about being sad, needing help, waiting far too long, being rescued, and then having something to eat, because all these ups and downs make you hungry. And then life goes on, once you have been saved. Here was a miracle she could appreciate—the kind that’s part of a story.
I got it, too, because I know this story. You could say that, as a high school and college student, I “struggled” with depression, but that’s not really the word. I lived there. I was being swallowed whole, day after day, and I could not get out. Wherever people led me, I would go, whether they liked or loved me, hated me, or just found me useful.
One winter, I went with my mother to a charismatic healing Mass, because it couldn’t hurt. The service was emotional—tacky, to be honest— and the fervor of the scattered congregation seemed a little sheepish and forced, as they softly hooted and called “Amen!” into the chilly air of the church. We lined up and the priest recited some words of healing—I forget them utterly—over each of us. He gave us each a firm shove on the forehead, to put us off balance in case the Holy Spirit wanted to overcome anyone. A few people crumpled and passed out, snow melting quietly off their boots onto the floor. Most of us just staggered a bit under the pressure and then went back to our seats.
Well, another dead encounter with dead people in a dead world. I went to sit down. Nothing had changed because nothing could change. I was dead, and everyone else was allowed to be alive. Why? Who knows? Someone had been sent for help, but help would not come. Help was not for me.
And then I heard these words in my head, “You made Me wait. Now you can wait for a while.” They were not my words. The tone was warm, a little sad, with a small vein of humor: I think I was being teased, chided for taking so long to send for help. You like games, talitha? All right, I will play. Now, wait.
If you have ever lived inside a black hole, if you have moved about the world enclosed in a dome of sound proof glass, with no voices but your own voice, which you hate above all other sounds in the world; if you have felt so bad for so long that you don’t even want life to get better, you just want it to be over—then you will understand that it was very, very good to hear this voice.
I was not merely sitting, it told me. I was sitting and waiting. Someone was with me; or at least, someone was on the way. I was happy to wait. I was happy! This was new.
That was how I began to be healed. It was a long road of waiting, after I was healed. It is a long road. But here is what I know: as long as we still have breath in us, we are not dead, we are only sleeping. We are not alone; we are waiting for Christ to arrive.