There’s a photograph near the library at the university. The photograph simply shows two outstretched hands ready to make contact—as if someone were falling and stretched out their hand and were about to get “caught” by another. I have purposely never read the caption. Often what is not “said” makes the point.
* * *
I remember sitting on a sandy beach under a palm tree observing people. In front of me walked a father and son, treading the line on the sand where the waves just tickle your toes, reminding you that there is a great ocean out there. The little boy, maybe 5 years old, walked slowly, looking at waves, stooping down waiting for the waves to reach him, laughing when he tried to catch the water that escaped his hands. Just as they walked in front of me, the little boy fell. While watching the water come and go, a misstep.
The father stood up and extended his hand. “Hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”
The father, in calm and slow movements, helped the crying boy back to his feet. He placed an arm around his son and said, “Don’t cry. I’m right here.” The father explained why the boy fell: “Look, the sand here just soaked up the water from the waves so it became softer, and that made it easier to lose your footing. We’ve all stepped on soft sand, buddy. It may happen again, so be careful where you walk.” Then, as if to extend a precious detail to this child’s learning experience, the father stood up and extended his hand. “Hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”
I remember wondering, God, is that what You do with me? What if I cannot see You, God? Whom do You send to help me up?”
* * *
As I crouch in the corner of the room, I realize the luxury of light. Here we are, 50 students, one professor, and a campus police officer, hiding in the west side of the library, dark rooms designated for heavy protection. First thing on today’s agenda: a shooter drill. The alarm is very loud. Across the room from me are two young women, one who is crying. I crawl toward them and hear one of them say, “Just breathe.” One of the students is having a panic attack. The police officer approaches, but he is late. Amid the dark, voices of whispering students bring some semblance of order in chaos, helping their classmate.
“Try to focus on something. Can you see on the right, the window? There’s a picture of the hands.”
“Yeah, good idea. Focus on that religious picture.”
“No. It’s motivational, like climbers helping one another to the top of the mountain.”
“Or Jesus reaching out to us?”
The voice of the panicked student surfaces: “If it’s Jesus, where are the scars? You know, the cross thing?”
“Maybe He sent someone to help catch someone,” says the officer, gaining agreement from all.
As the quiet conversation continues, the panicked student’s breathing slows down, and I remember soft sand. A child has fallen. In my mind’s eye I see outstretched hands surrounding us at this very moment.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.