When miracles don’t happen

“Oh Lord, my God, let the life breath return to the body of this child,” proclaimed the prophet Elijah.

And the dead boy lived.

“Young man, I tell you, arise!” demanded Jesus Christ.

And the dead boy did.

In my mind, the “right” thing to do is to celebrate the healing miracles in today’s first reading and Gospel. God brought dead kids back to life on earth. Families were restored. Life went on, happily ever after. Hooray?

But I can’t shake knowing that this sort of miracle doesn’t happen every day. Young people die — and stay dead — all the time. A 21-year-old is shot in his classroom. Dead on the scene. A group of college women get hit by a drunk driver. All dead, for good. A 20-year-old slips and falls off a 30-foot ledge. Dead on impact. A 21-year-old hangs himself in his parents’ basement. Dead within minutes.

I spent the spring semester listening to stories of young lives cut too short. Writing a feature for US Catholic magazine about death on college campuses gave me a glimpse into the utter anguish, the wholly-indescribable grief that looms over the death of a young person. I sat with friends as they wept. I watched campus ministers fumble for words. I did not hear about a single happily ever after.

The stories keep coming. A few weeks ago, the 15-year-old brother of one of my retreat leaders collapsed as he crossed the finish line at his high school track meet. It would be the last race he’d ever run. 15-year-olds shouldn’t have final races. Dammit, they just shouldn’t. In the obituary, his family wrote, “We had the chance to cry buckets and buckets over him.” That line will tug at my heart for a long time. After spending last summer working in a hospital, I can imagine the scene. Cords hooked everywhere. Machines shrieking. Mom & Dad shrieking louder. Lots of hands in plastic gloves poking and prodding and trying whatever they could to let the life breath return to the body of the child on the table. I bet prayer was a part of all of these stories, too. I bet there was pleading with Jesus. How? Not now! Not him! Please, keep her here!

But unlike in today’s readings, Jesus did not revive (at least physically) any of these young people. They are all still dead. Their family and friends are still angry, sad, confused, distraught, depressed, hurting. They are still hurting. Why does the life breath return to some and not others?

There can certainly be lots of hope found in the Resurrection story. And I know the Christian faith is rooted in life after death, a love that spans beyond this world. I’m just leery of moving there too soon, at least not without honoring the real pain and real loss felt by so many who begged for their beloved dead to come back to life in this world, in the here and now, and didn’t get the miracle they wanted.

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