“Emmanuel! Wait! Stop!” A woman’s frantic shout, and the pit-pat-pit-pat sound of a child’s sandals hitting pavement, came from behind me. I was standing on a busy, New York City street corner, staring at the “do not walk” hand sign but turned to confirm what I suspected was happening.
“Stop, stop! Emmanuel!” yelled the slender young woman, pushing an empty stroller and running desperately. The scampering child, I guessed two years old, stopped on the sidewalk two feet from me. He gazed back at the young woman and tossed his black silky curls. Then his dark eyes widened, and his mouth hinted an impish grin.
“Emmanuel!” the young woman shrieked. She was still several yards away.
“No,” he cried, trying to squirm away from me.
The young woman arrived two long seconds later. “Thank you,” she said to me while taking the boy’s hand.
In his essay, “Why Do We Say One Thing About Children But Do Another,” published in the book titled Grace Notes, Brian Doyle wrote: “I know how incredibly hard most of us work on behalf of every kid we know. I know more brave and weary people breaking their backs for kids than I can count. But there are a lot of kids we don’t help, lost kids, scared kids, kids who are headed to an ocean of blood and despair. How can we catch them on the beach? How can we bend the bruised and blessed world and save them? Because they’re all our kids. And all they want, all they ever wanted, is us.”
But that day, Emmanuel had wanted the street, not us, especially not me. “She scared me, “ I heard him say to the young woman as they walked away.
“You scared me,” she replied. “You can’t be running away from me, Emmanuel, it’s not safe.”
The world is not safe for adults either, not even in a parking lot. Last week Mockingbird staff writer Sarah Condon reported: “This weekend authorities discovered 10 people dead in a truck in San Antonio. I would call them “migrants” as the New York Times did, but let’s go with ‘people.’ Since they were all men, let’s call a thing a thing and just say, ‘The authorities found the bodies of 10 husbands, fathers, and sons who died in an overheated vehicle in a Walmart parking lot. In Texas.’”
People. Husbands. Fathers. Sons.
Late last year, Brian Doyle, editor of the Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon, was diagnosed with what he called “a big honkin’ brain tumor.” After receiving the diagnosis, people asked what they could do. “Be tender to each other,” he said. “Be more tender than you were yesterday, that’s what I would like. You want to help me? Be tender and laugh.”
Brian Doyle—person, husband, father, son—died at home on May 27, 2017.
According to the prophet Isaiah, Emmanuel means “God with us.”
I’m sorry I scared Emmanuel. I wish I’d been more tender, maybe laughed a little as I returned him to safety. But let’s just say I’m very glad Emmanuel is with us.