by Robin Lynn Davidson
Emily reluctantly forced her eyes open. She blinked in the early morning light filtering through the slats of the blinds. She lay there for a moment, staring at the ceiling and arguing with her resolve, then heaved a resigned sigh and shoved back the covers. She reached for the clanging alarm, then pushed herself up to a sitting position and swung her feet off the bed and onto the floor. She stumbled like a newborn calf to her laundry basket and fumbled through the tangle of clean laundry. She silently berated herself for not folding it last night, but she'd been so tired. She pulled on a t-shirt and yanked up her sweats. Walking into the living room, she was suddenly aware of how quiet it was this morning. It was early, but still, the noise of the Bohemian neighborhood could always be heard plainly in her one bedroom, third-floor apartment. She ate her customary morning yogurt (always strawberry flavored) and laced up her shoes. She tucked her key and her cell phone in her pocket and skipped down the stairs. Pulling her hair into a high ponytail, she sat on the front stoop to stretch. Then she looked around. No cars. No people. No noise signaling the beginning of the day. Odd, she thought, but didn’t dwell on it long, as she concentrated on stretching her hamstrings. Then she began to run.
Emily was not a morning person by nature. But, oh how she loved to run! Between work at the office, her volunteer work at the library, and her large, eccentric, and slightly clingy family, who expected to see her daily, not to mention her mother and sisters constantly setting her up on blind dates, the mornings were all she had left to herself. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was running from something when she jogged. Even so, when the wind whipped through her hair and her muscles burned and the only sound in her ears was her breathing and footfalls, she felt free and in control. She felt like she could be herself and think clearly. When she felt the warmth of the sun on her face, she could imagine she was flying.
Somewhere around the sixth block, Emily thought again about the peculiar quietness this morning. She looked around and couldn’t recall seeing a single person since she’d left her apartment or even a single car passing her as she ran. As endorphins gradually charged up her sleepy mind, puzzlement replaced her morning reverie. Block after block, she glanced from side to side. She looked down each crossroad. She looked up at balconies and peered into store windows. All was quiet and dark. There were no people waiting at the bus stop, no paperboys delivering stacks of newspapers, not even a dog barking. She took a turn off her usual route and headed for the market district. There was always lots of activity there, at any time of day. As she rounded the last corner, she slowed to a stop. There was no hustle, no bustle. She panted, not from exertion, but from the beginnings of fear and shock. She pulled out her cell phone and called her mother. Her phone beeped and ended the call. She called her sister. Another beep. She checked her signal--she had five bars. She tried her other sister, her best friend, her dad, everyone in her contact list and even her cell phone carrier's customer service line, but not one call went through.
Emily strode towards one of her favorite restaurants and pulled on the door. Locked. She turned and went across the street to the funky boutique that her friend’s mom owned. The door was locked, but she went around to the back and let herself in with a hidden spare key. She walked through the store, aware of silence and loneliness pressing in on her as blank-faced mannequins stared. Maybe a landline would work. She went to the phone on the counter and dialed her mother, but a beep welcomed her and the phone went dead. Tentative relief washed over her as she decided that this must be some sort of prank her loved ones were pulling on her. But, how would they make the streets deserted? Maybe she was on a TV show, like Candid Camera. Or maybe today was a holiday and there was a parade somewhere and everyone had gone to watch. She glanced at the desk calendar next to the cash register and decided it wasn’t any holiday that she was aware of. Maybe I'm still asleep. Maybe this is a really vivid dream. Emily pinched herself to check. Nope, she was awake. Did I miss the memo? she wondered. Where is everyone? She dialed 911, but to no avail. Panic swept over every inch of her body and she felt an anxiety attack looming in her near future.
The urge to run was strong. Emily dashed out the back door without bothering to lock it behind her. As she ran, she passed her empty office, the vacant library, a park devoid of any activity. She ran all the way to her best friend’s apartment, but found it the same as the entire city seemed to be--deserted. Emily ran and thought and struggled to put it all together. She gradually became aware that somewhere along the way, the landscape around her had changed and she pulled up short.
She found herself on a dusty dirt road and as she turned in a circle, she could see sand and rocky terrain over most of the horizon. She saw mountains: a confusing sight, considering she lived in the plains. Where had the city gone? Where was she? This nightmare was getting more and more bizarre. It seemed so real, and yet she knew she had to be dreaming. No other explanation made sense. She walked towards some buildings that she assumed was a city. It looked like something out of a history book. Or at the very least, something from a middle eastern country. The buildings were squared off and made of stone. It looked ancient. She wandered the streets, wondering where she was. Or when she was, for that matter. "I've jogged far before, but this is ridiculous," she tried to joke to herself, ignoring the tremor in her voice. After cautiously walking down several streets and seeing no one, she thought she heard a noise. She followed the sound down several more streets. It grew louder and louder until she was sure it was the clamor of a whole crowd of people. Finally! She started to cry in relief. She broke into a trot and followed the sound. As she reached a hill on the other side of the city, the noise stopped and she found no crowd anywhere to be seen. The only thing she saw was a wooden cross and a man hanging on it.
She saw the man and he saw her. Really saw her. He was dying, but she could see compassion in his eyes, as though he were comforting her. There was something else there too. She felt as if he knew her. She felt that he knew everything that she had ever done. She could almost see all of her actions played out in the air between them, as if on a movie screen. Her eyes dropped to the ground, mortified.
"Daughter," said a strong, yet gentle voice. "Do not look away."
Emily reluctantly looked up to the man again. This time, when she looked into his eyes, she saw a love there that she had never seen before. But, the love wasn't just spelled out in his eyes. It was also written in the blood that was spilling from his body, from the crown of thorns on his head, from the nails that were piercing his hands and feet, holding him to a cross. No, that was wrong--the nails didn't hold him to the cross--love did. She gasped.
"Who is he?" she whispered, in awe.
"He is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased."
Emily had been to church once or twice and was sure that this man must be Jesus. Was the voice God? There was so much she didn’t understand, but all she could think to ask was, "But...why is he...dying?"
"Because I loved the world so much that I gave my one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. My prophet Isaiah wrote that he is pierced for the world's transgressions, crushed for their sins, the punishment that brings them peace is upon him and by his wounds they are healed."
"But, where is the world? I mean, where is everybody? I have looked all day and I can’t find anyone. And…where am I?"
"Today, my child, you are the world. You mean the world to me. I brought you here to show you that my son came to die for YOU."
Emily thought about her life. She wasn’t a bad person, she didn’t think, but she was far from worthy. She thought of the many mistakes she had made. She saw flashes of lies and pain and selfishness in her mind’s eye. Tears of regret slid out from beneath her lashes and she squeezed her eyes tightly shut, trying desperately to block the shame.
"No, no, no! I am not worth it! My life is not worth your life! How can you love me so much that you would die for me? Don't you know that I am nothing?"
"Of course I know you, child. I made you. I created your inmost being and knit you together in your mother's womb. I have watched you grow. I have a purpose for your life. And you are worth it to me. I love you enough to send my son to die for you. Not just the whole world, but you alone. You individually. If you were the only person on earth, he would still die for only you."
"But why? Who am I to deserve this?” Emily's throat and heart ached with tears and sorrow for the cost that this man Jesus was willing to pay.
"Because without his taking the punishment for your sins, we would be separated forever, my child, and that's not something that I can live with. I want you with me. For all eternity. This is my gift to you. Will you accept my gift?"
Emily's heart suddenly soared at the sound of the voice and the love she felt enveloping her completely. She felt a warmth pulse through her veins. She had never felt love like this before and was sure that she never would again. Yet, she was sure that this love that was being offered to her would carry her through her life and beyond the grave. She looked up into the face of the man dying for her alone, her face still wet with tears, but gratitude written on every inch of her expression, and whispered, "Yes!"
|~ Robin ~|