On a recent trip we were surrounded on all sides by families with children. As I age, I have a “love/hate” relationship with crowds. I like to watch people, especially from other cultures, all together, vacationing: multiple languages, ages…I find that entertaining. On the other hand, especially the older I get, I am not a fan of crowds. I still like to be around people, but more and more I like to be on the outside looking in, rather than the middle.
My favorite pastime is observing and learning from human nature, and so, as in any vacation, we found a spot where we could sit and observe. I love watching people interact, I love multiple cultures together in one place (family and friend dynamics don’t seem to change with the culture or language) and I ALWAYS find that if you’re looking for God to speak to you, He will.
We sat and watched, on a crowded boulevard, as literally hundreds of families, couples, singles passed by shops and cafes. Some were families, some couples, some singles, some groups of teens or groups of men, groups of women. Where we were, we could hear English, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, some Russian, and some German (or Dutch?)…in any case it was a beautiful sight…from a distance.
The children are especially fun to watch, and parenting, even within one ethnic group and/or age, is always a source of conversation. In this case, there were lots of kids. I began watching one small boy in particular. He was small, maybe 4 or 5 years old. He was Italian (I recognized, though could not translate, the language). He was seemingly alone…that’s why I kept an eye on him – to see if any parent or sibling was nearby. He had been distracted by a very colorful car, and was looking in to see if he could get inside.
Suddenly, as if realizing he was in a sea of strangers, some 6 people deep, he stopped and looked around – turning quickly one way and then the other – as his face turned from joy to panic. I could see from his face he was about to cry, feeling what HE wouldn’t have been able to label, but I could – abandonment.
He shouted at the top of his little lungs, “Papa!” Again and again, turning, looking, eyes wide with a little fear. It all happened in an instant, but probably seemed like ages to him.
But then, the tall young father, who had been standing some 2 feet away, his back turned, turned around and their eyes locked. The little boy stepped to him, and the man easily lifted him up, kissed him and said one of the few Italian words I could translate: “Sono qui.” (“I am here.”).
In a flash, and with yet another thankful prayer to the Spirit, I saw in this moment the picture of what happens over and over I life: I pull away, I am surrounded by the crowd of strangers, I feel danger, I feel abandoned, I cry out…only to find that God has never left my side…He lifts me up, kisses me and says, “I am here.”
This season of “Immanuel (With us is God)” I am reminded that I may pull away, but HE never does. As close as a hand, a hug and a kiss…is my God.