ON THE NIGHT JAIME FELL I WAS STARTING TO BE concerned about Christmas. Oh, not about the story in Matthew 1 particularly, but about how I was going to see my way, on this year's budget, to buying presents for rich people who already have houses full. Jaime put an end to this when she somehow let her body drop from a 30-foot bridge onto macadam about a mile from here on Nov. 24. The police are investigating.
Jaime came to live with me and my two youngest in September, a high-school friend of my older daughter, and an art student just back from a year in Rome and needing a credible address so as to pursue studies in the university 10 minutes from here. (Her father lives an hour away, and her mother three hours.) I offered Hae Linn's old room and told her straight out that I wasn't much of a hand-holder or friendship material, being occupied enough with my family's own survival and all. She was 21, she could come and go as she pleased, raid the fridge, and generally make herself at home. I kept her in homemade granola, which I noticed she relished.
It is amazing that Jaime survived, let alone that she choked up my phone number when they found her oozing blood from the head. Detectives at the scene called here to get her parents' phone numbers, before volleying questions about mental health, to which, of course, I pleaded ignorance. Memory groped hurriedly through shards of recent conversation, not so much for them as for me, to learn what I already feared to learn, both about Jaime and myself.
I am momentarily in love with the medical profession, with a neurologist and trauma doctor especially, who met us in the waiting room an hour later, looking stern and painting every bleak scenario-as was their duty. But, by the light of morning, they had slain each medical Hydra and Chimaera and brought better news than anyone deserved to expect. The next day they'd tackle the femur, and the next day a scattering of broken vertebrae with awful names like T-12.
The first one I phoned before rushing to the hospital was Leslie, a once-a-year-maybe contact who has been praying for Jaime's salvation for ages, Jaime hailing from what is often called a "not religious" family, though of course there's no such thing. It was perhaps four years ago that Leslie and Jaime sparred in my kitchen, human proxies of a much larger battle, Leslie flinging across the room, in tones more usually reserved for threats, "I'm going to pray for you!"-and Jaime flinging back, "Don't you dare!"
The Lord does as He pleases, and without a doubt the Lord led Jaime to my house, not Leslie's, but it doesn't mean we can infer anything. In the three months we shared a roof I had sensed the pressures and deep waters, and tacked the girl onto the end of my prayer list. On the rare occasions that we did speak, I dispensed mealy-mouthed counsel you could have pulled from any self-esteem handbook at Borders. I was working up to sharing Christ, but it wasn't the right time to pop the gospel yet.
"The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay." Whatever happens to Jaime, Dec. 25 will surely come, with presents galore and songs of the sweet babe of Bethlehem. Carefully quarantined from this heart-warming tale will be images of those other babies hacked to death in neighboring Ramah: "Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more." Hatred. Jealousy. Selfish ambition. Death.
But the Lord, who is not so sentimental, has placed Matthew 2 after Matthew 1, for the reason, I presume, that we should make connections. If there are no Ramahs there is no need for Jesus. If there are no young women who fall off bridges, no middle-aged women with calloused hearts, then what is the point? If Jesus' incarnation was not "to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8), then what was it for? The baby in the manger is a scene without a plot, good news without the bad, nonsensical. Jesus is cute, ornamental, warm and fuzzy-and ultimately irrelevant.
The fall of Jaime and the birth of Jesus have this one thing in common, strangely enough: They both introduced a crisis. Half-heartedness is untenable, the time for double-mindedness is over, and decision is imperative. Things are suddenly sharp and clear. And as that old unsentimental Jew Simeon dared to put it, at the risk of holiday political incorrectness, "the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" (Luke 2:35).