Shahr-Banou Mazandarani, you take my breath away. I look at you, pictured everywhere as I write this - on the computer screen, in the newspaper, all over CNN - and wonder if in all my life I've ever seen such serenity mingled with so much grit.
I ask myself, as millions around the globe must be asking now, How did you do it? How could you, a 97-year-old woman, survive under the rubble of the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran, for more than a week? How could anyone, of any age, do that?
What unfathomable inner resources sustained you then, through the bitterly cold nights and days of deprivation? And what sustains you now, so serene it seems you are somehow untouched, as if beyond the reach of this ordeal?
Of course, you've already answered my questions, millions of questions from millions of admirers for whom your name is now a household phrase, even if we stumble through it in approbation and mispronunciation. You answered our questions when you said, "God kept me alive."
As I ponder your four words and look at your photo, your eyes and your words burn into my mind. I try to grasp the volumes of meaning they convey. Is your story the fruit of a lifetime of prayer? Is this what comes from a near-century of turning to the Creator for all things essential, for all things eternal?
I look at my own life, and every obstacle I've ever faced suddenly seems inconsequential - mere pitchers' mounds next to a Mount Ararat. I think back over the years and remember adversities that seemed to tower to the point of intimidation, perhaps tempting me to quit, to run and hide in defeat. All those adversities now seem small as dust when placed next to your example, your survival. You did not quit. You did not give up.
And in that you become, at least in this brief moment, a teacher of us all. All who face mountains of adversity. Or who feel the ground has, earthquake-like, been pulled from beneath them. All who feel alone beyond description and beyond reach.
And who hasn't felt those things at times? Whether religious or not, haven't we all yearned for something above ourselves - something bigger to sustain us through the toughest times?
The holy texts I know the best are from the Bible. I've met there a host of seekers, strivers, sometimes- stumblers, and spiritual visionaries who've also said, and proved in their own ways, "God kept me alive." Through shipwrecks and at the bottom of pits, in lions' dens and fiery furnaces, in places of drought, in times of gnawing doubt, God was there and they were not alone, though perhaps it seemed so from a less-than-God's-eye view.
It's a natural thing, this life- sustaining action of God. It's a natural and a spiritual thing to see that God, who is present even in the harshest adversity, upholds us, cares for us, and empowers us to glimpse reasons to carry on, reasons to survive, proofs beyond numbering that life is still very much worth living.
The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, was in her 80s when she wrote to a church in New York City, "... so long as we have the right ideal, life is worth living and God takes care of our life" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 166).
I long to know this more deeply. To know the God who is Life itself, the God who, when trusted, is found to embrace every one of us in life and love. The God who, when understood, leaves none of us alone but showers us with a care that never ends.
Thank you, Shahr-Banou Mazandarani, for saying and for proving for one more moment, "God kept me alive."
O Lord, thou hast
brought up my soul
from the grave:
thou hast kept me alive,
that I should not go
down to the pit.