Michel Martin is an Emmy Award-winning correspondent for ABC News, on primary assignment to 'Nightline' and 'This Week.' This essay was adapted from a speech she delivered at Sacred Circles, a women's spirituality conference held at the National Cathedral in November, 2002.
I want to tell you a seeker's story.
I bet many of you share my story. I did not grow up in a particularlyreligious household, but it wasn't anti-religious either. Some of my Jewishfriends have a useful phrase for this-they call it being culturally Jewishbut not religious. So by that standard I guess I would say we wereculturally Christian, but not especially religious. We went to church offand on, sometimes regularly, most times not. We said our bedtime prayers,and we observed major holidays but without much thought about the underlyingreason.
At some point I became aware of grace, although I didn't know to call itthat. It happened in small ways. I grew up in a fairly rough neighborhood ina fairly rough time in New York City. I went to the kinds of schools whereyou didn't go to the bathroom during the day for fear of what might happenthere. I was sitting on the school bus one day and got out of my seat topick up a favorite pencil that had dropped out of my book bag. At that verymoment someone threw a firecracker in the window and it exploded in my seat,in what would have been my lap had I been sitting down. When I told mymother about it later she said, "God works in mysterious ways." And Ithought, "Yes, that's right." Because I felt really lucky and grateful but Iknew there was nothing I had done to deserve that luck, nor would I havetaken it as a judgment if I had had bad luck. It just was. And I felt reallyhappy. And I learned to recognize that feeling of being happy for unmeritedgood fortune; I later learned to call it grace.
I was also fortunate to have been able to attend a religiouslyaffiliated high school where I learned more of the vocabulary of religion,and I learned more religious habits. I learned about the benefit of regularattendance--mainly because it was required--but I would still say, I wasculturally Christian. Not quite a bystander, not yet a participant. But allthe while that sense was growing of a larger presence--a large hand in theworld that works, through love, to bring grace and peace to me and to theworld. I didn't know what to call it, but I had a sense it was there.
I felt it when I went to Nairobi after the American embassy was bombedthere in 1998. After a long flight I went straight to the embassy where therecovery efforts were still underway. Just as I arrived, a loud cheer wentup and it was because a man had been found, alive under the rubble, after Idon't know how many hours. I saw him being handed gently down a slope, ahuge pile of rubble. And when he came down he said there was someone elsedown there with him in a nearby stairway or elevator shaft. Her name wasRose. And so the search started for Rose.
In my experience, disaster sites--a bad car wreck, a bombing or anearthquake-- are really noisy. People are shouting, they're scared, they'retrying to bring order to the chaos. People sometimes ask me how I can standthese stories, and the answer is that people are at their most human attimes like this; they are at their best and worst. People would gather upinjured people whom they didn't even know and had never seen before andwould never see again and drive them to the hospitals and sit with them forhours to help them get treatment. People just show up to help, they bringequipment. It's chaos, it's frightening, it's loud. But at some point, ifyou're trying to find people, everybody has to be quiet. You have to listento hear if you can still make contact with the person.
So there in Nairobi, every so often, everything would just stop. Can youimagine? Hundreds of people, on a hand signal from somebody, they just stop.And we would all just listen. We listened for Rose. There was something sobeautiful in that listening-- hundreds of people listening for the faintvoice of one lost woman. And the hope that that one woman might be savedseemed like something so beautiful and awesome it covered all of us like ablanket, like the very hand of God.