the ninth of december: early thursday morning

I do not talk about my faith very often in here. I don't talk about it very often, period. It's a very important part of who I am, but I have never been comfortable verbalizing its place in my life, and I do wish that would change.

It overwhelms me at odd times, this faith I have. It overwhelmed me Sunday when I began singing the Hallelujah chorus and the audience stood, as is tradition. Tears came to my eyes in recognition of its meaning.

Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah.

I have not testified or witnessed my faith. I have a great admiration for people who do. They are surer in their faith than anyone else, and are willing to stand up to ridicule and disdain, empowered by their message. Me, I have only a vague idea of what it means to testify, and that understanding translates into something along the lines of speaking about the basis for that faith; basically, telling others why you believe.

I want to tell you the story of what happened to me tonight. It is not a tragic story, nor a particularly miraculous one. But it is my testimony. It is why I believe.

I made plans to go to my parents' tonight for dinner, and to do a little laundry. My first exam is Friday, and I'd been studying diligently all week and since about 10:00 this morning, so I felt okay about taking the evening off. I decided to pack some books anyway, expecting to study for a couple of hours after my parents went to bed.

I called my folks at around 2:00 and told the answering machine that I would be there by 6:30, which meant I needed to leave no later than quarter to six.

I spent a little too much time playing Snood this afternoon before going to the school to work on my Corporations outline. Quarter to six came and went, and I was still there because I was very close to finishing it. I came home shortly after six to find a message from Susannah, who was also at school (I usually work in my boss's office with the door closed, which is probably why we hadn't run into each other). We were part of a Dispute Resolution study group where each member was to outline a chapter from the book. Our friend Marissa had e-mailed her chapter outline from Virginia, and Susannah's e-mail wasn't working, so she was wondering if she could get a copy from me.

I called her house and got her machine. I told her I would drop off a disk with the outline on my way to my parents' house; if she wasn't home yet, I'd use my key to drop it off inside.

I put together my laundry, packed up a few books, put the outline on a disk, and finally, just before 6:30, called my parents to tell them that I was just now leaving. I threw my stuff in the car, started it, realized I had forgotten my wallet, went back up to get it. Finally, I drove to Susannah's to drop off the disk.

When I pulled into the parking lot by her back door, I saw her car, and the screen door was closed, but the main door was open, so she was quite obviously home. I was thinking that I was going to have to tell her that I couldn't stay and chat, since my dad had sounded a little annoyed on the phone that I was so late.

I get to the screen door and tap on it. She always locks it when she's home, so I didn't even bother to try. I hear her call from the upstairs bathroom window, which is just above the door, but I don't hear specifically what she's saying.

"It's Elizabeth," I holler up. I hear her again, still not understanding what she's saying, figuring it was along the lines of "I'm in the bathroom, I'll be right down."

Until I finally hear her say: "I'm going to try to make it down the stairs."

Try? Try? This can't be good.

I yank on the door, fully intending to break open the relatively simple screen door lock, only to find that it wasn't locked at all. I throw down my keys and the disk and charge up the stairs.

Susannah is sitting on the toilet in a bra and underwear. I can see her sweating. Her hands are dangling by her sides, and she holds them up to me. They are shaking. "I can't feel them." Her fingers are stuck straight out, bent slightly at the top knuckle. Her bare feet are curved inward. "I can't feel my feet. I don't know what's wrong."

I go over to her and can feel the heat emanating from her before I even touch her head. I wet a washcloth and lay it on her back, then grab the phone laying on the table in the hallway.

I'm surprised at how clear and concise I am when I tell the 911 operator that my friend needs an ambulance at this address. He asks me a whole bunch of questions that I relay to her about her condition. She is nauseated, her hands and feet are cramped up, she's shaking uncontrollably, her stomach is killing her, she's radiating heat, and she can't stand up.

I do remember him asking for my name and phone number, and I gave it to him, surprised that I could remember it, since numbers are usually the first thing to go. Then he asked if that was the number I was calling from, and I said no, and gave him Susannah's number, which I was also surprised at remembering.

The operator tells me to call back if she loses consciousness, but otherwise, just sit tight. I rinse out the washcloth again and press it to her forehead. She leans her head into my stomach and sobs. I hold the cloth to her forehead and stroke her hair, saying "just hold on, they're on their way, just hold on" over and over and over again.

What seemed like hours was in actuality a little over four minutes. I hear the siren and lean Susannah back against the wall so I can go down to let them in. I show the medics upstairs, and she talks to them while I dig around in her closet to get her something to wear. (As Lynne said later: "You know you're in pain when you don't care that two strange men are seeing you in your underwear, even if they are paramedics.")

I go back in to the bathroom, pull a waffle-knit shirt over her head and help get her into some flannel pajama bottoms. I put slippers on her feet, and the medics help her down the stairs and out into the ambulance.

Susannah had told me that Trevor, her husband, was already on his way home from work. I called Lynne to find out if she knew his car phone or beeper numbers, and she told me she would work on getting in touch with him.

I wrote a note for him just in case. "Susannah's at the hospital..." I threw it out and wrote a new one: "Susannah is okay, but..."

He showed up at the ER about twenty minutes later, my note in his hand. We were waiting to get checked in, talking to this nurse and that nurse and giving insurance information. After we were settled in the waiting room, I noticed that he was still clutching the note, so I gently reached over and took it from him. He had forgotten it was there.

Susannah is home now. She has been given something to help her sleep. Trevor took the day off tomorrow, and they will be visiting doctors and surgeons to see what should be done. More than likely, it is a problem with her gall bladder.

Here's where the God part comes in.

See, I was late. I was incredibly late. If I had been on schedule, I would have been settling down at my parents' dinner table, happily chowing down on something or other while my friend, home by herself, sat on a toilet in horror at her cramping hands and feet, at the sweat pouring out of her body, at her stomach in incredible pain, hyperventilating with fear.

She said it had started thirty seconds before I got there.

I was not supposed to be there then. I was very late.

Would she have died? No, of course not. Her husband called me after they got home tonight, and said that the doctors said that due to her panic, she would almost certainly have hyperventilated herself into fainting. Trevor would very likely have arrived home from another day at the office to find his nearly naked wife crumpled in a heap on the bathroom floor.

I was not supposed to be there. But I was.

And that is my testimony.