I was not the object of the attack, there on the slum streets of Popayán. A drug-induced rage had impelled the woman to slash at her perceived threat, while he, in turn, shouted incoherent abuse from behind heaps of rotting garbage.
But yes, time does in fact stand still at such moments.
I was in the Cauca province of Colombia to participate in a peace camp initiative, serving in the role of a kind of “missionary journalist”. But peace was nowhere to be found that night, in a dimly lit barrio where even police dared not venture. We had armed ourselves bravely with crates of bread and tanks of hot, sweet drinks to distribute to the addicts and the destitute, but neither armament served to shield our hearts. We left Colombia scarred with grief over the poverty and pain, gripped with a helpless longing to somehow make it all better.
Later that summer I shared the experience with our family. “Huh,” eldest son remarked. “That’s what happened to me, the first time I saw our daughter! Time stood still.” What? Was he seriously making that comparison? Then, gazing at his little newborn baby - I realized that he was right. There is no defense against a baby’s first smile, or the sight of a toddler racing across the church foyer to fling her tiny body into your waiting arms. Time stands still. Who can breathe? What heart dares to beat? Their parents look on with benign smiles, while we, the grandparents, are utterly undone.
Those who love are never safe. Life with Jesus is not meant to be safe. He demands our vulnerability at every moment. Like the Hobbits returned from their traumatic adventures, we laugh more roundly, sing more loudly, weep more frequently. (Does it get worse as we age, I wonder? Or is this what getting better actually looks like??)
We age, grandchildren thrive, children stagger into independence, leap into parenthood. Friends still confidently stride through the door to our house without knocking, and gramma Lorrie (age 89) is still tucked away in our home like a delicate, scented handkerchief…so many moments that seem to transfix themselves in our hearts. Time stands still.
Mary, I am sure, held her breath when she saw the baby Jesus for the first time. And then again, when he hung on the cross. The vulnerability of love freezes such moments in eternity, where they still hover, inviting us to ponder, and to worship. Don't breathe.