When my daughter was fifteen months old, we survived a plane crash. Doctors and the media called her the miracle baby.
Airlines advise parents to hold children her age in their laps, even though they know that as far as science is concerned, there is not a way to prevent a lap-sitting baby from becoming a projectile if the plane goes down. Babies do not survive plane crashes.
My baby was in my lap, and I also knew what airlines know. I just didn’t expect the plane to smash into the ocean that day.
I watched parts dangle from the engine as the tidal horizon drew closer.
Her father, two seats ahead of me, turned around and said, “Hold on to her.”
And I knew.
I knew that I could not hold her.
I said, “God, you have to hold her.”
It wasn’t a request. It wasn’t a demand. It was just a truth. And, miraculously, God did.
We slammed into the waves, three jarring impacts. My daughter did not fly from my lap.
We spent two hours in the choppy sea, waiting for rescue. X-rays showed her tiny lungs were so full of water that the doctors at the hospital advised me not even to nurse her because if she accidentally breathed in milk, she could drown.
She did not drown.
It is a miracle because in both cases, her survival defied odds, defied certainty.
There were others on the plane who did not survive that day. They floated lifeless in the water with us as we waited for helicopters.
Miracles are only miracles if something ugly is true. Miracles are only miracles because they stand out as impossible good in the face of certain horror. Any time we humans have called something a miracle, it’s been because all evidence points to a different, more terrible outcome.
My love is fierce. My love for my daughter stands at the ready, sword in hand. She is at the core of my world.
But the people who died that day were at the core of someone’s world, too.
They were no less important in the measure of science or of faith than my daughter.
Miracles happen. But we must, we must, do all in our power to stave off the need of them. We can’t claim we are more special or more worthy if we are spared. Instead, we become more worthy when we do our part to make miracles unnecessary.
Sometimes we have no control over this. I was not the apprentice mechanic who had not properly secured the bolts that came loose midflight. I could not prevent that.
Sometimes, we do have a measure of control.
I can decide to sit at home until a pandemic passes, regardless the inconvenience to me, so that fewer people need to rely on miracles. Because there aren’t that many to go around. That’s why we call them miracles.