One of my twins has night terrors sometimes, usually when he’s sick or about to be sick. I had seen movies that depicted night terrors before, and I had even heard people describe their own experience of them. However, I had never actually witnessed one before my son started having them. It is difficult to put into words what this looks like. My son, staring at me with eyes wide open… but not actually seeing me. One time recently, we were in a hotel and he had a particularly bad one. I picked him up and took him to the bathroom to try and quiet him. I kept saying “Mommy’s here. Mommy’s here.” As he looked right at me and almost through me, he kept saying “Mommy, where are you? I don’t want that here… I don’t want that here. Mommy, Mommy!!!” As much as I knew that he would eventually come out of it, I hated to see his abject fear in that moment. Confused, scared, alone. And all I could offer was to put his hands on my face and say “Feel my face son, I am here.” Over and over I put his hand in mine, had him touch my face, my hair and said “I am here, son. Wake up. I am here.”
Once he is back to sleep after these terrors, I stay up a little struck by the experience of that great chasm between us even though he was right there in my arms. I imagine his confusion and fear, and I feel so much love for him. I wish I could make him believe that I am there, and that nothing is going to harm him… but instead I have to wait. I have to be patient until the chasm is gone, the cloud over his eyes is lifted, and he is able to say “Mommy, I see you. You are here.” I can only give him my love, my patience, and whatever else I can provide to help him more quickly come back to me. When he awakes in the morning after the night terror, he never remembers what happened. Instead, he remembers me. “Mommy, remember when you hugged me last night?” he’ll ask.
In today’s Gospel, I imagine Thomas is feeling some of the fear, distance, and confusion that my son feels in these moments. His friend is gone, and he has yet to experience the Resurrection. All around him are trying to tell him what has happened, but it all seems unreal to him because he was not there. He longs to have a tangible connection to his friend, to feel the wounds in his hands and feet and then know, for sure, that all is okay. Thomas, for me, demonstrates much courage in front of his friends. He is able to say “I need something concrete to feel my feet upon the ground again and be secure that my friend is here and that what He promised us is real.” And Jesus, much like a mother holding her son close when he is afraid, offers to give Thomas all he needs. “If you need to touch my side, do. If you need to feel my hands, do. What do I need to do in order for you to feel safe, loved, and chosen?” This is what I imagine the Lord saying much like I repeatedly ask my son to touch my face, touch my hair, hear my voice and return to me.
We all have terrors – small and big, awake and in our dreams – moments where we feel disconnected from the Lord and those around us. May we be confident enough to name them and push through to the other side of them where love can be found.