Today’s Advent Reading:
USCCB — December 4th

She was lying on the floor of the bathroom stall. She had been there for more than ten minutes. She was breathing heavily and irregularly. I didn’t even know her name or her face.

Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed something like this, because I would ordinarily pass in and out of this public bathroom in Eliot House in just a few minutes. But on this day, I was awkwardly using this public bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, fix my hair, etc. since my roommate was hosting guests who were using our own bathroom, and I didn’t have time to wait for them to be done before having to get on with my day. So here I was for an extended time in this public bathroom in Eliot House. And that’s why I noticed her.

Okay, this is weird. Is she okay? Does she need help? What’s wrong? I think all of this as I wash my face. I don’t know what to do. Should I ask her if she’s okay? Does she just want to be left alone? I try to think about what I would want someone to do if it were me lying there on the floor of that bathroom stall. This thought experiment doesn’t work for me. I say a short prayer to myself. God, please tell me what to do here. I am reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is God’s answer to my desperate prayer.

I take the few steps to the door of her bathroom stall. I knock and ask her, “Are you doing okay in there?”

“I am fine. I just don’t feel well,” she tells me.

“Is there anything I can get you? Or is there anything I can do for you?” I ask her.

“No. I’m okay,” she says, seemingly without hesitation.

“Alright,” I say.

I go back to the sink and proceed to brush my teeth. I think about what has just happened. I think about my response to her: “Alright.”

Wow, that was weak, Marina. People do not lay on the floors of public bathrooms, breathing heavily and irregularly for upwards of ten minutes when they are “alright.” I am not satisfied with my response, but, again, I do not know what to do. She clearly does not want to talk to me, a stranger. What more can I possibly do for her?

I pray again. God, show me what to do next. Again, He answers my prayers. I think to find a tutor in the dining hall and ask her to check in on this girl and make sure that she is as “okay” as she claims to be. This shouldn’t be hard. It is a meal time, so I’m sure I will find a tutor willing to help her. I hurriedly finish brushing my teeth.

I enter the dining hall and walk slowly looking from my left to my right and back again. Then I spot the perfect tutor to help this girl: one of the pre-med tutors. Who better than a trained physician, I think. Thank you, God, for your providence in placing this tutor in this dining hall at this moment.

This tutor has just finished eating. I explain to her what is going on. She agrees to go check on this girl. I feel better now. If this girl does need help, I am confident that this tutor can provide it and/or point her towards someone who can. I leave Eliot House, ready to officially start my day.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we read about a Roman centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant. Although he wants his servant to be healed, the centurion is somewhat timid about asking Jesus, because the centurion, a Gentile, recognizes that Jesus, a Jew, may not want to minister to a Gentile. In the words of the centurion, he, as a Gentile, is “not worthy” of Jesus’ ministry.

Recognizing Jesus as a person of authority, the centurion says to Jesus, “’Only say the word and my servant will be healed.’” The centurion has so much faith that he believes that just Jesus’ word will be enough to heal his servant.

My experience with the girl in the bathroom and asking for help on her behalf seem to draw many parallels with the scenario in today’s Gospel. The first similarity I see is the idea of being timid about asking for help. I was timid in asking the girl if she was okay. Maybe the girl was too timid to tell me that she actually was not okay. Maybe she felt “not worthy” of help. I was also somewhat timid about asking the tutor to check on the girl. The second similarity I see is the idea of faith. When I did have enough courage to ask the tutor for help on the girl’s behalf, I immediately had faith that just that request would be enough. There was no more that I needed to do, because the tutor, like Jesus in this sense, could take it from there.

I continued to think about the girl all throughout that day. I will never know what was going on with her. It’s not my business anyway. I will never know if she is okay now. I pray that she is. I will never know her name or her face.

Because I really do not know this girl or the context of her life at that moment that she was lying on the floor of the bathroom stall, it is surely a stretch to suggest that her situation might have been caused or exacerbated by the stress associated with reading period and final exams. But I will still suggest this, because it is a possibility. Even if it is not true, I think that it is still appropriate to end this post with this suggestion, because doing so makes the girl’s experience, and today’s Gospel, more relatable for all of us Harvard students. We are all currently going through the stress of reading period and final exams, and sometimes this stress takes a toll on our mental and physical health. Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help with managing this stress and our health. Like the centurion, we may be timid in asking for help, because we feel we are somehow “not worthy.” But if we, like the centurion, can somehow manage to eventually ask for help, then just that asking will be enough. That will be the first step in the right direction.

Find the courage to ask for help. You are worthy. Then put your faith in the person you have asked.

Check out this link to find a comprehensive list of the various resources, health and otherwise, available at Harvard.

Marina Spinelli ’18 is a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Eliot House.