I was ten when I met Jesus, but I was too young to know.
We were on our way to Baguio for the summer, and we had left the house right before sunrise. My parents would take us children there every year to escape the sweltering heat of Manila, and this year was no different. Or so I thought.
I remember the trip quite vividly. We were driving down the express way, and I noticed my sister sleeping near the window. My younger brother, who was seated in the passenger seat with his nanny, had tied the usual knots in his handkerchief, waving it around like a puppet. As I sat between my father and mother, my mother touched the back of my neck and finding a rosary there, she asked me why I was wearing one.
Before I could answer, I heard screaming, and the car veered sharply to the left, throwing me off my seat, and we must have veered again to the right before my brain shut down.
When I regained consciousness, even if I couldn’t see anything, I instinctively groped for a way out, which turned out to be the car window. Later, I would learn that our car tried to avoid two girls who had run across the highway. The car turned-turtle twice before finally landing on its roof amidst the rice fields off the highway. As I crawled out onto the rice field, I saw a row of people watching from the road, and someone called out to me, “Hey kid, how many dead?”
As it turned out, not one. One by one we all painstakingly but miraculously crawled out of that smashed car. Not a drop of blood. And from the looks of it, no broken bone either. At worst, we were sore and stunned. My sister cried, my mother’s arms wrapped around her. The spectators, having satisfied their curiosity, began to disperse. From among them, a man, who must have been in his early thirties, emerged and spoke to my father.
“You should have yourselves checked,” he said. “Get into my truck. I’ll take you to a doctor.” No one had the strength to protest. He led us into his vehicle, which turned out to be a small delivery truck. My parents sat with him in the front seat, while the rest of us climbed into the back, seated among the boxes of canned goods. We drove to the nearest town, and after asking around, the man found us a doctor’s clinic. My mother thanked him after we got off his truck, but he didn’t want to leave and actually waited as the doctor gave each of us an examination. The doctor said we should all get xrays, but we seemed fine except for some minor bumps and bruises.
The man filed us all back into his truck, and drove us all the way back to Manila. It was evening by the time we got to EDSA, where the last thing he did was hail us a cab. When my father offered him money, he politely waved it away, smiling. My mother thanked him for spending that entire day helping us.
By this time, we were all exhausted, and I must have fallen asleep as we drove away. The last thing I heard was my father telling my mom: “What a kind stranger! And to think I forgot to ask for his name.”
Decades later, a priest was reading the words of the coming Sunday’s gospel, and all that talk about loving one another as the Lord loves us made him think unexpectedly of that stranger.
It was then he knew. The man’s name was Jesus.