Archive for the ‘Life's Sobering Moments’ Category

A Time To Pray

May 29, 2010

People are angry, disgusted, worried…expressing the entire gamut of emotions over the Deep Horizon oil spill…and rightly so.  It’s a disaster in so many ways, seriously threatening the environment and people’s livelihoods.

Regardless of who is to blame, I think we need to pull together and pray…for the scientists, engineers, and workers tackling this mess…for divine wisdom and inspiration for solutions, and for their safety.

I put together a visual aid, to tape up on the wall(s), reminding me to pray regarding this situation.  I thought I’d post it here, for anyone who would like to do the same.

Now is the time to set aside angry accusations and feelings of hopelessness.  Now is the time to walk humbly before our God…and pray.

pdf:  Oil Spill Prayer Visual

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Dizzy Kitty

May 27, 2010

Yesterday morning began like any other normal day.  My husband got up first to leave for the gym.  He let the cat out, who hesitated at the door, as usual, then hopped out onto the front porch. 

One hour later, I was summoned to the front door by pleading, moaning calls from my daughter, who was leaving for work. 

“Mom!  Come here!  Look at the cat!” 

I ran downstairs and out the front door.  Our 2-year-old kitty was crouching on the sidewalk, unable to move, head tilted to one side, drooling, with her eyes darting back and forth. 

“What’s wrong with her?” whined my daughter. 

Am I the Answer Mom?  How the heck should I know? 

“Mom, we’ve got to call the vet!” 

I couldn’t react fast enough to my daughter’s pleas.  I managed to call the animal hospital, but they weren’t open yet. 

“Mom, we can’t let her die!” 

She’s not too dramatic, is she? 

I had to do something, before I was destined to leave a legacy of killing the cat.  I gingerly loaded her into the carrier and headed over to the animal hospital.  A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot right behind me, but it was another client, and we both had to wait for the staff to arrive.  His poor dog was in the back of the truck, head shaved and swollen, his eyes half shut.

“Was he in an accident?” I asked. 

“No.  He got bit by a snake,” said the young man.  “They can’t do nothing.  I looked it up on the Internet, and I just need to keep it clean.  But I wanted to see if they could tell me anything more here.” 

I told him about my poor little kitty, and we waited, sympathizing over each other’s pets. 

The door finally opened, and a young lady ushered us in.  She told me the doctor wasn’t in yet, but had an opening a little later.  As I left, the dog owner, who didn’t bring his dog in, said he just had a question about his dog.

I would later realize how smart he was, avoiding extravagant veterinarian costs. 

After bringing my sick kitty in and leaving her there a couple hours for tests, the vet called me. 

“I have good news and bad news,” she said.

Not a good opener, I thought. 

“The good news is that the blood work didn’t show anything wrong, and you can come and pick up your cat.  The bad news is that I don’t know what’s wrong with her.” 

She charged me close to $300 for that little tidbit of information. 

Today I woke up thinking, Man, that is not acceptable.  I need a second opinion! 

My daughter’s morning calls beckoned me downstairs quickly. 

“She’s in the kitty litter!  My friend said that’s where they go just before they die!” 

“Maybe she just has to go to the bathroom,” I said. 

More drama, and I soon realized that if I didn’t do something quickly, and the cat died, I would be blamed for eternity. 

I called a friend who had a lot of experience with pets and grooming animals, and asked her for a vet recommendation.  I looked him up online and found glowing reviews.  I called and set up an appointment, and had them call the animal hospital for all the blood work and tests I had already paid for.  

I swear, I think I’ve spent more on pets’ medical care than on our children’s over the years…probably because I never studied pet health as much as I did children’s health. 

On the way to the clinic, I called a dear friend and asked her to pray for our kitty…with a little twinge of guilt, thinking it might be a little arrogant to ask Almighty God to heal our cat.  

I didn’t voice these thoughts to her, but she immediately started saying how she had just read in the Bible how God is the God of all flesh, and how the Psalms say, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  She told me that God created domestic animals for a purpose…for companionship, and how she had just read about a local hospital that had a dog come in regularly to provide therapy for the patients. 

“How godly is that?” she asked. 

She brought tears to my eyes.  Yes, God even cares about my little kitty.  She prayed, and I felt so much better.  I knew that everything was going to work out somehow. 

The new doctor quickly recognized my kitty’s problem.  It’s Feline Vestibular Syndrome.  There are lots of theories about what causes it, but no one knows for sure.  He printed up an article about it for me.  I asked him how to administer the medications the other vet gave me, and he took the time to show me.

Wrap the kitty in a towel, so you don’t get clawed.  Big help. 

Kitty finally ate a little after I brought her home.  She seemed a little stronger, but she still falls over on her side when she tries to walk.  Her balance is all messed up, and I’m sure it’s terribly frustrating for her.  We’re keeping her in a small bedroom, with few things tall to climb, food and water, and kitty litter handy. 

Poor, dizzy kitty. 

Good doctor. 

Kind, gracious God.

A Scary Day

February 13, 2010

Today I remembered one of the scariest days of my childhood.  Two of my older brothers and I were at my grandparents’ house in Avoca, Pennsylvania.  (Let’s see, perhaps I should change the names to protect the innocent…or, uh…guilty.)  Sam was 12, John was 10, and I was 8.  We were pretty bored, trying to find something to do.

Suddenly we heard the train coming down the tracks across the street.  The freight trains were always very long.  John and I liked to count the cars and engines for fun.  There were usually over one hundred cars, and sometimes as many as four engines lumbering along the tracks.  But today Sam was with us at Gramps’ and Grandma’s, which added a new mix to the equation.

“A train!” I said.  “Let’s go count cars!”

“I got a better idea,” said Sam.  “Let’s throw apples at the train.”

There were a lot of crab apple trees in the field across the street by the tracks.  One of Sam’s favorite mischievous activities was hurling green apples at the train.  Gramps didn’t want us doing that, though.  He told us we could get into a lot of trouble if we ever got caught.

“What if they catch us?” asked John.

We knew the train employees were always on the lookout by Grandma’s house, especially because of Sam’s rebellious passion.

“Aw, they’re not gonna catch us,” said Sam.  “All we gotta do is run.  They’ll never find us.  Come on!”

The pecking order in our family of ten children always demanded that we yield to the oldest one around.  Unfortunately, this time it was Sam we were following.  John and I ran after him, across the street, through the tall grass, and down to the crab apple trees by the tracks.

“Come on!” said Sam, pointing to all the crab apples on the ground.  “Grab all you can and start piling them up.”

John and I complied, and pretty soon we were all hurling the small, green projectiles at the passing cars.  After a few minutes, I looked down the track and saw a man hanging off the side of the train.

“Sam!  There’s a man!” I said.  “He sees us!”

“Run!” said Sam.

We ran with all our might across the field and up the street.  We looked back, and saw the man from the train running after us.

“Don’t go to Grandma’s,” said Sam.  “We don’t want him to know where we’re staying.”

He kept running, with John and me panting after him.  We ran on pure adrenaline.  My heart pounded, and my legs felt like they couldn’t run anymore.  But I kept racing at top speed, terrified at the prospect of spending the rest of my life in prison.

“Sam!” I said.  “It’s starting to rain!”

“Let’s find some cover,” said Sam.

We ran to the back of a building, where there were a bunch of semi-trailers parked.

“Under there!” said Sam, pointing to one of the huge trailers.

The bottom of the semi-trailer sat about four feet off the ground.  We found some cinderblocks in the parking lot and hauled them under the trailer for seats.

“He’s gonna put us in jail!” I cried.  I was wet and cold, and I didn’t want a criminal record.

“He’s not gonna find us,” said Sam.  “We lost him.”

“I don’t know,” said John.  “He looked pretty serious.”

We sat under the trailer for hours, until the rain finally stopped.

“The coast is clear,” said Sam.

“Can we go back to Grandma’s now?” I asked.  “I’m hungry.”

We gingerly walked back to the house, keeping an eye out for anyone dressed in a uniform like the one worn by the man who was chasing us.

As we reached the house, Gramps was sitting on the porch.

“Where you been?” he asked.

“Oh, just walking around,” said Sam, as John and I hung our guilty heads.

“An officer from the train company came by.”

We all stared wide-eyed at Gramps.

“He wanted to know if I knew two boys and a girl, dressed just like the three of you.”

“What’d you tell him, Gramps?” asked John.

“I told him you were my grandkids.  What else was I gonna tell him?”

“We ran for blocks,” said Sam.  “We didn’t come here because we didn’t want him to know where we were staying.”

“How did he know to come here, Gramps?” asked John.

“Well it’s the closest house to the tracks,” said Gramps.  “Where else was he going to go?  I told you not to throw apples at the train.  If you do it again, I’m gonna turn you all in.”

We hung our heads and walked inside.  We weren’t going to be jailbirds after all.  One thing was for sure, though.  I wasn’t ever going to throw anything at a train again.

Pudgy

February 6, 2010

Another trip down memory lane…

My lungs filled with the crisp spring air as the screen door slammed behind me.  Dad had just performed the semi-annual ritual of the changing of the doors a few days earlier.  The cold winter of southern New York was tucked away with our glass-paned storm door, and the warmth of spring flowed through its wood-framed screen replacement.  It felt so much lighter than its heavy winter counterpart, and so easy to forget about letting its high-strung spring have its way.

Oops. I gotta remember to not let it slam.  Mom will get mad.

All guilt whisked away as bird songs filled my ears that morning.  A whiff of honeysuckle floated by.  I felt as light as that door, like I could skip the entire mile to school.  A blue jay’s “Darn it” call brought me down a notch as I realized I’d have to spend most of this gorgeous day inside St. Margaret’s Elementary School.

Pudgy’s bark swept me out of my thoughts and into his endless predicament.  I dropped my book bag and ran around to the back yard.  His haunches wildly swayed back and forth with the ecstatic wagging of his tail, sloshing drool off his slobbery tongue in every direction.  His long reddish brown hair glistened in the sun’s early rays.  Mouth wide open in his usual smile, he entreated me for the attention he could never get enough of.  How could I resist?

I sat on the short concrete wall of our diamond-shaped fish pond and gave Pudgy a good patting down.  He was his unruly mutty self, lunging his front paws toward my plaid, pleated lap as he tried to lick my face.  I kept pushing him away as I patted him at arm’s length, pounding his back with the urgency his tail beckoned.  There was no grass in Pudgy’s domain, only dusty, pounded dirt within the perimeter his chain commanded.  His small dog house beside the pond didn’t offer much protection from the harsh winters, and I could tell he was glad for the warmer weather.

I remembered his puppy days, when his cute wrinkled skin and husky frame begged the name “Pudgy.”  Each morning I ran to his little box in our front hallway, and played with him from sunup to sundown.

“We can’t keep a dog in the house,” my father said after a few weeks.  “He needs to go outside.”

My heart ached as I watched my Dad put tiny Pudgy at the end of that big, heavy metal chain.  My puppy barely had the strength to hold it up.

Poor Pudgy, I thought.  Daddy’s mean.

Pudgy’s insistent whining swirled me back to the present.  His frenzied wiggling, his lapping tongue, his persistent lunging, his bursting whimpers…I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You’re such a good boy,” I said.  I leaned forward and spoke softly into his ear, “Ya wanna be free?”

He smiled as big as ever, tongue flapping to the side, furiously wagging his body with his tail.  I glanced up to the kitchen window to see if anyone was looking.  The coast was clear.  I grabbed his leather collar and squeezed the clasp at the end of his chain.  He was off and running, happy as ever.  Didn’t even turn around to give me a thankful glance.

I smiled inside and out, pleased to see him run free, as free as I felt this fresh spring morning.  I skipped to my book bag, scooped it up, and began the long trek to school.

Fifteen minutes later, I was halfway up the big hill St. Margaret’s sat upon.  The hurried whooshing of cars on the busy street faded as my thoughts fell into the passing cracks of the steep sidewalk.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.

Couldn’t do that.

Reality jolted me back to the moment as I heard a familiar panting and tapping of paws behind me.

No way.

I turned around and there he was.

“Pudgy,” I said.  “Where the heck have you been?”

His hair was matted down and dripping with some kind of dark brown slime.  As he drew closer I could smell the putrid stench of whatever he had gotten into.  I wanted to throw up.

“Go home,” I said.

I faced him squarely and stomped my right foot.

Pudgy clenched his jaw, raised his pitiful brow and whined in pathetic, short spurts.  His tail was down, but his hind parts still wiggled with eager hope.

“No.  Go home.”

I stared him down till he turned around.  Satisfied with my command of the situation, I continued the last stretch up to St. Margaret’s.

What a smelly, filthy mutt.  No one can know he’s mine.

I joined my friends on the playground, and thankfully, Pudgy was nowhere to be seen.

The first bell rang, which signaled us to stop where we were, whatever we were doing.  The chattering, throbbing playground instantly froze in hushed compliance.

A minute later, the second bell rang, prompting us to quietly line up by size order, each line by classroom.  I was third in our seventh grade line, right behind Christine Milligan.  It was a cool place to be, because our teacher stood at the front of the line.  I could always sum her up in a few minutes, to determine her mood and what kind of a day it would be.

Today Sister Jane Mary, in her small frail sixty-something frame, dressed in long black habit and tight white about her face, looked particularly pleased with life in general.  That was a good sign.

Suddenly I smelled the stench.

No, it couldn’t be.

Pudgy’s panting broke the playground silence as he strutted past hundreds of scrunched up stares and pinched noses.  Drool sloshed off his limp tongue as he paraded his way up to Sister Jane Mary, and submissively gave her hand a sniff.  I wondered why she wasn’t bothered by the filth and smell as I looked on in horror.  She smiled down at him, and watched as he ran over to me.

“Is that your dog, Judy?” said Sister.

Blood surged to my face, as it burned with embarrassment.  Cruel snickers enveloped me.

“No, Sister, I never saw him before.”

Guilt pierced me.  I felt like I was reenacting Saint Peter’s denials as Pudgy nudged and whined at my hand, begging to be pet.

“Well he sure likes you,” she said.

I stared blankly ahead, ignoring Pudgy’s beseeching moans.  I brought this all upon myself, because I let him pull my heart strings that morning.

Traitor.  You stinky, dirty mutt.

The third bell rang, signaling us to enter the school by grade level, one line at a time.

Pudgy knew better than to trot into the building with me.  With one last whine as I approached the entrance, he dejectedly lumbered away.  My nostrils cleared of his ghastly odor.

I saved face that day.  I pulled it off.  None of my classmates said a word to me about that stinky, mangy mutt.  I had successfully disowned him.

Pudgy, I love you, but you’ve got to learn to obey.

Maybe I should, too.

Shattered Dream

January 25, 2010

I’m taking a six-week writing class at the community college.  Our teacher asked us to write about a single event that was the most important moment of our lives, and how it impacted ourselves or others.  I thought I’d let you grade it before I turn it in…

Defining Moment

The freight train rumbled by the house, sending Grandma’s huge, glow-in-the-dark rosary beads into a flurry of rattling against the mahogany headboard of the bed.  I got an idea.

“Grandma!” I shouted as I ran to find her.

“I’m not deaf,” she scolded when I found her.  “Must you always shout?”

I looked down and shuffled my red leather shoes.  Shouting was the norm at home with my nine brothers, but not here at Grandma’s.

“Grandma, can I play dress-up?”

“Well what do you want to wear?”

“I want to dress up like Sister Peter Miriam!”

Ever since beginning first grade I wanted to be a nun, just like her.  She was so kind, and I liked the way she smiled all the time.

“Let’s see what I’ve got.”

I followed Grandma back into the bedroom with the rosary beads.

“Can I wear those, Grandma?”

“OK.”

She opened the cedar closet and pulled out a black dress.  It was the perfect length for me, going all the way down to my ankles.  Grandma put a belt around my waist a few times and draped the rosary beads through it, just like Sister’s.  She wrapped a black veil around my head and gave me her black low-heel shoes.

“They fit, Grandma!  They look just like Sister’s!”

“I can hear you already.”

I stood before the mirror, admiring my new persona.  I couldn’t wait to show Gramps.  I ran to the kitchen to find him.

“Gramps, look!”

“What are you supposed to be?” he said with a frown.

“A nun!  I’m gonna be a nun when I grow up!”

“A nun!  You don’t wanna be a nun!”

I always listened to Gramps.  He was the smartest person I knew.  My dream melted away in the wake of his angry words.  If he didn’t want me to be a nun, then I wasn’t going to be one.  I looked down at the rosary beads and shoes I had been so proud of.  My face flushed red-hot with embarrassment.

“No.  I guess not,” I said.

I turned and slowly trudged back to the bedroom to change.

As I think back on that decisive moment, I can’t really say it was the most important moment of my life.  But my husband and three children would strongly disagree.

Lost In Bethlehem

December 24, 2009

Inside The Wall

We were expecting our oldest son, David, to be home for the holidays after his first semester of medical school in Beer Sheva, Israel.  He had a pre-paid flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, New Jersey, so I needed to book his flight from Newark to Florida.  I booked a flight departing one hour after his arrival, thinking all would be well.

Yesterday I woke up thinking, Oh no, I forgot about him having to go through customs! I spent four hours on the phone, speaking with Israeli and American airlines, travel agents and online booking services.  The last person I spoke with advised me to keep his flights as is, because nothing else was available on Christmas Eve.  I called David and told him about the situation…how he needed to print up all his boarding passes beforehand, bring no checked luggage, and haul a– at the Newark airport.

We prayed, not attempting to guess at how God could work it all out…just trusting He would.  At 5:00 this morning, the phone rang.

It was a collect call, which my husband is not fond of, especially the international kind.  An automated voice: You have a collect call from…and then the pause for the caller to speak his name.  I heard, “I made it!”  David’s voice.  That was all I needed to hear, and I hung up, praising God.  We collected David and his backpack a few hours later at the airport, and all is well.

As a gentle Florida rain patters on the roof this Christmas Eve, and all go off to bed early after a long day, I remember a not-so-peaceful time last year in the little town of Bethlehem.

Steve and I were celebrating our 25th anniversary with a two-week biblical tour of Egypt and Israel.  On this particular day we were to venture behind “the wall” in Israel to visit Bethlehem.  Without going into a lengthy history lesson, Israel found a way to minimize terrorist bombings from the Palestinian West Bank.  (The West Bank is on the eastern side of Israel, but on the west bank of the Jordan River.)

They built a wall…a very big, thick concrete wall.  It provided more security and peace for the Israeli’s outside the wall, but more hardship for the people behind the wall.  What used to be a fifteen-minute excursion venturing outside Bethlehem now became an hour-plus ordeal of going through intense security…if you happened to have the proper permits to be allowed to leave Bethlehem.  Good for the Israeli’s outside the wall…bad for both the peaceful and extremist Palestinians within the wall.

Our mission was to visit the Church of the Nativity, which claimed to house the site of Jesus Christ’s birth.  My husband and I took most of these “holy sites” with a grain of salt, because who really knows where the actual Bible events took place?  We simply reveled in knowing that we were in the Bible lands.

As we entered the church of the Nativity, we had to crouch down and go single-file through the tiny entrance.  They kept it small over the centuries to keep out animals and vehicles that could possibly facilitate commercialization of the holy site.

Once inside, we discovered there were actually three churches within the site—the Armenians, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholics.  I was mesmerized by the architecture and artwork, blindly following lines of people throughout the majestic cave-like structure.

I followed the people in front of me outside to the courtyard, only to discover that the members of my tour group were nowhere in sight.

Let’s see…they said the bus would immediately leave Bethlehem after this stop.  Did they leave me behind???

I frantically surveyed the outside courtyard—no familiar faces.  I approached a young priest.

“Did you happen to see a group load onto a bus?” I asked him.  “Do you know where the buses go?”

“Honey,” he said with a bewildered smile, “I have no idea where I am.  I wish I could help you, but I’m just another tourist.”

I circled the courtyard, went back inside the church, and then ran outside.  I slowly realized I was lost.  Holy crap. They told us to leave everything on the bus.  I had no money, no passport, no nothing.  Just a silly palm-held video camera.

I ran down the street, eyeing rifle-toting Palestinian soldiers on every corner.  I was lost in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem with no ID and no money.  I envisioned days and possibly weeks of trying to get out of Bethlehem to reconnect with my tour group.  I couldn’t stop the tears.  They flooded my eyes and staggered my steps.

Man, I screwed up big time.

Think, girl, think.  Where did the bus drop you off?  Where is it going to pick you up?

When you’re in a tour group, you tend to fall into the follow-the-herd mentality, not paying attention to details about locality, i.e. gps coordinates of the group drop-off or proposed round-up.

I remembered the bus station.  Yes, we stopped in a bus station.

I quickly walked in a vaguely-remembered direction, asking each rifle-toting Palestinian at every corner, “Bus station!”  I didn’t want to sound like a stupid, lost tourist, so I tried my best to wear a rather gruff demeanor, to match their intimidating military garb and weaponry.  They answered in kind and pointed me toward the bus station.  Despite their heavy artillery, they were rather friendly and accommodating, and I was most grateful.

I eventually found our bus, empty, except for our Muslim driver, Eunice, who quickly became my dearest friend.  He diligently called our group on his cell phone, till he reached them and told them I was safe.  (They had been searching for me for quite some time.)  When my tour group came back to the bus, our pastor found me and commented on how resourceful I had been.

I didn’t feel resourceful.  I cried…and cried.

David has since made friends with a Christian family who own and operate a Bed and Breakfast in Bethlehem, who want us to come stay with them.  I look forward to the opportunity…to another chance at Bethlehem…to enjoy this little town of our Savior’s birth.  May it truly be a more pleasant visit, as we take in the profound impact of this little site upon the entire world.

Peace, and Merry Christmas to all.

Halloween Embarrassing Moment

October 31, 2009

My first grade class at St. Margaret’s school had the charge of heated up popcorn, about to explode at any moment.  Halloween was coming!  The first grade would be allowed to set aside their uniforms and wear their costumes on that big day.  Sister Peter Miriam announced we would be in a parade, showing off our costumes to every classroom in the school.

Leaves danced around us in circles before landing in a splash of colors on the playground.  The cool breeze of Fall in our little southern New York town peeped into our coat buttons.  We crossed our arms tightly and hopped to warm up as we waited for the morning school bell.

Every first grader had only one excited question, “What are you going to be?”

“I’m going to be a witch!”

“I’m going to be nurse!”

“I’m going to be GI Joe!”

“I’m going to be a princess,” I beamed.  “My Mom made the costume.”

“Well I’m going to wear a store-bought princess costume,” said Evelyn Adams.

Most of us came from big families and couldn’t afford store-bought costumes, but Evelyn was an only child.  I didn’t let her bragging get me down, though.  All I could think about was the shiny pink material my Mom magically turned into a beautiful long dress on her sewing machine.  It had lace with beads.  I glued some of the lace onto a ring of cardboard for my crown.  I would be the prettiest princess of all.

Halloween arrived, filling our classroom with popcorn explosions of ghosts and witches, firemen and soldiers…and one very proud princess.  The two first grade classes lined up in the hallway, and the parade began.  There were two classrooms for each grade, and every class had fifty to sixty kids.  We would visit every room, from second grade all the way up to the eighth grade.

I was a little nervous, but the second and third grade classrooms looked just like ours.  We marched single file into each room and circled around all the desks filled with gawking kids who were very glad for the interruption.  The fourth and fifth grade desks were a little bigger, and I was getting a little more anxious.  I forgot to look for my friend, Mary Hogan, in the second grade.  I forgot to look for two of my brothers in the third and fifth grades.   I had never been in the second-through-fifth-grade hallway before.  It was all so new.

This was a pretty scary Halloween.

Then the scariest part of all came.  We marched to the other wing of the school where the sixth through eighth grades were.  The desks and kids were so much bigger.  The girls “Awed” and giggled all over us and the boys laughed.

Why are they laughing?  Does my costume look stupid?

I wasn’t a proud, beautiful princess anymore.  I was a scared little girl, desperately looking over the sea of faces to see one I could recognize.  Where was my brother, Dave?  He was in the sixth grade.  I had to find him.  We were marching out the door at the front of the second sixth grade class room, and I couldn’t find Dave.

He’s got to be in here somewhere.

I craned my neck trying to find him.  Bock!  I walked right into the edge of the open door.  The explosion of laughter was far more painful than the bump to my head.  I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and cry.

How I could I be so stupid?

I stepped out into the hallway, each quickened step taking me farther away from the cruel laughing.  The proud, beautiful princess was now a sad, scared and embarrassed little girl in a stupid homemade costume.

Things we so easily laugh off and count as trivial can be pretty traumatic to a child.  Nowadays I laugh at myself or grovel and apologize, according to the gravity of each embarrassing moment.  Then I forget about it and move on.  To this day, when I’m asked to recite my most embarrassing moment, I recall this Halloween incident.  Silly now, but not back then.  Not for the little princess.

Innocence Lost

October 22, 2009

Had another night of little sleep.  Couldn’t stop thinking about Kerry.  Dear Lord, please protect her.

I saw her yesterday at the school where I mentor a student.  As I approached the cafeteria door, I heard the muffled voices of children.  Upon opening the door, the thundering crash of excited chattering pounded my ears.

“Can I have a dollar?”

It was Kerry, whom I had met a week earlier.  How could I say no to those big brown eyes magnified by her pink plastic framed glasses?  Her wavy mousy brown hair limply fell to her shoulders.  I wondered how her small, frail frame had the strength to hold her up.

“What are you going to do with it?” I said.

“I’m going to get a Gatorade.  I really need one.”

I reached into my purse and gave her a dollar.  Off she ran to the drinks, briefly turning around to yell, “Thank you” in her tiny voice.

I was sitting in the cafeteria last week when I heard that voice beside me.

“Do you want to see my muscle?”

I looked at the little girl seated to my right.  She seemed to be older than her question.

“OK,” I said.

She raised her skinny arm, Popeye style.

“I’ve been working out.  I started yesterday.  My Dad let me use his weights.”

“Oh, that’s good,” I said.

“My name’s Kerry.  What’s yours?”

“I’m Miss Judy.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“I live with my Daddy now,” she said.  “I’m not in foster care anymore.  They were mean.”

“Well good for you.”

“Yeah, I used to live with my Mom.  When I was little they put a gun to my head, but didn’t pull the trigger.  So I went to foster care.”

I looked into her soft eyes, wondering if she was telling me the truth, or if she just told stories to get attention.

“A guy touched me down there.”  She pointed down.

“A boy or a man?”

“A man.  My Mom’s friend.  I didn’t like Ed.  He was mean.  He put a lighter down there and I have a scar.  But he didn’t go to jail ‘cause the police couldn’t understand what I was saying.  I was little, but I remember.”

She spoke with a speech impediment, and I strained to understand her.  I knew she had some kind of mental handicap.  I wondered if she was brain damaged as a baby, maybe dropped or shaken or thrown.

“What grade are you in?” I said.

“Sixth, but I’m supposed to be in eighth.”

“Maybe not,” I said.  “Maybe you’re right where you need to be.”

“I’m going to be a missionary.  I pray all the time,” she said.

“Does your Daddy take you to church?”

“No, but I read my Bible.  Every night before I go to sleep.”

“I read the Bible, too,” I said.  “If you want to be a missionary, then you will be.  And you’ll be a good one.”

“I had a dream that a baby got thrown out of a car window and died.  Then it was in the paper a few days later.  I think God just wanted me to see that.”

I remembered the news story well, and relived the cringing of my stomach with that horrible mind picture.

“I can’t eat this pudding,” she said, “but I don’t want to throw it away.  That would be a waste, and I believe in not wasting things.  I’d like to give it to a homeless person.  Would you give it to a homeless person for me?”

“I don’t know if I’ll see a homeless person today, but I can try.”

The digital clock on the TV screen hanging from the ceiling blinked to 12:00.  The entire cafeteria erupted with more ear-crushing chatter as everyone rose and started toward their next class.  I stood up with the pudding in my hand, its massive weight growing.

“It was nice meeting you, Kerry.  God bless you.”

I drove home, fruitlessly looking for a homeless person along the way.  I couldn’t throw the pudding away.  Kerry said that would be wasteful.  So I put it in the fridge, sorry I had failed my mission.

I couldn’t get her out of my mind.  Her wide eyes, her tiny voice, the picture of sweet innocence she never knew. 

You opened my eyes, Kerry, and pierced my heart.


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