or Looking for Hope
I'm sorry if this is a rehash for some of you, especially for my Facebook friends. But an incident happened at work today that really rattled and angered me, and I have been trying to come to terms with it.
What happened was this: I work as the secretary of a church, and the church building lies on a route that brings many who are needy or confused or wandering to our door (which is kind of the point of a church). This morning, a young woman who was clearly on drugs rang our bell, and when I answered, she came in and said that she had lost her daughter—she had just turned around for a minute, and her two-year-old girl was gone. The woman wasn't particularly distraught, acting more—not even confused, just stoned, than anything. I can't exactly say why, but it seemed more important to me that she call 911 than that we go out and search the neighborhood. Maybe I hadn't really absorbed what she had said, or I was half disbelieving her (she wasn't entirely coherent, and you develop a certain cynicism when you answer the door at a church very often), or I wanted more capable hands than mine to deal with it, or I wanted the authorities to get involved so that this woman wasn't given charge of a child again. I don't know. I was already angry with her for coming to our door: if you lose a child, you don't leave the vicinity! You search high and low, flag down a passing car, and have them call the police! But church buildings are places of refuge, and in times of crisis, people often turn to them automatically. I still don't know whether it was the "right" choice, but I helped the woman place the call, intending then to go out and search for the little girl until the police arrived.
But I couldn't leave. The woman had no idea where she was, and someone had to stay and feed her information so that the police would come to the right place. I listened to that entire conversation and got more angry than I have been in years, or possibly ever, because while this woman was maundering on and on about nothing, a child was out there somewhere lost, and no one could do anything about it, because this mother was too high even to ask for help properly. When the emergency dispatcher asked her to describe her daughter, the woman said that she was "short." She thought that she might have been wearing something pink—a tutu kind of thing, or maybe a shorts jumpsuit; she was blondish. The woman described her plans for the day and what she thought about the weather. She had lost her daughter at—was it the corner? the bench at the bus-stop? in the bushes by the sidewalk? The girl's name was Jessica. Or possibly Marie.
At that point, I began disbelieving in the existence of the daughter, or at least in the mother's tale. But who can run that risk? Who can afford to say, "Oh, please. Just move along now, ma'am," when the possibility exists that the mother is right? The inconsistencies in her story weren't those of a liar, but of someone not in her right mind. So some parts of her story could just as well have been true.
As soon as the phone call ended, I ran to find my co-workers, and we started to look outside. The police came almost immediately, bless them, and were competent, efficient, and kindly. An Amber Alert, two television crews, and a visit from the paramedics later, it became clear that the daughter had been in Roswell, 200 miles away, all along. She had never been in danger; the mother had been hallucinating. The paramedics took her away.
But I cannot forget the feeling of powerlessness and injustice when that woman was on the phone in my office—the anger, not that a woman could look away and have her daughter disappear—that's all too realistic a nightmare and can happen to anyone—but that she could get so drugged up that she couldn't even ask for help in what she thought was an emergency; that those of us who wanted to help the child couldn't because we had to help the mother instead; that someone so criminally irresponsible should have made the choice to have a child, when so many who would love a child can't have one; that the little girl was the one who was going to pay for her mother's negligence.
And then it all turned out to be OK. Only it isn't.
It just isn't.
As another friend and I recently discussed, hope can be a double-edged sword. If a hope isn't realistic, it can just as easily lead to disappointment and despair. But I have hope for that little girl, that she will grow up strong and loving, and for her mother, that she, too, may one day choose strength and love. I have seen it happen.
By the grace of God, who blesses small things.