What does it mean to be really, really lost? My husband, Jim, the kind of person who always stops to help people, saw a distraught looking woman in the park last weekend. Dressed in African dress and head wrap, she did not speak English. She had her 3 year old grandson with her and it was evident that they had gone for a walk and ended up in the park near our house, hopelessly lost.
Worried that she would be afraid of him, Jim called me at home and I joined him at the park. Edna, as we learned her name, sat on the ground holding tightly to her grandson. She knew only three or four words of English, but indicated that she was staying with her daughter. She did not know the address or phone number or even how to spell her daughter’s last name. She shook her head and fought back the tears as she tried to make us understand her situation.
Over and over, she tried to pantomime something, folding her hands at the side of her head and resting her head as if on a pillow, eyes closed. “From my bed!” she would say. Was she trying to tell us her daughter was sleeping? Her daughter napped and she took the boy for a walk?
She could not remember which direction she had come from as we pointed around us. I encouraged her to get in the car and we could drive around until something looked familiar. I looked as confident and calming as I could for her, but, I wondered what in the world we would do. I wish I was prayerful enough at that moment to think of the good shepherd, the image of Jesus finding his lost sheep and gently lifting the lamb into his arms. But all I could think of was: Dear Jesus, please help us get them home. Show us what to do.
I felt as lost as Edna did. How could we ever help her? We didn’t even know what language she spoke. Do we call the police? I live in Nebraska, where the governor is proposing terrible anti-immigration laws. For the first time in my life, I was wary of the police, wondering if they would be required to check her immigration papers.
As we drove through the streets, she became more agitated. Repeatedly she pantomimed leaning her head sideways onto her folded hands and closing her eyes. Suddenly she burst out “To die!” and again laid her head on her hands as if she was sleeping. With an insight that could only be a grace, I realized she was talking about a cemetery. She could see a graveyard from her bedroom. I knew her neighborhood.
She remained upset but I tried to calm her as we drove toward a cemetery a mile away. As we came closer, she became excited and pointed to the end of the street and the apartment building there. She grabbed my hand and kissed it as we pulled up in front of the building. Behind the building two police officers were filling out a report as the very worried daughter, holding a newborn, spoke to them. Hugs, delight, tears, relief all around.
I think Edna spoke for all of us right then with an additional word of English. She looked at us, pointed up to the sky and said, “Jesus!” It was a prayer we shared and a gratitude we felt.Image by Julien, Flickr Creative Commons