There are few terrors worse that the feeling that you’ve lost someone you love.
This much was clear to me on that summer night in 2008. From my perch in the passenger seat, I scanned the sidewalks as best I could, reminding myself to breathe. Everyone was looking, even the police. We’d find her.
But we didn’t know that, really. Cassandra* had wandered away in the late afternoon, and now it was night.
Aileen, my friend and fellow L’Arche** assistant, was in the driver’s seat. She had to focus on piloting the van, but I could tell that she was just as frantic as I was, if not more so. After all, Aileen was Cassandra’s one-on-one accompanier. They shared a special bond.
We drove around for a long time before we got the call: She’s all right. Jonathan [another assistant] found her. Aileen and I raced home.
And the sight of Cassandra, sitting at the kitchen table — it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Heedless of the policemen in the background, I ran over, knelt down, and wrapped her in my arms. She hugged me back, squeezing tight. I don’t know what I said; I was incoherent with relief.
But I do remember what Aileen said, when I stepped back to let her hold Cassandra. They clung to each another; Aileen was half-laughing and half-crying. She sounded like a mother whose child has just been returned to her arms. She said, “God, you’re home, you’re home. Don’t you ever do that to us again, Cassandra, you hear me? You scared us to death! We love you. I love you.”
Hearing Aileen’s words, I glanced at the picture hanging just above her. It was a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. It depicts the scene in Jesus’ parable when the lost son returns at last. And the father says, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The elder brother protests; why waste a good celebration on an undeserving brother? But the father repeats, “… We [have] to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
When I saw Cassandra that day, I realized: the father’s not just saying these words for his elder son’s benefit.
He’s saying them in the same way that Aileen and I kept repeating, “You’re home, you’re safe …” because he can’t help it. Because he needs to hear them, to hear aloud that the nightmare of loss is over.
And then I turned and saw Jonathan standing alone. (We’d only just met, and I was completely intimidated by him. I had no idea that someday, we’d be married.) In all the uproar, he was quiet, solitary. He’d found Cassandra, but he wasn’t making her return ‘about him’ at all.
Without thinking, I crossed the room and stepped into his arms for the first time. “Thank you, thank you for finding her and bringing her home,” I said.
Sometimes I think that our real (metaphorical) work is to search down dark streets until we find one another.
We all run away from home, away from each other. We all make choices that separate us from real relationship. Perhaps not in the obvious ways, but in the small things: we don’t tell the truth, answer the phone, or show that we care. We’re afraid, so we hide our hearts.
But what if we let ourselves be found? What if we acknowledged that we have all been both the fearful runaway and the forgiving father? That we know what it is to bolt and stumble and lose our way, and that we also know what it is to be the one standing by, waiting and praying?
And what if we put aside our pride and celebrated whenever we do reunite?
If we did, perhaps something like this would happen …
Soon after Cassandra came home, Aileen transitioned out of her role at L’Arche. On her final night, we took turns sharing what we loved about Aileen, and how we would miss her. When it was Cassandra’s turn, she looked at Aileen with gentleness in her gaze.
She was silent for a long time, so we asked, “What do you love about Aileen, Cassandra?”
And Cassandra said, simply, “She’s my little child.”
How have you been ‘lost and found’? Join the conversation in the comments!
Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?
Pick up my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).
*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.
AWCC Around the Web:
- America Magazine Feature: Coming Home: The Liberation I Found at L’Arche
- Greenster Guest Contribution: Lessons from Summer Camp: One Woman’s Journey to Lead Her Life
- ‘Leaving Normal’: Weekly column at Autism After 16 (new content published every Thursday)
Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!
- Florence Lauderdale Public Library, Sunday, February 24, 2013, 2-3pm
- Living Spirit Church, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 3, 1:30pm
- Redeemer Presbyterian, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 10, 10:30am
- Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, Friday-Saturday, March 14-15
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*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
**L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.