Our church was host to some guests for a week or so last month. I’d seen them slipping by along the west border of the property. After a few days, I stopped the young woman and asked to speak to her. She and her fiancé were camping up the hill on our property, beneath the tree grove. “I have a couple of little waitressing jobs,” she said; “we can’t go to a homeless camp because we are really, really trying to stay sober.” She was no older than my own daughter, so naturally all my mommy impulses kicked in. We agreed they could stay as long as there was no trouble. They should check the picnic table by the back door for notes and coffee.
She seemed relieved and the plan worked beautifully . . . for one day. They picked up coffee and she asked to come in and send an email. Then for days the coffee sat and got cold. I worried about them. I stopped in at her restaurants. I imagined terrible things. After several more days I called the police to walk up the hill with me and check on their campsite. They were gone, leaving their tent, a forlorn banjo, a half-empty whiskey bottle and some clothes. “More than they could carry, I expect,” said one of the officers. Then I got really sad. I figured talking to me probably spooked them. I worried he’d hurt her. In any case, they clearly weren’t coming back. The police took down their names and promised to call if they learned anything. It’s been two weeks and they haven’t called.
Yesterday on the porch at Kroger I saw another pair that looked like them. They were repacking their threadbare backpack to accommodate the two forties** they had just bought. I intended to go speak to them but at the last second my heart just wasn’t in it, so I passed them by. I prayed for them instead. I prayed for them, for the two I’m still missing and all the others, the great migration of baby adults adrift among us. Somehow they’ve lost their way in this way of life we call normal. For them, for whatever reason, it does not come so easily or fit so well. It is so very, very easy to judge them or not to see them at all. Seeing them is hard and not a little hurtful. They aren’t particularly truthful, but I don’t much blame them for that. I doubt they’ve found folks like me particularly trustworthy. If true, that is definitely the saddest part of the whole story.
At least once a day I think about the two we hosted and wonder where they are. I imagine their real parents, who must be out of their minds with worry. I wish I could call them and say, “I saw your kids two weeks ago and they were mostly okay.” I keep hoping that email was to her daddy saying, “Please come get me,” and he did. All I know to do is love the kids in front of me, whoever they are, as best I can and watch for others who might need a friend, even if just for a day.
~peace & prayers,
** A forty is a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor that only costs about $3.