For just a second, our eyes connected.
It was a hot, humid evening and I sat in my air-conditioned Toyota, waiting for the light to change.
She stood on the sidewalk, looking small and without direction – a little too small to be just standing by herself on that busy road in inner city Cleveland.
She ran up to my car and I leaned over to roll down the window. (Yes, my old vehicle proudly requires manual cranking.)
“I’m scared to go home. I’m afraid of my mother. I don’t know what to do.”
By this time, the light had changed and there were cars behind me. I unlocked the door and let her in so that we could talk. I pulled over to clear the way for those waiting patiently behind me.
I told her that we would figure out something but needed to drive around the corner so we could make some phone calls from a quieter and safer place.
I asked her a few questions about her family, brother and sisters, mother and father. She was the youngest of a good-sized group living with the mother. She had a father whom she visited. She did not know his phone number – or his last name. She did know where he lived, however.
When asked about a phone number for her mother or siblings, she was quick to tell me that she did not want to go back there.
Her sister was getting “whooped” and she was afraid of getting it. She’d been hurt by her mother before.
In the next couple of weeks, she would be entering third grade.
After making a call and considering the limited options available to me, I drove her to 2nd District further down on Fulton Road. She agreed to talk to the police and I said I would stay with her while she did.
The conversation was short but the police were kind. They gave the impression that perhaps she had done something wrong and was just afraid of punishment. Possible. But so afraid that she would approach a total stranger for help rather than go home?
The police would have to take her back to her mom to talk about it. This was inevitable, I suppose. I asked them in her presence if they would protect her from being hurt when they went to her house.
They assured me that they would. And that they would check the house for cleanliness, adequate food and furnishings and so on.
I know they will do their best.
But I am still afraid for her.
What if everything looks good enough when they arrive and they leave her there? Will Mom rip into her after they are gone? “NOW look what you’ve done!”
Perhaps Mom is not so bad, just overwhelmed by too many kids and the sweltering heat. Perhaps she just blows up now and then and this child is more fearful than most.
Whose car might she get into next time?
I cannot help but feel that I did not do enough – even though there was nothing more that I could legally do at the time.
And so I will now do the one thing left to me – the most important thing: I will pray.
Please join me.
You did more than many. For one thing you put aside fear for your own safety and offered refuge to a child in need. If the police follow their protocols they will also reach out to Family Services, and if the young girl is fortunate, her family will draw one off the counselors that really cares. I’ll also offer a prayer for the counselor to have the wisdom to offer help.
Thanks, Jim. I really had nothing to be afraid of and I felt a deep calm that I was to give to her to make her feel safe with me.
I was a little reluctant to post this at first because I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to point out some good deed I had done. I did nothing more than follow orders, so to speak. Could I NOT help a child in distress, one of God’s little ones?
One person I shared this story with said, “when your eyes met, that was God”. I do not doubt this. I was heading home from church and do not normally look around at people when waiting at stoplights. But in this case, something (Someone) made me look – more than once.
But I thank you for reminding me that God has many other people besides me that He can send to help. So often I hear stories from adults recalling painful childhoods in which they recall NO ONE coming to their aid. Those stories haunt me.
But I do not believe that God ever forgets any of His children. Often we do not understand why God allows such suffering to occur – and we may not understand until much later. But for now, there is the more pointed question of why we allow it.
Yes mary I will pray for her. I am so thankful that God led her to you. I would not second guess the Holy Spirit by thinking that you did not do enough.
Thanks, Rodger. It is good to know we have prayers from across the country joining together for her.
What troubles me as I think about your experience, Mary, is that I would probably have been afraid to respond. My first thought: what if this is a set up, and someone else with evil designs is going to jump in my car. Second thought: I shouldn’t be alone with a child in the car; the parents night accuse me of who-knows-what. Third thought: I should get out of the car and call the police and ask them to intervene; they know better than I how to handle a situation like this.
I am disappointed, troubled, embarrassed (all signs of pride?) to acknowledge this. But that is another reason I keep reading here. Thanks for relating this incident. It inspired me–to examine the sources of my fears and to reflect on all the times that I have avoided eye contact with scruffy men at stop lights holding hand-written signs. Not that I expect them to tap on the window and actually ask for help (although I pray that I might not reflect such a request out of hand) But I am aware that fear can be a big obstacle to living truly and faithfully.
Also I realize how i have forgotten an important human gesture. Just looking kindly at another person directly can be a first step toward communicating God’s love, given the circumstances.
Al – the humility of your response moves me. But in the event that you are being overly harsh with yourself, allow me to mention a couple of things.
I was in the situation – called to it, I believe – and you were not. This is important on several levels. First, I was familiar with the part of town I was in and could see clearly that there was no other foot traffic. The child was standing on a sidewalk, alone, in front of a fenced cemetery, looking rather aimless. This is what drew my attention – she was small, alone and appeared to not have a destination. There were no bushes for someone to jump out of for a set-up.
There was very little time to think about being afraid. She ran up to my window and said she was afraid and didn’t know what to do. I believed her. There have been instances in my life where I have done things that others might consider risky or foolish because it seemed obvious to me that God wanted me to help that person. This was one of those times.
This does not mean that I am never stupid. I can be. Sometimes I find it hard to say no and allow myself to get manipulated. That’s stupid. But it isn’t really possible for you to know how you would respond in this situation because you were not in it. You are only imagining it – and that is very different because you aren’t experiencing the grace that came with it.
I must share with you that I am generally not comfortable relating to children until I have gotten to know them, such as with the children or grandchildren of my friends. As the youngest in a small family, I had little exposure to much younger children when growing up and was very shy to boot. Hence, my deep sense of calm was, I believe, part of the grace given.
I did consider the possible risks of momentarily taking the child “into custody”. Could I be accused of kidnapping her? It was for this reason that I completely ruled out the possibility of taking her to her father’s, even though she wanted to go there. I had no knowledge of him, what the custody agreement was, whether he was home and provided a safe environment,, etc. I did not have the authority to do this. (THAT would have been stupid. And I am grateful that grace reminded me of all of the reasons I couldn’t consider this.)
I am a healthcare professional and have a legal responsibility to report any suspected child abuse or neglect. Even though I had no professional relationship with this child, once told what I was told, I could not in good conscience have driven away and left her standing there alone. Before taking her to the police, I called 211 (the United Way number to identify resources) so that I could talk it over with someone. I gave my name and identified myself as a psychologist.
While I could have called the police or the child abuse hotline, that would have left the child and me sitting in my car by the side of the road awaiting a response. Given that I knew exactly where the police station was and it wasn’t far away, it seemed to me that the response time might be better if I brought her there. Also, it might actually be safer. If an abusive parent came looking for her while we waited, I’d be in a most uncomfortable position. In the unlikely event that there was an accusation later, my call to 211 was surely documented/recorded and therefore would have offered me some protection. The child also said she was willing to go and talk to the police so I wasn’t worried that she would try to jump out of the car.
Now having said all of this, I am not saying that I handled the situation “correctly”. In fact, I am sharing this excessive amount of information because my intention in telling the story was not to suggest that this was or always would be the right thing to do. You and I are different people, with different backgrounds, different gender, etc. (For a man to take a little girl into his car is a whole different thing than for a woman to.) I might be called to do one thing but your call might be something totally different. In fact, it is SURE to be something totally different.
There are many things that other Christians do that would terrify me. But I am not called to do what they do. My duty is to live my calling as best I can and be content with it.