August 1, 2021

The clear notes of a harmonica rung out as 3 of us were given a tour of the kitchen-in-progress. I had followed the group, eager to stay occupied in the unfamiliar setting, and with most of the other guests strangers to me. I’d even warned Peter, on the way there, that I was hoping to be up to the sociability of it all, but was worried that I’d end up getting nervous and uncomfortable, eager to leave the party early, to head for the comfort of home. He’d nodded, kindly—un-phased by the wife he had come to know well over the years of our marriage.

Once there, though, my nerves settled. It felt good to be with people who, while strangers, seemed not-so-strange after all. I already knew and loved some of the kids there, as they had joined us on the farm for “Creative Pages” fun. The others I easily began bantering with. 

“Oh, I know what you mean . . . I love that one too! Can you sing the songs along with the characters?” “Yeah,” she smiled, “You know which one’s my favorite ?” . . .

But back to the harmonica:

I turned to see a woman I hadn’t yet met, holding a little one in her arms. The child held the harmonica to her mouth, gazing about her with eyes that stared boldly, knowingly. I raised my eyebrows in questioning surprise. Looking to the woman holding the child for confirmation, I then looked at the little one and said, simply, “Wow—that was amazing! I could never have made it sound so good!” She returned my gaze, took the harmonica out of her mouth, considered me for a moment, then blew another few plaintive but lovely notes. I smiled.

Then I asked about the child. “18 months,” she said. “She’s my son’s daughter,” she continued, gesturing to one of the men surveying the kitchen countertop progress. “Oh—and are there other siblings too? I asked, making assumptions based on the number of little ones running about. “No—just one.” She paused then, and asked, bluntly but kindly, “You know about her mother, right?” 

I gulped. “No . . . “ Do I? I wondered, silently.

And then, while I stared into the wide brown eyes of this 18-month old beauty, my heart broke. Her mother had died of leukemia a year ago, 6 months after giving birth to their first — their only — child. For the rest of the evening I could not help but put myself in the orbit of this child. I tried to resist the urge to smother her. But each time she toddled over and rested her hand on my knee, I tousled her hair and pulled her a bit closer. 

“Oh!” blinking quickly, the tears pricking my eyes. That was all my voice could manage when hearing the story. But oh, my heart pleaded, quietly: Oh, Lord, be near us! Be with the little ones . . . comfort us. Comfort them. Mother us. Mother them. Have mercy. Lord, have mercy . . .

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