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An early memory in a crowded store, decorated for Christmas, still chills me. My hand sought Mother’s, somewhere above my head, but it was hard, cold. It belonged to a mannequin.

To my dismay, such moments still occur.

But there’s hope. I recently discovered a spirited companion for my inner orphan, little Elizabeth. Her name is Anne, the redheaded, freckled, eleven-year old in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic, Anne of Green Gables, (1908). We first meet Anne, alone, seated upon a bed of tiles on a train platform, waiting for her third adopted family to pick her up, her worn carpetbag at her feet. Reticent, sixtyish, bachelor, Mathew Cuthbert soon arrives in his buggy and together they return to Green Gables, the farm that he shares with his spinster sister, Marilla.

Anne’s love for reading, her imaginative flights, her temper, and her incessant chatter soon endear her to this unlikely set of parents and her classmates. She rebounds from repeated scrapes and soon emerges into a bright, sensitive, young woman with a teaching career and college courses ahead of her. Key to this development is the stern presence of Marilla, often swallowing her giggles and grounding Anne in the practical realities of living.

In Marilla’s guidance of Anne, I discovered a model in relating with little Elizabeth. She’s already benefitting from my attention and shares her hilarity with me. Nothing is ever that serious!

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A seasoned woman, whose quiet mirth has tickled us, is preparing to leave. A seasoned woman, whose heart-love cherished us, is relocating to Baltimore, Maryland, her simple belongings packed into a van. Now in the care of her married daughter, in the care of the assisted living staff, in the care of her new church community, in the care of the next women’s group she will discover, she will move through her end-days.

Caring lines etch her wizened face. Cropped white hair sets off her dark eyes, that bespeak unseen realities, a faraway wisdom. No longer does she live in the past or future. The present moment, one slipping seamlessly into the next, satisfies.

She has become deeply woman – as nurse, as physician’s wife, as mother of two daughters, as grandmother, as widow, as church member of Second Baptist, as neighbor in Brentwood Forest in St. Louis, Missouri, as friend and confidante of many. She has not flinched from life. She has been stretched, pained, challenged, cast adrift, bewildered, puzzled.

Yet within her angst lies the paradox of her continuing transformation. Within her hollowing, the hollowing of Another. Within fresh tears of this separation lies hilarity in the face of more diminishment. Within her darkness lies the Steadfast Light illuming her next step.

This is Jo. We will miss her very much, especially her Mickey Mouse hat.

A toddler howls, her mouth crooked with rage. Savage tears press through wild eyes, her short curls in tangles. Her outstretched fingers demand holding – from anyone.

I gasp. Before me is a pencil sketch, 8 x11 inches, displayed at the Spring Art Fare held at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis, Missouri.

Distress seizes me. Abandonment, isolation, and despair roil in my gut. I, too, want to scream, but that would be unseemly. Besides others want to see this sketch. I move on, the toddler’s silent scream still echoing my own.

Days pass. Still haunted by that image, I begin hearing silent screams all about me – customers waiting in checkout lines, motorists jammed on the Interstates, patients lounging upon benches in emergency rooms, neighbors gawking at house fires, youngsters on playgrounds, mothers holding their stillborns, executives laid off from work, mourners hovering over graves, Marines cleaning their guns.  The silent screams are everywhere. How placate them? Accept the unacceptable? How assuage the pain? Restore joy?

Seek God within our souls, whose power transmutes our silent screams into watered gardens, as the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, “… they will sorrow no more.” (Ch. 31: 12) – that is, until the next upheaval, and in its wake, deeper wisdom and conversion of life.

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