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Grace is like ebony wetness seeping into the chinks of my terminal illness: This, too, must be transformed—and so it is, instant by instant.

Orphans, in real life or within literature and film, evoke squeamish feelings. Blistered by abandonment, the fabric of their known world unravels around their muddied shoes—if they have them. Nothing works. But there are exceptions.

One of these unfolds within the historical novel, The Girl from the Train (2015) written by South African, Irma Joubert. From the first page, the plight of Gretl, a German Jew, alarms us. What will become of this thin waif, sole survivor of the open cattle cars packed with hundreds of Jews enroute to Auschwitz?

I’m not afraid, Gretl thinks… I’m brave…” She rolls into a ball upon the forest floor and waits until daylight. Yes, think about other things, she adds. That’s what Oma used to say.

With pluck, she sets out for the creek, the sun warming her back. She listens. She waits for the next development. Then she’ll know what to do.

A chance meeting with the Polish metallurgist Jacob quickens her heart; he becomes “family,” the support she needs to continue engaging the world around her. Her resiliency and groundedness, enhanced by her fluency in German and Polish and Russian, endear her to many.

Such stories serve as correctives for our own childhood abandonment, never far from consciousness; its wound spirits us toward deeper compassion for our humanness, within the grace of a merciful God. Psychic growth abounds. That’s why we’re here …

 

 

“Hey! Look over there! That car’s stopping!” exclaimed Sloane, already tanned in her flowered sundress and clapping her hands in the air. Excitement fused through the gyrating torsos of kids, just released for the summer from the nearby Mark Twain Elementary School. Beneath the shade of a maple tree stood a cloth-covered table lined with pitchers of lemonade and red plastic cups; coolers of ice chips flanked its corners. Mason grinned as he tended the cash box.

And so the exuberant afternoon went, with moms and dads watching. Kids from other blocks hung around the lemonade stand where they laughed, turned cartwheels, and spoke of summer plans—No matter the heat. They had their lemonade with its tart sweetness.

Such places of refreshment still soften hearts—An opportunity to enter the world of the child we once were. And it’s this same child, today, who still gets overwhelmed by the unexpected, however small or great, and seeks help at the closest “lemonade stand.” That could be a trusted friend, a solitary walk in the woods or by the ocean, a pet dog’s nuzzling her owner.

Or even more powerful: sitting still in prayer and waiting for the emergence of God’s presence. The release of tears gives urgency to the plea for comfort, for the inevitable new learning, for its assimilation within the ridges of the hurting heart. In time, its bitterness, like the lemon, is sweetened by wisdom’s smile.

 

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