Heroes, Dumb Experiments, and Lost Children

I think I first began seeing my husband as my hero — before he even came to visit me in December of 1999 — when he told me of how he helped a lost child find his parents. The little boy had wandered away from his parents while they were watching a parade in downtown Minneapolis. My future husband worked as a security guard for Brookfield Properties, and he saw the little boy in the skyway. He knew the parents would likely be worried, so he helped the little boy find them.

This may not sound like a big deal to many people, but what he did isn’t something that “anyone would do.”

Had a predator found the little boy before my future husband did, the little boy’s story would have gone very differently.

My parents told me years ago of something that happened when I was about five years old. They were busy with my older brother and two of my younger brothers, and I walked out the door and took a walk by myself.

I walked down our long driveway and then onto the road, thumb in mouth, just wandering down the middle of the road with no particular destination in mind.

A woman driving down that road found me and brought me back to our house. My parents were shocked (I must not have been gone long) and mortified but also grateful that I was okay.

To this day, when I hear about a small child who was found outside his home, wandering the streets in nothing but underwear or pajamas — I remember what I did, and I’m inclined to think that the police shouldn’t be too quick to blame the parents, who may have had their hands full with other kids when one of them slipped out the door unnoticed.

I don’t remember anything about that day, though. I was only five years old, after all, and I remember very little of my life before I was about nine. I remember some of what I was told, but I don’t remember taking that walk, and I don’t remember the woman who found me. I think it would be nice if I did — even if I only remembered her name.

My husband remembers so much of his childhood, and I wish I could remember more of mine.

I remember picturing him in a firefighter’s suit, though he’s never worked as a firefighter. I remember being proud that he worked as an EMT and as a volunteer police reserve officer. He had a soft spot for kids, wanting to do all he could to restore lost little ones safely to their parents.

Years later, when we were staying at a hotel on our way to Iowa — or before we found a house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — I was holding onto the edge of the hotel swimming pool and edging my way toward the deep end. My parents were busy watching the other five, and for some reason I wanted to make it all the way to the other end, using my hands to grope along the tiles at the edge of the pool to keep me from slipping and going under.

Well, that didn’t work as well as I thought it would.

I hit a wet spot, and my hands slipped. I went under. I tried to call out to my parents or to anyone who would hear, but I learned pretty quickly why it doesn’t work to scream underwater.

I reached up for something to grab hold of, and my hand touched something. I managed to get a hold of it and used it to pull myself up. It was one of the ropes that stretched across the pool. I used it to hoist myself up and climb over the edge of the pool onto the tiles. I rose shakily and looked around. My parents and brothers and sister were still at the shallow end. No one had noticed what had happened. I made a mental note not to repeat my experiment, and I walked back to where the others were, feeling very fortunate and very foolish.

This was during the summer after I finished fourth grade. I would have been ten years old, so it must have been 1983.

Eleven years later, in 1994, I dared the ocean waves to “come and get me.” I was standing knee-deep in ice-cold water at Pacific City, Oregon, and my brother was exploring the town with his friend. They had a reasonable expectation that I wouldn’t do something stupid. I proved them wrong.

I had put my shoes, socks and towel in a place far enough from the line of wet sand that I thought they’d be safe from the waves.

I stood there, exhilarated and loving the cold water and air. I dared the far off ocean waves to come get me. As I watched them, they seemed to get bigger as they drew nearer, and at some point, thinking, “Uh-oh,” I decided to return to shallower water. The waves caught me up and rolled me over. I regained footing only to lose it again, as the waves picked me up and threw me over, rolling me again. I regained my footing and lost it again, and I thought, as I rolled again, “What a stupid way to die! God help me, please!” Seconds later, the waves receded, and I stood up, dripping wet and shaking.

My brother came back with his friend, and I told him what happened. We found a military surplus store in town, and I bought some dry clothes. I used a large outhouse to change into them. Then we went to get coffee, and I bought some pickled herring at a local grocery store.

I’d noticed before my brother’s return that the rosary that I’d kept in my shirt pocket was missing. It was the first rosary I’d ever prayed on — a simple, inexpensive copper-bead rosary that I’d bought at the abbey bookstore while I was reading St. Louis de Montfort’s The Secret of the Rosary. I stood up and went back to the edge and the shallow water and looked for it but couldn’t find it.

When we came back home, and I told my parents what had happened and that I’d lost my first rosary, my mom went to their bedroom and returned with a rosary that had belonged to my dad’s mom. They gave it to me, and I’ve had it ever since.

I even had it blessed by Pope St. John Paul II the following year (1995), while I was there on pilgrimage — after the mission I’d been planning to join ran out of money and couldn’t send anyone that year. I would have been gone for a year, working in either Lithuania or the Czech Republic. Instead, I went to Italy — visiting Assisi, Florence and Rome. The place I most wanted to see and was most determined to visit was Mother Teresa’s House for the Dying in Vatican City, which was where I met G. A. and wrote a letter for her.

She was having doubts about her placement there, and about her vocation. She wanted to write a letter to her English-speaking spiritual director, but though she spoke English well enough, she had trouble writing in the language. I wrote from dictation, and sometimes, when she was having trouble articulating what she wanted to say, I’d watch her face and suggest something, and she’d give me a look of surprise and relief and nod her head. I don’t know if the letter did her any good, but seeing it written and then addressed and ready to mail seemed to give her some comfort. It was just a letter, though — nothing in comparison to what she did on a daily basis for the people dying in that house.

At the time, I was still trying to figure out what I was good at and whether I was good at something that would eventually enable me to take care of my parents — make sure they didn’t need anything when they could no longer work. I didn’t know if I’d ever get married and have kids of my own, but I hoped I would. I never imagined I’d end up moving to a different state.

I was planning to go back to college to study for a four-year degree. At first, I thought I’d get a teaching degree, but the more I learned about the program — and about the job for which I’d be training — the less I wanted to be a teacher. I’m really more of a one-on-one person. I like people, but I like them in smaller doses. Usually, people like me in small doses, too, so it works out.

My husband and my kids like me in bigger doses, which is convenient, since they have to live with me.

My husband has proven time and time again over the years that he’s still my hero. When I was going through a particularly difficult postpartum period, he rescheduled a business trip so he could stay home with me. His concern for his family and his readiness to put our interests before those of his district manager eventually cost him the job he had when we married. He’s that kind of man, and I thank God for him.


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