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My wife and I stood with our children on the sidewalk outside the school as the buses pulled up through the drive for the afternoon commute. The last bus stood directly in our path.
We all saw her.
She was a foster child who lived with us for a few months. I hadn't seen her since June of 2009, but she didn't look much different than I remembered. Medium length brown hair covered her head and small, oval spectacles sat atop her nose. She wore a pink rain jacket underneath the large bookbag pressing her forward in the seat.
A wave of nostalgia crashed into me.
Into us all.
Most of our time with her challenged the outermost boundaries of our patience and faith. She had been abused in every way a child could be and we were mostly overwhelmed in our attempts to make her one of us.
But, as we stood there my thoughts wandered to one of the few, good days during our time together. We all had traveled to Nashville to visit my brother's family, and on the way back stayed together in a hotel near Knoxville, TN with an indoor pool. She had never stayed in a hotel before and marveled at the entire, fascinating concept-especially a swimming pool inside the walls.
After checking in, the kids all begged to go swimming so I dragged myself and all our stuff down to the pool area. She was always wary and distant towards me, but as we entered the shallow waters she clung close to my side fearful of this new uncertainty. We all splashed around for a while and for some reason she asked if she could go deeper like the others.
I told her to lay on her back and she did so cautiously. I placed my hands under her and slowly pulled her around the outside edges of the other end. She squealed with delight and for the first time she called me, "Daddy." Perhaps she had said the word before, but I couldn't recall when. I certainly didn't remember the warm, vulnerable tone and childish laughter, gently inviting me into a place she had worked so hard to obscure until that very moment in time.
It felt good.
To me and her.
Other victories mostly escaped our grasp during her time with us.
But now, there she sat. Her tiny image perched in the first seat by the window of that big, yellow bus. As she looked up and saw us there she seemed startled for a moment. Then she waved vigourously, as if doing so might rekindle the fire from a not so distant past, and fill the space between her and us.
Then, the friend beside her in the seat looked at her and quickly said something. We all saw her response with amazing acuity:
"MY FAMILY," her lips said, revealing the question just asked by the little friend.
At once the bus roared away in the distance as guilt overwhelmed me-my blessings and bounty beyond the wildest imagination of most in this world.
And for my part, all I could do was look away to the dancing flames
and wish her well
on the rugged
and lonely road
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For interesting posts about the "road" click here