I can’t smell it,
as a pack of coyotes do when they corner trembling prey.
But I can always see fear.
It swept across her face like a time-lapsed eclipse:
First, panic in those tiny, azure eyes.
Then the floodgates burst forth. Tears barreled down her cheekbones and mingled with stray, blond hairs that matted to her cheeks.
Her lips quivered as she sputtered,
We’ve all lived through it: the crippling reality that seizes you when you realize that you are lost and alone.
This weight pressed cruelly on her eight-year-old frame. She hunched over as if she were at the end of life instead of just beginning it. Her pink tennis shoes scuffed up the broken path like the clouds blanketing the mountains had spilled over and veiled everything from view. Her arms extended, ready to melt into my own—if we’d met before. But there was no chance of that here in this rusty mining town that was barely a dot on a Taiwanese map. We were strangers to each other and to this place—thousands of miles from home.
And she without her Papa.
You’ve felt it too. The crushing weight of displacement as you step off the plane and saunter through a jetway that leaves you in Saskatchewan instead of Cancun. “Dead End” road signs and disappearing breadcrumbs litter the landscape of our lives:
*The scribbled note that reads “I’m done” from the one who promised “forever.”
*The empty seat in your rear-view mirror as you roll away from their first day of the rest of their lives—wondering what happened to yours.
*Waking the morning after your last day of ______ with a “Now what?”
Why is it that there are so many wide and downhill roads to LOST, while the way to FOUND is a brutal, bruising, uphill crawl?
“We’ll find your Papa” I soothed the lost girl with my softest tone.
“I’ll stay with you until we do.”
I knew he wasn’t far—here on this zigzagging path that threaded the hillside. Indeed I’d noticed her family only minutes before, as they tempted a plump tabby with some tantalizing cat paste purchased at a nearby tourist shack. (Yeah. Paste.) The same paths where coal miners trod through Houtong village now accompanied cat lovers to a feral feline sanctuary. It’s why we all took the one hour train ride out of Taipei to hike in the sweltering, subtropical heat. (That, and apparently I love my teenager.) She stood up straight as we wove up the crumbled path together. The lost girls.
It wasn’t then—but later as I replayed this scene in my head that I realized the truth:
I was just as lost as she was.
Lost? At my age? Already “a little,” as Henry Fielding writes in Tom Jones, “descended into the veil of years”?
Isn’t that exactly when you’re supposed to find yourself?
Maybe in one way, shape, or form, you feel it too—or you love someone who does.
The past half decade, if nothing else, has untethered many things that felt so fastened before. I’ve seen my share of marriages, friendships, careers, and even sturdy faith set adrift.
If LOST is where this FINDS you, friend—you are in good company.
Over the next four months at The Mudroom, we’ll sojourn with the lost, the found, and those everywhere in between. Some hold a broken GPS in their hands. Others see the home lights burning from a distance. Still others are finally sinking into the deep couches they’ve ached for over the years. These are the stories of belonging in a bruised and broken Body. While these journeys are as diverse as their heroines, each of us can find ourselves printed in their pages. Whether we are the girl on Houtong’s hillside crying “Where’s Papa?”—or one who walks beside her whispering “We’ll find Him together”. . . welcome!
For now, I’ll leave you with a bit more of mine, there among the cats on that sweating hillside:
Within seconds of our search we rounded a bend that unveiled “Papa!” As the lost girl squinted through tear-blurred eyes to meet with his, the shadow of fear fell from her face just as quickly as it once shrouded her.
There was unfettered joy, embrace, and the weight of the world whisked away like a feather on the wind. It was stunning. And I longed for it.
I still do.
If you do too, then lean in with this lost girl . . .