I’ve been haunted by a little girl the last few days.
Though we never interacted personally and she’s been gone from earth for close to seventy years, she and her family have been part of my life history the last fifty of those years.
How can that be?
Whenever I have occasion to talk about my life, I usually have reason to mention that seven years of my childhood—all in one stretch—were spent overseas. Our family got stuck, so to speak, in Africa during World War II. My parents and I arrived back their for their second term of service in the spring of 1939. By the time they would have been due for furlough, America was deep in the War. It wasn’t safe to cross the ocean. Passenger ships were regularly being torpedoed.
We knew. It had happened to one of our missionary families.
With their three children, the Shaw family booked ship passage for America. When they were torpedoed, the mother and 13-year-old sister went down with the ship. The father was on a life raft that never made it to land, while the 7-year-old daughter with a broken arm and her older brother survived twenty-one days on a life raft before being rescued.
There’s much, much more to the story, and I can’t believe that in June I am going to see those two survivors at a reunion and hear the story from them in person. That’s mind-boggling, and I can’t wait.
But it is the sister that went down with the ship who has been haunting me. Why? Because I’ve seen a picture of her this week.
In the picture she is about ten, with the sweetest smile on her face. A mutual acquaintance posted the picture on Facebook—isn’t that amazing? The girl is named as being in the picture, and it didn’t take me too long before her face came back to me, and I know which one she is. The memory has also come back that, even as a child, I thought she was one of the prettiest girls I knew, and I was so sad she died.
Now that I have a picture of her—and a little secret (she had a boy friend even at that young age!), I find myself thinking about the life and all these years God has given me but that in His Providence He did not give her. I think about the children she did not have and the brother and sister who did not enjoy her in their lives as they’ve lived all these intervening years. I try not to think about the terror she must have experienced in the last moments of her life.
I wonder what it will be like to meet that brother and sister two months from now. Will I have a chance to speak to them? Will I ask the wrong questions—or maybe not be able to decide what I really want to ask? This is a story with many layers, and some may be too painful to peel back.
I just know it is a story that has been part of my life as long as I can remember. Because of what happened to the Shaws, our family stayed put until the summer of 1945. My brother and sister were six and four before their grandparents ever saw them.
What a strange feeling to look at a picture of the girl in that story.