It is just a piece of paper hanging on the wall of an office at the Drop-In. A white piece of paper with a picture of a man standing between two teenagers, his arms around their shoulders. I can see their smiles but the eyes of the teenage girls are blacked out. The man's whole face is visible. He's wearing a cowboy hat. Black shirt. Black jeans. He's got a Johnny Cash kind of look, a cocky stance as he smiles, obviously happy to be between his daughters. I know he's their father. The message on the paper tells me. "Has anyone seen this man?" And then, beneath it, "Dad, please call home. We love you."
A simple, heartfelt message. A pain too great to fathom.
It is a story often repeated at the Drop-In and other homeless shelters across the country. Mother's call in looking for their sons. Daughters look for their mothers. Brothers come in search of their twin, wives search for 'their better halves'.
It is a story that reminds me of what I once did to my daughters. Disappeared. Vanished. Left with no forwarding address.
Hard to imagine. But true.
I look back on that woman who believed so completely that she had no value, no meaning in anyone else's life but the abuse and terror she was enduring. I feel the pain of those lost souls trying to escape the loving arms reaching out to them, wanting to tell them a simple truth, We love you. And I know the sorrow of those reaching out in fear they've lost the one they love forever.
It's hard to hear someone loves you when you believe you are completely unworthy. The mind cries out. You must escape from the burden of their love, escape from the truth of the self-hatred burning inside for all that you are, all you've become. You must run and hide.
It was a relationship that brought me down. A man who believed it was his right to control me, to take over my life because he could. And I bought into his lies. Let go of the sacred trust my daughters depended upon to give their lives meaning. At some point in that journey through hell, the responsibility of their love became too great, too hot to touch. The truth of what I'd done became too great a burden to carry. In my fall from grace I had to deny the one thing I craved, the one thing that gave my life meaning-- to be connected through the circle of love to the one's I loved. Lost on the road of life, I told myself I didn't deserve their love. I was not worthy.
And so, I ran away. Disappeared. Vanished.
I was blessed. I was found before I was erased from this planet. I was found before all I left behind was the painful memory of my journey through hell, a bitter reminder for those who loved me to grapple with, make sense of, understand. In my 'finding' I found the gift of healing, of forgiveness, of love.
At the Drop-In, sometimes the lost are not found. They pass by and pass away, their lives an untold story never to unfold. Like the young man a volunteer told me about on Saturday. Her husband had befriended him. He was a schizophrenic. Twenty-eight years old. He used to sit on the sidewalk outside the man's office building and panhandle. Her husband would give him coins, buy him coffee and a muffin, sometimes take him for lunch. And then one day, he disappeared.
The husband wondered where he'd gone and then continued on with his life. Until a week after his disappearance when the police appeared. The young man had died. An overdose. His story ended. We found your business card amongst his belongings, they told him. You're the only contact name we have. Can you help us connect with his family? The husband knew of a brother, which led to a parent. Thanks for letting us know, they said. They didn't come for the funeral. The volunteer and the husband were the only one's there. Two strangers saying a prayer over a man whose life had lost all connection to this world. At least the family knows what happened to him, the husband said. At least they won't have to keep worrying about him.
Sometimes, the lost cannot be found again. Sometimes, there's no one looking for them.
I hope and pray those two daughters find some sign of their father. I pray one day he will find himself on the road of living in love and joy reconnected to the ones he loves.
Until that time, we must hold open the doors that lead the way off the street so those who are lost can find their way home again. We must keep hope alive for those who are searching for the one's they love so that they do not give up hope that all will be lost with the passing away of the mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces who are missing.