Psalm 103:20 NRSV: Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
“Who gets lost in the woods? What are you talking about?” I ask Beth. It’s Sunday morning, September 20 of this past year, 3AM. My wife hands me her smartphone. On it was a news story with a picture of my father’s face. The title read “Elderly Man Lost in Woods.” I was still pretty groggy and thought “Well that headline is going to irritate him” as if he had just wandered off and put himself into the massive state park near my childhood home close to Memphis, Tennessee.
This had to have been a mistake; my dad as of 2 years ago was running in the New York City Marathon regularly before his doctor asked him to stop. He created his own engineering consulting business in his ’60’s and was in high demand. He has written 3 books. “This doesn’t make sense!” I snapped.
“The police have set up a mobile command unit in Shelby Forest and your mother is there, but that is all they can tell me.” I am now. Immediately. Awake. Called my father and mother, no response. Almost 1000 miles away, I never felt so helpless in my life. My mom eventually responded but had no new information except to confirm what I had seen online. The search would continue in earnest the next day. Nothing to do but wait.
It’s hard to face one’s thoughts alone in the dark; devastating, terrifying thoughts are met with unbearable silence. I wandered inside and outside my home. I put a ladder away that was sitting on the side of the house. I played guitar on my porch, my phone always beside me. It never rang. I watched the night dissolve into morning and then drove to Trinity to pray. When worship was over I booked a flight to Memphis.
By the time I landed, Hugh had been found. He was exposed in the wilderness for 3 days and 2 nights. The story is long, so I won’t go into all of that. He was rushed to the closest hospital and treated for dehydration. He had no broken bones, no concussion and we only found out later, a bit of pneumonia. He got turned around on a trail doing his
Favorite hobby, bird-watching, and tried to traverse the wilderness to find a path with which he was more familiar, slid down an embankment and ran out of steam, and sat down. He stayed in his spot for roughly 30 hours. Because of Covid 19, my mother was the only one allowed to visit him in the hospital. She held his hand and told him how much she hated to think about him lost and alone in the middle of nowhere. He told her “I wasn’t alone. There were people with me.” After 48 hours of observation, my father was cleared to leave. I collected my parents in their car and drove home where my 2 brothers were waiting. Talking to him later, he repeated his assertion that people were with him. He was certain of this. “So if people were there, why wouldn’t they have given you water or helped you out of the woods?” I asked. “They didn’t see me, and I didn’t call out. Some of them were playing music,” he said.
As I watched my father napping after supper on his living room chair I began to think about angels: everyday angels that show up when a car breaks down, or to help watch children for a new mother when she’s overwhelmed, that donate food and clothing for people in need, or the people that work tirelessly for days to find a missing man in the woods that most of them didn’t know. I thought about the prayer warriors of Trinity and other churches sending my family and me notes of support, love, and concern. I thought of actual Biblical angels and wondered if what Hugh experienced in the woods was sent by God to comfort him. Because of angels, there was Daddy, right in front of me. I was home with my brothers and parents. It’s hard to describe in words what that felt like.
To this day he’s embarrassed about all of the attention, and I get it. However, I think the story is bigger than his misadventures. Perhaps Rev. Joseph said it best when I returned to Trinity that this was one of the best stories of 2020 – during a nasty year of sickness and uncertainty, here was a tale about people coming together; and I will never, ever forget that as long as I live. Thank you, rescuers; thank you, Trinity; and, most of all, thank You, God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for everyday angels. Thank you for miracles. Thank you for the cloud of witnesses that help us throughout our lives. May we as your children always work together in times difficult and calm to do your good work on Earth. Amen.