Last week, I stood in a line waiting to board a bus when out of the corner of my eye I saw a middle-aged woman scan the children huddled around her feet and one in her arms. With a puzzled face, she scanned again and then spoke the question that every parent dreads: “Where’s Caleb?” Within seconds, the mother’s face was bloodless and pandemonium ensued. I watched the mother, father, and two other adults disappear into the crowds of people. Watching so intensely myself, I barely noticed my friend and I had moved from the back of the line to the front. I looked at my friend and immediately said, “We can’t go.” I couldn’t leave without seeing the boy returned. But do you know what thought never occurred to me? That he may not return. On this particular day, it’s easy for me to remember that we live in a world full of loss. How do we move on when what we think should happen, will happen doesn’t happen? What do we do when what’s lost is never found? The answer: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.
in a different time and culture, Cry, the Beloved Country, (like my story)
is about a lost son. Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo must face the reality of his
own vanished son Absalom who has gone to the city of Johannesburg to find work and has yet to return. The general truth about the city is now personal for the desparate father: “When
people go to Johannesburg, they do not come back. They go to Johannesburg, and
there they are lost” (39). But as good parents do, Kumalo will not settle for
that and goes to find his son.
say his journey is long would be a gross understatement. Kumalo searches far and
wide, confronting numerous obstacles and heartache along the way. As the book waxes
on, we see the story of Absalom becoming grimmer and grimmer. Kumalo finds his son has committed
theft, murder, and abandoned his mistress and child. Suddenly, the glorious
reunion Kumalo once pictured is now as heart breaking as the dark jail room it
takes place in:
---My child, my child.
---Yes, my father.
---At last I have found
---Yes, my father.
---And it is too late.
won’t give too much away (in hopes that you’ll go read it if you haven’t), but
I will tell you that Absalom does not come home. And so my question can be answered. My question is for Absalom’s father – for those who have lost – how
do they go on?
best answer comes from Father Vincent who assists Kumalo throughout his journey:
“When the storm threatens, a man is afraid for his house. But when the house is
destroyed, there is something to do. About a storm he can do nothing, but he
can rebuild a house” (140). Rebuild. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Will that new house
ever be exactly the same as the old? Did Kumalo have the same life without his
son as he would have had with him? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean the house
isn’t worth rebuilding or that life isn’t worth living.
other half of Father Vincent’s advice is that as you rebuild, you don't do it
alone. In that painstaking moment when you think you cannot rebuild, when it “seems
that God has turned from [you],” find the voice inside of you that “speaks in
such quiet and such simple words,” whispering: “There is no doubt of it. [I am]
not forsaken” – not by God and not by the people around me. Will it still be
hard? Absolutely, but it will not be impossible.
the book’s end, Kumalo looks across his small village and sees the dawn coming.
To those who have lost, who will lose – whatever form that loss may take – I hope
you know that your dawn will come. As you see that you are still in darkness
when others are in light, remember “the light will come [to you] also. For it
is the dawn that has come, as it has come for thousand centuries, never failing”
Looking from my bus seat on that August day, I saw midst the crowd
a small, red-faced little boy clinging to his mother’s side, and I remembered Father
Vincent’s words: “Give thanks where you can give thanks. For nothing is better.”
Please be patient for the time
when you truly feel the dawn. You will likely find, as I did, that the time in
the darkness makes you much more grateful for the light. There is a reason for
the darkness, and “when [your] dawn will come, why, that is a secret.”
Writing Music: “Long Lost Child”
by Mindy Gledhill and “You Found Me” by The Fray