The Sun is a great place to follow community and family events, and I was glad to read some happy family news from my niece in a recent edition.
Distressingly, I also read of the severe illness of an old friend, Jim McIntyre, who had the ill luck to be one of the few diagnosed this season with that unfortunate Middle Eastern import and bane of humans and horse lovers, West Nile virus. Jim is, of all people, least deserving of this unseen attack, since his kind heart has over the years greatly helped many people, myself included.
Some years past - more than a few - when my son was a young teenager, I was going through a difficult divorce and was horrified one day to find that my child had left home: vanished with no trace. I knew with whom he had probably absconded, but the tracks were cold and I was, as you may imagine, frantic.
Visiting the local police and finally, FBI, I was confronted with the policies of the day - now since reversed I hope - of non-interference in family issues, despite the fact that a 14-year-old was out there somewhere in America with no parental supervision. Perhaps my case was one of many they routinely listened to, but no action resulted. The agent was polite but noncommittal.
I was on my own, but not, fortunately, alone in concern. I attended a compassionate, loving church, and prayers of agreement were offered for my son's safe return.
A year passed, during which about an hour's sleep a night was my average, and I reported to the office each day feeling as if a ton of bricks lay on my head.
One morning, the neurosurgeon for whom I worked casually inquired "how are you?" "FUNCTIONAL!" was my over-firm reply. "Good!" he replied, "I need that energy!" He had no idea of my daily struggle, wondering where my child was, but if my gritty response strengthened him for his own battle in the OR against brain cancer, it was not wasted.
Still, the days went on, the divorce was a done deal, and I visited a local church singles group for some air, and to think about something else. Jim McIntyre was there, long before he met his beautiful wife, and we fell into a conversation I can only see as divine accident - the result of many prayers.
I began telling him about my missing son, with all roads to find him ending in zero. Jim, who had grown up in Jackson and was well connected, knew what to do. He would try to trace my son, and lo and behold, a few weeks later I received a call with the most welcome news ever: Jim had located him, hiding out in Pennsylvania with people I had never met. I was jubilant.
A call by my priest to an Episcopal parish there elicited an offer of temporary shelter while I flew up with legal papers to regain my boy. He had discovered that life on the run was less glamorous than supposed, and made no effort to leave again as we flew through several airports on the way home. He lives here today, happily married with three sons of his own. Thank God!
Many years on, while teaching a Naval communications class in the Pentagon basement, I experienced another divine "accident." Scheduling the second session for 8:30 a.m. the following Tuesday, I was told by one of the captains that he had "screen duty" for global observation that day, and we agreed to meet on Thursday instead. I flew home to prepare and was about to return to Washington, when a friend called early Tuesday morning: "Turn on the TV." My God.
A second plane hit the New York Trade Center as I watched, and shortly the announcer stated "the Pentagon is on fire!" The next days were a blur of trying to find my students, praying, wondering if any survived, as a key Navy command center was exactly where the plane exploded with 28,000 lbs. of fiery jet fuel.
Because of one small schedule change, we had not been in the room at point of impact, at 8:30 a.m.; they were safe. For years, I kept the e-mail sent that night by now-retired Vice Admiral Tim Keating: "The enemy is wily and smart....we are smarter!"
He thanked me for prayers, a gentle, courageous man, and returned to comforting survivors and retrieving the dead. Forty of his best people were gone. Though the Navy class could never finish, I continued to train there for 12 more years and have never met an atheist in that building. Seeming coincidences, or an unseen hand at work?
Thanks to Jim's gallantry, my only son was restored to me. Thanks to the Navy officer's honesty - he could have just skipped the class - I am alive to write this. Miracles can happen; God is watching. I have learned to never leave Him out of the equation.
Linda Berry is a Northsider.