(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, December 21, 2019)

The thing about those wild once-upon-a-time stories is that the good ones are always more true than we imagine. They can touch us profoundly. So here’s one: Once upon a time there was a little girl. A lost girl.

Before I share more, though, let me say, as if it needs saying, that being lost is no fun. My own belongings know this. Regarding the misfortune of personal goods in my care, 2019 was a sort of banner year.

Two days into January, about to cross the Atlantic, I lost my laptop. The plane was boarding when, standing at my seat, I noticed the laptop missing. Stolen! I knew it. Likely when I stopped for that coffee. I phoned my only hope. “Babe! Laptop’s not in bag! Plane about to take off! No time. Can you contact airport security?”

I sat. Thought. Did I forget it at security check, that mad rush with the x-rays and scanners and push of it all? No. Yes? Did I collect it from the security belt? Nooooh! Good grief. I told a nearby stewardess. And within minutes, thanks to KLM Airlines and an airport staffer running and running the good race, me waiting at that plane’s gate, my laptop was back in-hand.

Then my hat. We’ve seen some of the world in these years, me and my hat. In March I left it at NASA. In Florida. I realized this near Georgia. Back home, I phoned NASA. My dear hat. Poor thing. I imagined it in space, travelling, probably to Mars. In NASA’s gift shop is where they found it.

“It says Canada. Has a hockey player,” the woman on the phone said. “Looks old. It’s been around. It’s not a new hat.” NASA then kindly mailed me my hat. No charge.

Finally, the sandals. I often slip them off while driving. Reminds me of Africa and barefooted days. One fine summer day, here in Ontario, I unwound in my parked car, door-open, sandals on the green grass beside me. Later, I drove off, barefooted, thinking nothing of it. Got a long way. Got home. Then, you know. More grief. They don’t even make these sandals anymore.

I phoned my stepmother, an hour away. She went where I left the footwear. Nothing. Then, around a corner, two teens, walking, carrying Union Jack Birks. “Someone threw them away,” they told her. Had I phoned a minute later, they’d be gone forever. My stepmother bought them back for $5, all she had. She explained it to me, the rescue.

Now some people in this world have no feet, never-mind footwear or a traveled hat or laptop. It’s something to consider this Christmas. Consider also, now, that little girl. Yes, once upon a time she was lost. Everyone looked. The entire village. Her father was especially heartbroken.

Long past dark, after everyone else stopped, he still looked. Here. There. Everywhere, really. Nothing would stop him. Nothing in this world. Nothing in any world. Until at daybreak he found his girl near a cliff’s edge, on a dangerous ledge, curled-up, asleep.

He approached slowly. Knelt. Gently kissed her cheek. The awakened child then reached up, put her arms around her father, and said. “Daddy! I found you!”

This is the story. When I told Child Number 1, my daughter, that I’d be doing this, sharing a story about some lost girl, she asked, “Is it about me?”

“You’re so cute,” I said. “Actually, we’re all the lost girl. Every one of us.”

Yes, the lost and the found, alike. Because there is no “us” and “them.” There’s just all of “us.”

Now Christmas approaches. And we stop, maybe, to reflect. Because if perishable things of limited value owned by some hopeless caretaker like me can be rescued, how much more will a human life, made with purpose in eternal love, be found?

Yes, once upon a time there was you. And there was me. And we lost certain things, not the least of which was ourselves. We lost our way. Because it’s dark. But there’s more. And thank God there is. It’s there in that first Christmas: God’s unusual rescue plan through Christ’s birth and presence among us.

How liberating, this gift to celebrate. This mystery to ponder. Once upon a time.