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How a Fond Memory of Her Son Sustained Her

Drug addiction took her son. But a chance encounter with another child reminded her to open her eyes to God’s many miracles.

Glasses with a scenic view in the lenses; Illustration by Daniel Lievano

Students poured into the halls at the school where I worked as a teacher’s aide. Watching them from the classroom doorway, I thought about my own children. Especially my son Brad, who’d died less than a year ago. Brad had once been just like these kids. Young and enthusiastic with his whole life in front of him. Drug addiction had taken that all away.

A boy moved cheerfully through the crowd and came toward me. I recognized him from the special education program, but today he was wearing a big pair of glasses. “Hi!” he said. “Do you like my glasses?”

“I do!”

He took off the glasses and poked his finger through the frame. “I can see without them,” he said. “But I really wanted glasses, so I took the lenses out.” He put the glasses back on for me to admire, then continued on his way.

Although the boy didn’t know it, he’d just given me a blessing. When Brad was three years old, he too had longed for glasses. He found a pair with bright red frames and popped out the lenses. He wore those glasses for an entire year until I almost forgot what his little face looked like without them.

For the rest of the school day, I pictured Brad in those glasses. It was nice to have a happy memory of him to focus on. For so long all my thoughts about him revolved around his addiction. I’d honestly believed he would get better after rehab and all our endless prayers. I wholeheartedly expected the miracle of Brad’s recovery. Everywhere I looked I saw signs that it would happen, from the butterflies in my garden to the cardinals—or red birds, as Brad called them—that appeared at my bird feeder every day he was at rehab.

But the miracle never came. “As much as I try, as hard as I want to quit, I can’t stop,” Brad said when he first admitted he had a problem. Two years later, he overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl. Since then, I’d stopped seeing the world as a place for miracles.

On my drive home from school, I envied the boy in the hallway and how he saw with such enthusiasm through his popped-out lenses. I told my husband, Brian, about the encounter.

A few days later, Brian had an encounter of his own. “When I got to the car after work, I saw a bright red bird inside.”

“It was inside the car?” I said. “Had you left the window open?”

“Only an inch or so,” Brian said. “Not enough that I’d have thought a bird could get in. When I opened the door, the bird flew to the side mirror and sat there, looking at me. Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

I hadn’t. And I’d lost interest in the red birds that had appeared at our feeder while Brad was in rehab. I didn’t dare expect a miracle, but maybe I needed to open my eyes again, to pop the lenses off my grief and give God a chance to show me what I’d been missing.

I started at the bird feeder, where doves, gold and purple finches, chickadees, blue jays, tufted titmice and nuthatches gathered. Flocks of turkeys passed through the yard. Woodpeckers tapped out rhythms in the trees. A flurry of dragonflies danced in our summer yard. “What are they doing here?” I asked Brian. “We’re not even close to water.” A katydid on my doorstep, the toads who visited every evening…I never knew what to expect when I walked out of the house, but I had come to expect something, and that seemed like a miracle in itself.

The miracles followed us on a vacation to Florida. A giant yellow-and-orange grasshopper appeared on the screen porch of our rental. While kayaking, we slipped past thousands of hermit crabs marching along the shoreline of the Gulf waters.

Back home from our trip, I went out to dinner with some friends from my grief group. We were sharing funny stories about people we’d lost. I told them about the boy in the school hallway and his glasses without lenses, just like Brad’s. As we laughed about the wonderful coincidence, I overheard a snippet of conversation from a table nearby. “I really loved her sunglasses,” one of the guests said. “You can pop the lenses right out and change them!”

I almost couldn’t believe my ears. Almost. I’d come to expect little miracles like these. God had made a world that was full of them.

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