“You never talk to me. You never share how you are feeling!” My wife was definitely not in a good mood. I had just got home from responding to the rape of a five-year-old girl. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about work or my feelings. As Tracy was talking to me, pleading with me to open up to her, all I could see was the look of terror and confusion on the little girl’s face. My friends had been telling me to get out of the police’s child protection unit for some time, but an inner chiding kept me there. Despite the consternation in my heart, I cared. Actually, I cared too much.
Just then the phone rang. It was the hospital. There was a three-month-old baby that they had just resuscitated. “Sergeant, I think you need to see this,” said the young doctor. I had no idea what I was walking into. “You say I never talk?” I said sarcastically to Tracy, “Why don’t you tag along on this call and see why?” We travelled in an awkward silence to the hospital and I immediately regretted my invitation. An abuse case was nothing that a kind and gentle mother should ever witness. “Whatever you do, don’t touch the baby,” I said.
“Why not?” she asked, as a deep frown made its way across her forehead. She could be so stubborn at times, but her strong-willed nature was one of her most endearing characteristics and besides, I had learned a long time ago not to invite debates on certain subjects. “Just trust me, babe,” I whispered as we drove in silence.
As we entered the ward, I saw the little baby. She was so small that she could have been mistaken for a newborn. The doctors explained the circumstances. The child had been brought into the emergency room, both arms were broken; one arm broken in three places. The child had stopped breathing, but had been resuscitated. There was extensive damage to the chest area. The doctor suspected that the child had been hit with a blunt object on the chest. There was damage to the head as well.
After talking to the doctor, I turned around and noticed that Tracy had moved over to the baby, holding the little girl’s hand; Tracy was crying with a look of horror on her face. She had broken the rule of ‘no touching’. This was not going to end well. I took the statements from the doctors and staff and we went home in awkward silence as Tracy wept bitterly. I had made a terrible mistake.
Over the next few weeks, Tracy went to the hospital regularly to see the little girl, named Alice, and as time passed the infants prognosis became worse. She was blind and the Doctors suspected that there was a possibility that she was deaf too.
“I want to adopt her,” cried Tracy, throwing an out of character tantrum. “Babe, I work with this every day. Imagine I brought home every little child that was abused. I have these types of cases every day. Why do you think I don’t talk about it?” I said. “Marky, I’m not asking for every child,” she whispered softly with imploring eyes. “I’m asking for this one. Alice needs to know she is loved. If not me, then who?”
Love is a strange thing and it leads us to do even stranger things. Alice would remain in the hospital for many months and despite the fact that I was the officer on call, I asked a colleague to take over the case. There was no way I was going to be pushed for answers on the investigation by a heartbroken wife. Actually, deep down inside was the nagging sensation that adoption was on the table and it was open for discussion.
The investigation continued and it became evident that Alice would never be reunited with the family who didn’t deserve her. She would disappear into a foster system, but more than likely she would never have that privilege – she was most likely doomed to remain in an orphanage or home for ‘special’ kids.
Feelers were out with the social worker in charge of the case whom I knew well – as we had worked on many cases together. She tried to dissuade me from the idea of adoption, highlighting the difficulties we would experience in raising a child who would have serious disabilities, including blindness. Tracy was obstinate and determined and I wondered what a girl with a heart the size of the moon saw in a guy like me. For a moment I wished I could feel and love with the depth and loyalty that she did.
Then came the phone call from the Social Worker: “Mark, I’m sorry,” she said. “Alice has tested HIV positive as well.” How much worse could it get? Tracy wept bitter tears and still, she remained determined. ” I don’t care!” she shouted. “I know, but we have two children of our own to consider,” I whispered lovingly. “What if by accident, our kids are infected?” I asked. Tracy didn’t answer but she wept long and hard and I knew that she would still feel the same in the morning so I stopped any further discussion: “I’m sorry – we won’t discuss this again,” I said as I walked outside. It is the only time in thirty years that I have ever overruled my wife. It took a long time for her to forget Alice and over the years we would mention her, wondering what had become of the little girl.
Today, Alice would be twenty-eight, I often find myself wondering what happened to her. Was her hair blonde or maybe auburn? Did she smile a lot? Somewhere in the recess of her mind, did a memory remain of a gentle woman who held her and whispered: “I love you.” A woman who came to the hospital daily and dressed and bathed her. Can she remember the teddy bear that Tracy left beside her that carried her scent and did she still have it? Why did she have to be born on that fateful night to a family that never should have been blessed with her? Was she as beautiful as we remembered?
It was only several years later, when I looked at the Christmas painting by Leon Cogniet that things made sense. It is called The Massacre of the Innocents, painted in 1824. It is the most poignant, haunting painting I have seen – as it describes the look on Tracy’s face when she held Alice’s hand in that hospital so many years ago. Today that painting hangs in the ‘Musee Beaux-Arts’, Renes, as a stark reminder of the innocent lives claimed by King Herod in Bethlehem. It is a reminder of the little lives that are massacred daily in our world through starvation, abuse, and selfishness.
In the painting, the mother has a terrified, shocked expression on her face as she clutches her baby close to her breast, trying desperately to muffle the sounds from her confused baby. Around her is the chaos and terror of the slaughter of Bethlehem’s children. Most paintings about the massacre are violent and show a broad view of the carnage, but Cogniet quite aptly zooms in to the scene of one mother: A terrified mother. Brilliantly, the face of the mother cries out a simple sentence: “I know my baby is about to die.” As one analyst describes it: “Her face stares straight at us. It makes us a party to the massacre.”
For years I watched similar occurrences and I was adamant that if I were God, I would have destroyed mankind. I was convinced that man was not the pride of God’s creation, instead, he was the disgrace of it. Why, oh why did He continue to show mercy and restraint? Then suddenly it all made sense: The look of horror on Tracy’s face told me that she was prepared to do anything for Alice, I was certain that she would give her life. Was God any different?
You see, thirty-three years after the massacre of those children in Bethlehem there was another scene painted in time. On the canvas, you see a father, clutching His son to His chest; the same look of horror and terror on His face as the reality of the situation becomes apparent. The scene is different from that of the mother.
In this scene, the Father willingly hands over His son as the irate crowds (that He created for Himself) cry out: “Crucify Him.” On that day, screams of pain and horror escaped the lips of both Father and Son and I imagine that all the Father wanted to do was clutch His dying Son to His breast and protect Him.
Instead, He let them have their way as He stood looking on in horror and love so that the strangers, murderers, liars, and thieves who nailed His Son to that cross would not only be called His sons and daughters, but enable Him for the first time to clasp each one lovingly to His breast.
When you look at Alice’s portrait today, it is not of a strange mother holding the hand of an injured infant. It is so much more – it is a Father holding, no, clutching Alice to His breast with a look of love on His face. The only blood in the scene is that which pours from His nail-scarred hands. He stares straight ahead, smiling invitingly as you hear Him whisper: “Alice, my darling daughter. Fear not, I’ve got you.”
I have seen things people wouldn’t believe and I have asked God so many times why I was forced to see these things. I have never received an answer, but I guess the closest I come to a definitive answer is to say – if I hadn’t witnessed it – you wouldn’t be reading God and Alice’s amazing story.