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Finding Peace

April 10, 2020

Caroline Morrow stood for a moment, watching the ebb and flow of the crowd. She couldn’t help being a tad skeptical of such universal good nature. Everyone was smiling and chattering, obviously pleased to be celebrating their heritage. And why not? Pennsylvania has a proud history and Bucks County is perhaps its proudest sector. The cosmos itself seemed to approve, having created a perfect day for the celebration. The concrete walls of the towering castle-like museum glowed in the sun. Bubbles in the old glass of mullioned windows captured light and became iridescent jewels. A cheerful melody in harmony with the bucolic scene floated through the air. A dog barking in the background was the only dissonant note. Except for the dog, everything was going according to plan. But what is it they say about plans? Especially best-laid plans? That dog changed everything.

Caroline tried to ignore the animal. She was usually quick to go to the aid of any creature in distress, but today she was taking a break from the things she usually did. She was tired. Bone tired. Worn out from what she’d begun to fear was a futile quest. She had marched in demonstrations, rung doorbells, made phone calls, signed petitions, camped on her congressperson’s office steps – in short, had devoted her life to the basic tenets of her Quaker faith. Did any of it make a difference? Most of the time she could convince herself that it did. But, last night, watching the news, something inside of her had snapped. From around the globe came story after story of horrors too brutal to comprehend. Life on the streets of her own city–the City of Brotherly Love, no less–was no better: children wielding deadly weapons, grown men shooting each other over a parking place, a wheelchair stolen off a front porch, a teenager delivering a pizza knifed for less than twenty dollars. The list went on. Unable to bear it, she switched off the TV and went to bed, telling herself the world would look brighter in the light of day.

It didn’t.

She ate her usual hearty breakfast, but it did nothing to satisfy the hunger in her soul. She looked ahead to her day and dreaded the bickering she knew would be a part of the Peace Initiative meeting – yes, even there, dissent prevailed. Sometime between washing the breakfast dishes and brushing her teeth, she made a decision. Today there would be no dealing with bureaucrats, no fighting for lost causes, no tiptoeing around oversized egos. Today, the only peace she planned to worry about was her own. She made a phone call, gave no reason, just said, “I’m sorry. I can’t make it today.” That’s how she came to be in a picture-perfect small town, listening to a sweet-faced young woman play country airs on a dulcimer while trying to ignore a barking dog. Not an easy thing, especially when the girl’s finger slipped and the melody went off key.

The dog paused, as though to get his breath, then resumed.

Murmurs rose from the crowd, merging with the bleating of sheep in the shearing area, the laughter of children at the puppet theater, the steady hum of the glassblower’s oven. The juggler dropped a club. The stilt-walker stumbled. But no one moved to help the animal.

An annoyed voice separated itself from the general restiveness. “Someone should do something.”

“Yes, they should,” Caroline said to no one in particular. “That poor animal needs help.” Unable to leave a task to a vague someone, she headed for the source of the distraction, the shed behind the museum.

The lean-to structure was filled with wagons and carriages from an earlier time. Caroline peered inside. After the brilliance of the summer day, objects in the shaded interior were a blur of indistinct shapes. She squinted and pressed against the rope that protected the antiques from too-curious visitors.

The dog stopped barking and looked at her.

The quiet that ensued seemed to Caroline almost palpable. The dog remained silent, staring at her, and, after a moment, comments from passersby reached her: “Thank goodness.” “It’s about time.” She ignored the voices and focused on the dog, almost lost in the shadows of the shed’s darkest corner.

The dog tilted its head, studying the strange woman.

She leaned over the rope.

The animal yipped a couple of times and put his nose in a basket that sat nearby.

There was a gurgling sound, soft as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings.

Dear God!

Caroline ducked under the rope and scrambled over the bed of a hay wagon to reach the corner where the dog stood guard. She scraped her elbow against the rough timber of the shed wall in her haste to reach the basket.

The dog stood, legs braced, ears at attention, watching.

She inched forward and held her hands near the animal’s muzzle.

He sniffed and moved aside.

Caroline took another step, bent over, and looked down into a small perfect face, wide trusting eyes, as blue as a summer day. A fuzz of rust-colored hair peeked from beneath a lace-trimmed cap. She held her breath and lifted the baby. The cap fell away, exposing tiny flat ringlets. Caroline placed the baby on her shoulder and felt the beating of its heart. She moved her head and savored the tickle of downy hair on the soft flesh under her chin.

A crowd gathered in front of the shed. Whispers became murmurs, then swelled into an excited babble. Someone yelled out: “Call the police.”

Caroline, oblivious, completely mesmerized by the child, lost all sense of time. She was surprised, almost outraged, when a thickset man in uniform appeared and put his hands out to take the baby from her. She half-turned, rotating away from him.

He sidestepped, making the circuit with her. “This your child, Ma’am?”

The dog moved, rigid as a clinched fist, between Caroline and the man.
The man glanced down at the dog, but did not retreat. “We need to check the baby, Ma’am. Make sure everything’s all right.”

The next hours went by in a blur. Caroline, usually the most precise of women, certainly not sentimental, was vague about most of the details. A few remained vivid, carved into her heart as though onto a stone tablet. She never forgot the ride to the hospital in the police car; sitting behind the officer with the baby in her arms; the basket on the seat beside her; and, most of all, the ache she’d felt when she relinquished the child to the doctor.

She recalled examining the contents of the basket while she waited. The small cap was white, made of fine linen. A band around the front was edged in lace and embroidered with daisies. She let her fingers caress the fabric and could tell that it was old. There was a pillow, embroidered with the same pattern as the cap and the words Peace be with you. A silver cup lay on its side near the pillow. It looked recently polished, its surface mirror-bright except for a small smudge. Caroline picked it up and rubbed the spot with her shirttail.

“Hey!” The policeman shouted and lurched toward her. “Don’t do that! There might be fingerprints. You’ll destroy them.”
She managed to wipe the cup clean before he grabbed it from her.

He was indignant. “Don’t you want to know who this baby belongs to?”

The doctor came back with the child before she could answer. “It’s a little girl,” he said. “I’d say she’s about a week old. And perfect.”

Perfect. Something Caroline Morrow already knew. Maybe she couldn’t save the world, but she could rescue this child. She understood all too well the red tape that would be involved: an investigation, forms to fill out, bureaucratic hoops to jump through, a waiting period, but ultimately, she vowed, the child would be hers. She looked down into the basket, at the pillow with its fine embroidery work and knew her daughter’s name: Peace Daisy Morrow. Her Peace.

NOTE: If you’re interested in learning what became of the baby in the basket, her story is continued in LOVE AND NOT DESTROY  It’s on sale for .99 for a limited time.

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