101. It’s Never Too Late for Miracles

101. It’s Never Too Late for Miracles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

It’s Never Too Late for Miracles

Life is a series of thousands of tiny miracles.

~Mike Greenberg

Once upon a time, during those crazy years between the two World Wars, there arrived in England two South African students. The young man, Francis Nelson, was from Johannesburg while the girl, Constance Murrell, was from Port Elizabeth.

Young and eager, they embraced with enthusiasm their new life at college, where they met and fell in love. However, love has a way of manifesting itself. I arrived unplanned and unwanted. A marriage was hastily arranged but my parents decided to give me to an older and wiser family to foster. They returned to their carefree student life.

Three years later another unwanted baby arrived. My brother, Ian, was sent to an orphanage.

Just before I turned five my mother and foster family quarrelled, so my mother took me off to a small, private boarding school. However, my holidays were often spent at the orphanage with my brother so we bonded and grew close, depending on each other for love and companionship.

Those years remain a dim memory for me, with no understanding of quite why I was removed from my foster parents. All I remember about my family is that my father had vanished and I only saw my mother and brother occasionally. My physical needs were well catered for but I felt I was somehow responsible for myself. Alone.

When Ian turned five, a couple arrived from South Africa looking for a child to adopt. They went to the orphanage where the children were lined up for them to inspect. They chose Ian. He dearly wanted them to adopt me too, but although they searched everywhere they said that I was nowhere to be found. So they took Ian to South Africa without me.

Come September 1939 and war with Germany was declared. After a year of war my mother decided to return to South Africa and take me with her. We arrived home in Port Elizabeth in August 1940.

Both my parents died young carrying their secrets to the grave with them. I put my past behind me and went on with my life.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, the digital age and the Internet.

A friend of Ian’s named Annette decided to play sleuth and see if she could find me after hearing Ian’s story about his childhood. All she knew were my parents’ names and my mother’s maiden name: Murrell. She looked for me in England since that was where Ian believed I lived. After months of following up on hundreds of Nelsons with no results, Annette decided that just maybe I had returned home to South Africa. She perused the Castle Liner passenger lists where a record is kept of every passenger who ever sailed on their ships. Miraculously, she found my mother’s name and mine. In August 1940 we had left Southampton on the Capetown Castle, which was serving as a refugee ship bound for Port Elizabeth. She decided to contact the Africana Library in Port Elizabeth to see if they had any information on the Murrells. She e-mailed the head librarian.

Coincidentally, on that same day, Neville Murrell, a distant cousin of mine, was busy in the library doing research on our family’s genealogy. To add to this synchronistic event was the fact that the librarian, Carol, knew me personally. The timing was miraculous. She printed the e-mail and handed it to Neville.

What to do? Carol decided to phone me and invite me to tea at the library in order to meet Neville and discuss family research. Always keen to meet family, I complied with pleasure.

Meanwhile, my two guardian angels, Neville and Annette corresponded in secret until another divine intervention occurred. Annette’s husband John, an author, had a new book out that was being distributed in South Africa. John and Annette decided to fly over and spend time with their friend, my brother Ian, while publizicing the book. They planned that Ian and I should be told about each other on the same day. Timing was all-important.

One afternoon Neville visited me at home, bringing with him vast pages of information on our family history. After circling around distant relatives for a while he dropped the bombshell. My brother, Ian, was alive and well and living just a two-hour plane ride away.

I was stunned. Frozen with shock. My emotions were in turmoil. After all these years my brother was alive and here, so close. Dare I reach out? Would he want me in his life? I needed time to think.

Neville told me that Annette had spoken to Ian that same day. What did he think? Did he want to see me? The “what if’s” crept into my thoughts. Maybe I should just let the dreams remain. Reality might be a disappointment.

I waited. Two days went by. A short e-mail arrived from Ian. Tentatively I replied. I kept my emotions in check. This safe exchange went on for a few weeks until Providence fast-tracked events.

Ian’s son, Michael, who is a Master Mariner for Greenpeace, was given instructions to travel to South Africa to collect certain legal documents. He arrived, heard his father’s story and acted immediately. A couple of phone calls later and their flight to Port Elizabeth and accommodations were booked for the following weekend. I waited nervously.

The plane arrived early. My husband and I rushed to the arrival entrance. I saw two tall, long-limbed men stride through the arrivals hall and knew immediately it was my brother and his son.

Ian said nothing. He just swept me up and held me close. Time stopped for us as we stood in the middle of the crowds embracing each other.

The words would flow later, through the e-mails, phone calls and visits that fill our lives as we play “catch up.”

My brother and I, separated so young, were united after seventy-five years apart. Sometimes the synchronicity of events defies all logic. Mysterious helpers combined to create a miracle.

~Ann Hoffman

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