Anywhere

Anywhere

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

Anywhere

During my years as a graduate student at Columbia University, I served as the New York Stake Young Women’s president. One summer, I was working on girls’ camp. I had a funny little car, bought on a shoestring and dedicated to the Lord’s service. It was called a Gremlin. Most are probably too young to even remember that model, but it did have four wheels and was put together with spit and glue. One of my assignments for camp was apples. We needed lots of apples.

Very early one morning, I headed out to Hunt’s Point Market, the local wholesale market, to pick up the apples. Upon arriving, I simply opened up the hatchback and said, “Fill ’er up.”

With the back of the car full of apples and a few miscellaneous camp items, I headed upstate. I had to negotiate a number of cloverleaf turns in order to make a switch in direction. On the side of the highway just to the right as I entered the interstate on-ramp, I caught a glimpse of a young hitchhiker standing with a sign and a paper shopping bag. The sign said ANYWHERE. I quickly passed by.

While my father had set a family standard for picking up almost any stray, whether animal or person, and bringing it home, I had never stopped for a hitchhiker before in my life, especially not in New York. At that moment, however, something prompted me to reenter the cloverleaf and come back around. I thought to myself, If she is still there, I will pick her up. Honestly, I was hoping that she would be gone, but as I came around, there she was. So I stopped.

She opened the car door and got in. She was unkempt and did not smell like she had bathed that morning or any morning recently. I could not be certain how old she was, although she was clearly old beyond her years. Thinking to break the ensuing silence, I asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” she responded.

I motioned and, reaching to the back of the car, she grabbed an apple. That is all I had to eat: a car full of apples. She ate quickly and put the core on the dashboard by wedging it tightly against the windshield. Usually I’m pretty good at conversation, but not this time. All I could get out of her to my queries were short “Yes” and “No” answers, a shrug of a shoulder or no answer at all. I finally asked, “Where are you going?”

“Anywhere,” she answered.

Somewhat concerned, I searched for a way to connect. “Are you still hungry?”

She reached for another apple until there were five cores lined up on my dashboard.

Two can play this game, I thought. In silence I paid the tolls as we made our way upstate. As I was about to turn off the thruway onto a little road where our camp was located, I said, “I’m about to leave the thruway. Would you like to get out now?”

“No.”

“Well, I’m going to a camp with some young women, and I’ll just have to drop you off there.”

Without looking up, she responded, “Okay.”

I turned off and we traveled on.

As my car pulled into camp, a literal throng of young women surrounded the car. They were so happy to see us and I, needless to say, was thrilled to see them. As my passenger got out, there were some surprised young women. You could hear the whispers.

“Who is she?”

“What is she doing here?”

“Where did she come from?”

I suggested to my passenger that she might want to wait by the mailbox near the road for another ride. Perhaps somebody would pick her up there and she could be on her way to ANYWHERE.

The day passed. We had lunch and went about all the things you do on the first day of girls’ camp. Just before dinner one of our young women came to me and said, “Sister Mouritsen, what are we going to do with it?”

“What do you mean, it?”

Pointing in the direction of the road, she rephrased her question, “What are we going to do with her?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What do you think we should do with her?”

“I think we should invite her to dinner.”

Wow, I wish I had thought of that, but I was so consumed with taking care of the trivial details of getting girls’ camp going that I had neglected to notice this “lost lamb.” It took a sweet “under” shepherd in the form of a Mia Maid to do that.

“Let’s go together,” I said, “and we’ll invite her to dinner.”

We walked together to the mailbox by the roadside. “It” accepted the sweet invitation of the Mia Maid to join us for dinner, and she ended up staying with us the entire week.

I must admit that I was somewhat anxious thinking that “she” was a risk. I didn’t know who she was or where she had come from or what she might have experienced. But those young women embraced her in a most marvelous way. I saw her at the waterfront (someone had apparently loaned her a swimming suit), I saw her at the craft tent, I saw her around the fireside, and I saw her at flag ceremony and at morning and evening devotionals. I watched as she bowed her head at meals as we prayed and as we began and closed our days with prayer. I watched her and the young women all week long. When camp was over, she was sitting by my car. I asked, “Can I take you somewhere?”

She replied, “Anywhere.”

I don’t know why I was surprised by her answer. I guess I thought that maybe the spirit of our girls and our camp experience had given her a bit more direction.

“Well, I’m headed back to New York City.”

“I don’t want to go there,” she snapped. “Just let me off on the thruway.”

We got in my car—minus the apples—and made our way to the thruway and then, a bit reluctantly, I let her and her tattered shopping bag out. Driving off, I watched her disappear in my rearview mirror as she stood on the roadside posting her clumsily written sign, ANYWHERE.

Over the years, that image has come to mind many, many times. In fact, it is one image that came to haunt me.

Some years later I had completed my degree work, moved to Utah and was working as Dean of Students at Brigham Young University.

“There is a young woman with a baby here to see you. She said it won’t do any good to give you her name—you won’t recall her by name.”

I invited her into my office and she sat at my table holding a beautiful baby girl.

“Do you recognize me?” she asked.

“No, I’m sorry, but I don’t.” This would happen quite often when students I had counseled or taught would return and drop by to share their stories.

“I have known that you were here, but I haven’t quite known what to say or do. I’m the young woman you picked up on the thruway in New York some years ago. Do you remember? Although I was very angry and hard, I was touched by what I heard and saw and felt at girls’ camp.”

She continued to explain that it had been a horrible life for her, including a long history of abuse and neglect at a very young age. Finally, she thought, there has got to be something better than this out there.

So she ran. As you might expect, a young women of her age with no resources ended up in desperate, dark places. That is when we found each other on the New York State Thruway.

“When I left girls’ camp, I stole some money. Now I know that all I had to do was ask and you or anyone would have given me money. But I stole the money from the suitcases of some of the girls who had befriended me.”

By this time, we were both in tears.

“When you drove off and left me on the side of the road, I had time to think. It was several hours before somebody picked me up. I went to the very next city and found a telephone booth. I thumbed through the Yellow Pages until I found ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’ I dialed the number. I wanted to see if the things I had heard and seen and felt at girls’ camp were true. A pleasant woman answered the phone and I asked for the bishop. I’d heard the girls use that term at camp and I had met some of those men when they came up to camp for the last evening.”

“He isn’t home right now,” was the response, “but I would be happy to have him call you back.”

“I don’t have a telephone. I’ll call him back.”

A few hours later she did. The bishop was home.

What happened after that is a true miracle, the kind we learn about in the Church when individuals take their role as their “brother’s keeper” seriously.

This good family took in this waif and over time made her a member of their family. They cared for her and taught her and helped her to find the resources to heal her broken life. Eventually she joined the Church, met a returned missionary, and they were married. He was now a student at BYU. She came that day with her sweet baby, newly adopted, to extend an invitation.

“I would like to invite you to the sealing and blessing of our baby. Can you come?”

“ANYWHERE, anytime,” I replied, my tears acknowledging the miracle of the Spirit and love evidenced in this incredible moment.

There, of course, is a continuation of this story, and more details of the intervening years between our goodbye on the thruway and our hello in my office. The important detail is the power of love, of service and of the Spirit, in teaching and touching the hearts of even those who seem untouchable and even unlovable. Our opportunities to touch lives can be endless when we allow the Spirit to be in charge. He truly does love each of us and sends His “missionaries” in the humble form of Mia Maids and Young Women’s presidents and bishops and their families.

Maren Mouritsen

More stories from our partners