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Helen Takes on Sherlock


 

            “My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes to his faithful friend, Dr. Watson, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man can invent … If we could fly … over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things going on … the strange coincidences … the wonderful chains of events … it would make all fiction … most stale and unprofitable.” i

My mother-in-law tells in her life story, which she titled, “Helen Hyatt’s Amazing Journey,” several stranger-than-fiction incidents which her children heard from her lips and still relish reading.

She would dispute, however, with Sherlock Holmes, that they were “coincidences.”

One such story occurred in her later years as a widow.

Helen’s daily practice, in the midst of being a busy pastor’s wife, was to “arm” herself with her “spiritual armor,” taken from the book of Ephesians in the New Testament. She felt she needed all the armor she could get to counteract the pressures and challenges of a full life working with people: “The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.ii

Once her husband had died and she was alone, the busyness of life was pared down and the need for that armor seemingly less acute. Her practice had slipped a little.

However, one morning, sitting in her chair reading her Bible, she sensed, for some reason, the need to re-arm herself. She read over the verses, then she prayed, “Lord, I’m yours. What do you want me to do today? Is there someone I can help?”

This particular day, she and her son's dog were the only ones at home. Suki, a boxer, could be counted on to bark wildly when anything threatened or anyone came to the door. Helen felt secure with him around.

Suddenly, sirens sounded on her busy street, which was not unusual. But the bevy of police cars came and stopped exactly in front of her house. Suki was in the back yard, going crazy. Helen went to the front door to see what was happening. Policemen were milling about, and a helicopter droned in circles above. Helen could not detect anything in particular, so she went back to her chair and resumed her Bible reading.

Her chair in the living room was facing away from the kitchen. The kitchen’s outer door led to the backyard. Without noise or warning, a young man came from behind her chair. He was wearing cutoffs, a tee shirt, tennis shoes, and a baseball cap. He carried a phone in his hand and was crying and pleading, “Don’t let them get me! Don’t let them get me! They’ll kill me!”

His English was pretty broken, but Helen could understand that much.

He thrust his phone into Helen’s hand. “Here! Talk to my mother!”

The mother, too, was crying. “Mrs. Lady! Please help my son! He didn’t do anything! I’ll pay you whatever you want, just don’t turn him in!”

The woman proceeded to explain her son’s offense. He had paid a private car owner a down payment to buy his car. But when her son showed up to finish the transaction, the owner had raised the price. The young man did not want the car at that price. But the owner would not refund the deposit money, and an argument between him and the man ensued. The owner called the police. The young man fled.

“He’s a good boy!” the mother pleaded. “Please help him!”

Helen remembered her prayer of the morning. She turned to the 19-year-old young man.

“I asked the Lord this morning if there was someone I should help today. I think he sent you to me to help. I am going to go out and talk to the police. If you are telling me the truth, I won’t turn you in.”

She left the young man in the house, went down her front steps, took the watering hose and began casually watering her yard. She walked over to one of the policemen.

“What’s going on here? Has something happened?”

The policeman briefly explained that a 19-year-old man had run from some sort of altercation with an older man. The older man had apparently felt threatened or wronged.

Helen asked, “Did he touch or harm the older man?”

“No.”

“Did he kill somebody?”

“No.”

“Did he steal?”

“No.”

“Then I can’t believe you’re doing all this,” said Helen. “Do you want to search my backyard?”

The policeman did and took his dog with him. But Suki was lunging at the gate, and the policeman thought better of it and quickly left the yard. Later, Helen learned that the young man had climbed over her seven-foot fence. Why had Suki not attacked him?

Helen went back into the house. She was convinced, now, that the boy was innocent. But a thrill of worry went through her. In her bedroom was her purse with $700 in cash inside it. What would she do if he had stolen her money?

She went into her bedroom to find the young man looking out the window which faces the street. Instead of checking her purse, she went to her husband’s closet, pulled out a jumpsuit, and told the boy to put it on over his clothes. “And take off your baseball cap.”

Then she looked him in the eye. “I am helping you and God is helping you. I want you to go to church on Sunday and sit right beside your mother!” The boy promised he would. In the meantime, the boy’s mother had called his older brother to come to Helen’s house and pick him up.

But the police were still milling about. Helen had to think quickly.

In full view of the police, she walked the young man dressed in her husband’s jumpsuit out her front door and down to the waiting car. She gave him a hug, and said, “Be in touch!”

The boy and his brother drove off.

Back in the house, Helen went to her bedroom and opened her wallet. The money was there.

Simply a “wonderful chain of events”? A “strange coincidence” as Sherlock Holmes put it?

Helen would protest. She believed God had answered her prayer for someone to help.

And her armor had proven its worth.

[i] From the short story, “A Case of Identity,” Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Vol. I

[ii] The Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, verses 14, 15


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