The little girl stood before the small civic group on a Thursday morning before breakfast. The morning after Hurricane Ian made landfall.
The child had brunette pigtail braids. A white dress. Patent leather shoes.
It was your average weekday. Local business people gathered for a quick meeting before going to work.
Tired businesspersons sat at small circular tables, wearing sports jackets and neckties. Wearing hosiery and skirt suits. I had been invited here by my friend Howie. I was wearing a tie, if you can imagine.
I was wishing I would have never agreed to come.
When the little girl took the podium, I was wandering through the buffet line, stacking a Styrofoam plate with imitation breakfast fare that tasted more like wet napkins than it did edible organic matter.
The little girl tested the sound system by tapping the microphone loudly. The speakers nearly exploded.
TAP! TAP! TAP!
That got everyone listening.
“Can I have everyone’s attention?” said the master of ceremonies. “We have a special guest here to pray for breakfast today.”
He presented the girl. Everyone applauded.
The girl’s name was Sadie. She was 9 years old. Sadie’s grandmother lives in Fort Myers, Florida, and nobody has heard from the grandmother yet.
Sadie is taking it pretty hard. Her mother is a wreck. Her father has driven down to Fort Meyers to locate the elderly woman.
Ever since Ian hit, hundreds are presumed dead in Lee County. Florida is a disaster zone.
Everyone bows their heads.
“Dear Lord,” Sadie began. “Please help the people in Florida.”
And this is all she says. She is a kid. Not a public speaker.
Her words were followed by a long silence. Sadie didn’t really know what to say. Her mother told me that her daughter had not spoken before a crowd this large before.
Sadie added nervously, “Help everyone to be okay, God.”
This was followed by another long gap. A quietude that was starting to get pretty awkward.
Until someone in the audience added their words.
“God, let the Florida’s power come back on soon,” a man said in the back.
An older woman in a tweed suit chimed in, “And help the people who drowned, dear God. Help their families find their bodies, and give their families strength to endure the worst.”
“Help my son, Lord,” said one white-haired man. “God. Help Justin and his family get power back on.”
A woman with hair that was more blue than white, said, “Father God, grant safety to the linemen and the linewomen who are trying to restore the power to Lee County, Florida. Guide their hands, and keep them from harm.”
A mid-forties man with cropped red hair and forearms like Virginia hams. “Help the young woman I saw on the news to find her children, dear Lord. Help that poor, poor family.”
“Help all the pets,” said a youngish professional woman with a blond ponytail. “All those dogs and cats who are confused, wandering around, and don’t know where to go. Please help them.”
“Grant grace to the emergency crews and first responders, God,” said a man who looked like a military guy. Crew cut. Large shoulders. He looked like he could crush a Buick’s front end with his bare hands. “Help the EMTs, Lord. I know they have their work cut out for them.”
“Please God,” said a guy in the back of the room. “Please let families find their missing people. Please be with all the people who’re looking for someone they love.”
This got several yeses from the audience and three amens.
“I pray, Lord,” said a young guy with a mullet and a mustache, which is apparently a popular hairstyle again, “that you would let the policemen be taken care of. Those officers get put into some horrible situations, God. Please take care of my brothers. Help them to stay safe in all this mess.”
“Heavenly father,” said one woman. “Watch over my daughter in Southwest Florida. Please. God, if anyone can protect her, it’s you. Please let her call her mother when she gets a moment.”
The woman began to cry.
Then the whole room went quiet. Nothing can make a room fall silent like a woman’s tears.
A small civic group. A Thursday morning before breakfast. The morning after Hurricane Ian made landfall.
Sadie spoke into the microphone like an old pro. “And all God’s people said?”
And well, you know the rest.