October 27, 2014 was one of the worst days I had ever personally experienced, both as a teacher, a father, and a family friend.
My lady friend had heard terrible news regarding a tragedy to three of her family members in Seattle, Washington. Not only had I known all three victims, but one victim, a small girl, aged eleven, had been a former student at the school I had taught at from 2007 to 2009.
Her name was Anahlia Cowherd. I was her recess supervisor, and was often invited to play guitar for her first-grade class at St. Paul’s Catholic School in Upper Rainier Beach.
The news of her sudden death crushed my spirit as the shock settled in. Hopelessly depressed, everyone who had known her strove to make sense of it all; they kept going to work in waves of sadness and acceptance. Each day that passed made the aching a little easier. The void of her passing still lingered.
As the burials took place and the family worked to start anew I felt a deeper sadness in knowing that the children at her school were hurting as well. Everyone needed healing and I selfishly asked for any sign from her that she would be alright and never forgotten.
Ten days had passed before I decided to share how she had reached out to me. The story would become a comfort to others who had been grieving and needed hope. The details of her outreach unfolded.
On the tenth day since her passing I gazed at my friend’s cell phone. There was a photo of Anahlia, her mother, her mother’s sister, and a best friend. It appeared to have been taken inside of one of those crammed shopping mall booths. All smiled gleefully and were genuinely happy together. I asked my friend to send me a copy. She could not forward the photo since it had been posted to Facebook and was not available to be copied. I decided to take a picture of the cell phone screen with my own cell phone. I then forwarded the photo to my e-mail and to her e-mail. That was at 7:59 in the morning.
Later in the day I asked if she had received the photo that I had forwarded, along with a strange text message that was on screen underneath it. The text message had been sent at 8:00am, one minute after the forwarding had taken place. Her response was, “No.” In fact, she had not even received the picture. At that point I decided to forward both the picture and strange text to her.
The numbers and words in this strange text were: 56 6 7 7 u. chi. Hi hi. Hi
I decided to ignore the text and continue grading papers at the kitchen table until I heard a knock on the door. It was noon and Anahlia’s Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Phillips, had something for me to scan and share with Anahlia’s grieving family members.
The documents were a first-grade report card, a yearbook for 2009, and a play program that Anahlia had helped decorate with green crayon in her own name, month, and year. The play was The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.
I scanned the images and e-mailed them to the relatives and then made plans that evening to take myself and my lady friend out to the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington. After all, it was T-bone steak night and I was not going to miss it for the world.
On the drive to the casino we spoke of the strange text and what it could possibly have meant. I then got the idea to type the numbers and words into my smart phone using Google. Up came information regarding Chippewa Falls High School in Wisconsin and Our Lady of Fatima who helped suffering children. The hair began to stand up on my neck. I had just returned from Wisconsin in August of 2014 and Chippewa Falls had been on the way. Growing up Roman Catholic I knew of the story of Our Lady of Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun witnessed by small children and thousands of their Portuguese countrymen.
After parking the car and racing inside to stand in the birthday giveaway prize line, my lady abandoned me to stand for an hour in line while she played the slot machines. Bored, I decided to simply type the numbers from the text into Google. What came up made the hair stand up on my neck as a cold chill ran down my spine. My legs began to shake; I almost passed out. I wanted to scream my lady’s name in front of the long crowd assembled around me.
At the top of the string of images on my smart phone the words ‘The selfish Giant’ appeared.
The odds of that happening were incalculable.
I again looked at the numbers alongside of the letters in order to see if there had been more of a hidden meaning? 56 6 7 7 u. chi. Hi hi. Hi had translated to me as “The selfish Giant…you check it out. Hee, hee, hee!”
My lady returned to the line and I related what I had discovered. She turned pale and then explained that the Seattle Police had still not found Anahlia’s cell phone. They had wanted to see who she had been texting prior to the tragedy unfolding.
I had no answer for her. I simply smiled. Joy welled up inside of me as I hugged her. I wanted to extend the joy to the crowd of curious onlookers waiting in line. I knew that Anahlia was going to be alright!
On the way home I was resolved to write the story as a gentle reminder to those suffering loss. The message became TELL THEM TO LOOK FOR A SIGN.
That night I began to live again.
© 2014 Sean T. Taeschner, M.Ed.