A year ago, to this very date, I was awakened by the news of a little 3-year-old girl named Poppie, who was savagely beaten and kicked to death. Her photograph was staring back at me as I unenthusiastically and halfheartedly read the newspaper report of how she had violently passed away. What I couldn’t do was willfully turn away from her picture. I scrutinized her beautiful face and learned of the stories her eyes, that were filled with buckets of tears, were telling me. The undeniable wretchedness and defeat that reflected through her eyes almost shattered my heart into a million pieces. My soul was instantly crushed, and all I wanted to do was pick her up out of that snapshot and hold her in my arms, safe from the cruelty she had known for most of her short life.
According to the article and over a period of several months, her mother and step-father had abused precious Poppie and her 5 year old brother by shouting profanities at them. They were severely beaten, and they were mercilessly kicked. They were being pushed and pulled while their ears were being twisted. They were doused with icy cold water in winter, hosed down in the garden and solid objects were thrown at them. A doctor who had examined Poppie on two occasions noted a number of injuries that were brutally inflicted upon her, as did her day-care teacher. Witnesses testified of how terrified she appeared to be and she would often wake up during the night with terrified screams as a result of horrific nightmares. A neighbor once reported suspect behavior towards the children to the authorities and although there were significant warning bells, the authorities, the parents, doctors and nurses, and just about every single person known to Poppie, failed her.
The one person that was given the task of raising her, her mother … had failed her. A job she was given through the love and grace of God. He asked her to simply love another, her daughter, more than she had loved herself. She didn’t. How many times did she look away when her husband beat her daughter? How often did she ask him to stop; did she ever demand it? Even once? How often did she stand up to the man that turned out to be Poppie’s very own boogeyman and defend or shield her from him? Did she ever stand over packed suitcases and say, “Enough?” After all, she did admit to knowing about the abuse, but claimed to be too afraid to shield her children from him.
When Poppie cried herself to sleep at night, or when she awoke from her night terrors, did her mother ever promise herself to do better for her daughter? Did Poppie plead for her mama to save her? Did her mama see it in her daughter’s eyes or hear it in her daughter’s voice when she screamed out in anguish? Did she consider the authenticity of the fact that Poppie’s attacker was so much sturdier and tougher than she was; little 3-year-old Poppie? Who then was supposed to save her?
These stories are all unique, yet they are all the same. People standing on the outside looking in don’t want to know, they don’t want to get involved. They hope and trust that these sorts of things will eventually work themselves out. They pretend not to see, and they choose not to hear, but through all this, the child sees, and the child knows. She learns that there is no-one coming to save her. She accepts a reality where she stands alone as she fights off her boogeyman; the existence no-one else admits to. She loses hope and she questions her faith in her supposed protectors. As time goes on and as she now realizes without a doubt that there is no help for her, she begins to blame herself and she begins to punish herself … harshly. If she survives, she grows up believing that she deserved each beating and every single rejection.
The absence of Poppie’s mother’s love and protection has turned her into an enabler; she allowed her husband to hurt her daughter and he in turn, accepted her silence of his actions as approval. Her abused daughter perhaps saw her mother as weak, which she most certainly was. Her shattered heart and broken spirit should solely be her mother’s cross to bear, and personally, I hope that it becomes enormously and unbearably hefty so that Poppie’s mother’s legs buckle beneath her with each tiniest step she takes from the moment her daughter took her last breath in this world; a world she had brought Poppie into, but a world that had treated her unkindly and with utmost cruelty. Through her denial and excuses, I pray that she may forgive herself in the end for her so–called ignorance, but I too pray that mercy will pass her by; the same mercy she failed to show her daughter. I hope that absolution never finds her and more than that, I pray that her daughter’s eyes will never permit her to sleep again. And then … then I pray that she will live a long, long life where her failure of Poppie and of our God will haunt her in the living years and far, far beyond.
As her trial and that of Poppie’s stepfather begins today, I pray for justice for South Africa’s broken little girl … Poppie.