Baby Jessica

updated 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

The last time we saw her she was swaddled from head to toe in white gauze bandages, her face framed by tiny mud-caked fists and her big blue eyes peering out in wonder. No matter the ugly wound on her forehead, we cheered at the sight of her, for we had spent three tense days in mid-October watching and listening anxiously as the town of Midland, Texas, dropped everything to save 18-month-old Jessica McClure from an early grave.

There is no mystery about the power of this tiny child's plight to engage us. Many of us are parents, and we know how precious young life is—and how precarious. We have all been haunted by the irrational, though not groundless, fear that something dreadful might happen to our children should we turn our backs for one fateful moment. No one knows that better than Jessica's young mother, Cissy McClure, 18, who had just stepped into the house when she heard terrified cries from her backyard. Somehow the rock covering an abandoned well shaft had been dislodged and little Jessica had been swallowed up by the earth.

Yet if the drama of Jessica's plight reinforced our worst fears, it also confirmed our fondest hopes. You would hope in such a crisis that people would move heaven and earth to save your child. You would hope, in fact, that your friends and neighbors would respond precisely as the people of Midland did. For 58 frustrating hours, paramedics and volunteers worked to exhaustion, and broad-shouldered drillers were reduced to tears at hearing the little girl's cries. When she was finally pulled from the hole, the town exploded with delight, released from its fears and celebrating a shared longing profoundly rewarded. The echo of their celebration could be heard nationwide, and the news that Jessica is up and around—as energetic and mischievous as ever despite the cast on her damaged foot—is truly a tiding of joy.

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