September 5, 2012

Lost In America

At the beach a few weeks ago, several of us were sitting under umbrellas contemplating our next move in a day that had already involved complicated and critical decisions like having an extra cup of coffee for breakfast and what to have for lunch. Worries at the beach just aren't quite as worrisome as they are in the real world. Some, at least.

During the debate a tall man of African descent, began howling. The beach was packed. It took a lot of howling to get the attention he eventually did. Whatever he was saying - and clearly he was trying to say something - was unintelligable. After a few minutes of howling he threw himself on the sand. He rolled around and eventually assumed some sort of praying position. Several seconds passed, he sat up, then stood, and commenced howling and running around again, sweat pouring from him, sand forming a line down his body from his forehead to his stomach. We were finally able to make out words. "My son! He's missing!"

Instantly everyone understood his terror. And an amazing thing happened. People didn't sit around apathetically. They stood up, mobilized. One took him by the hand and got the details - where his son was last seen (the water), how old (seven), how tall (about up to here), what he was wearing (red swimming trunks). Another several people found lifeguards. More located the police. The rest of us looked. Anyone who had children found them, hugged them, told them to sit down and stay still, and never took their eyes off of them. The lifeguards came. So did the police. There was a false alarm when a seven year old wearing a red swim suit found his way onto our section of the beach. It wasn't him though the father had already fallen to his knees and kissed a policeman's feet in thanks.

The father and newly arrived mother went off with the police leaving their beach setup depressingly empty. Things slowly went back to normal, or as normal as they could be. Everyone kept their kids close.

An hour later word made its way down the beach that the kid had been found, wandering along the boardwalk taking in all the cool things the beach had to offer. Five minutes later the now-intact family came back to their beach chairs and umbrellas. There were many words of gratitude, many smiles, and an abundance of orange Crush.

For an hour a kid was lost and parents lost their souls. That's all I can really imagine losing something so fundamental is like. Your soul. We tried to explain to the kids what was going on but no matter how delicately we tried to phrase it, nothing could ever undo that father's wailing. It's something I won't ever forget, such a raw display of unmitigated heartbreak and terror.

There was a happy ending. And even happier side effects. I mean, after all, a group of strangers came together to help someone the best they could. There was no apathy, no selfishness. Just people trying to do the right thing.

Posted by Chris at September 5, 2012 7:37 AM

Scary situation. I think you summed it up pretty well w/ the "lost soul/lost child" analogy. Glad to hear it had a happy ending, and that everyone's natural instinct was to take action!

Posted by: Kris at September 5, 2012 8:59 AM

Uhm. That made me cry in my coffee....

Posted by: Jen at September 5, 2012 9:38 AM

Good story. I like America. :)

Posted by: Brad at September 5, 2012 10:29 AM

Beautiful, that's how it should always be...

Posted by: Lisa at September 5, 2012 11:06 AM

I lost my sixteen year old niece one morning at the Eastern Market in Detroit. Thought I was going to die as I was looking for her. Could have wrung her neck when I found her and she told me she stopped following me thru the mass of people to look at some pretty cupcakes.

Posted by: Dawn at September 5, 2012 11:35 AM

It's terrible when you do lose your child to death and she never comes home again. People told me they would die, or go crazy, or some other drastic thing. I sort of felt guilty that I put one foot in front of the other and didn't die, didn't go crazy, just fell into the worst depression known to man. I would not wish this feeling on my worst enemy.

Posted by: Maribeth at September 5, 2012 2:46 PM

the first person i thought of when i read this is maribeth, because i knew she'd know exactly what you're talking about. :( and the second person was a fellow photographer's baby daughter who tragically drowned last week. just not the kind of scene you can get out of your mind, nor should you :(
so glad that boy was ok.

Posted by: kati at September 5, 2012 3:06 PM

so glad the little boy was found, that IS my biggest worry with my kids getting older and more out there in the world.

Posted by: linda at September 6, 2012 12:49 PM

Maribeth, I'm so terribly sorry. I'm actually very close to Katie's age, and my mother and father almost called me Katie. She was a beautiful girl, and I have no words to express anything meaningful. Your granddaughter is beautiful (as is her mom) and lucky to have such a loving, strong grandmother in her life.

And Chris - yay for Orange Crush!

Posted by: alektra at September 6, 2012 5:34 PM