One of the unexpected events of my life would be better told by one of my parents. But my mother is with the Lord, and my dad doesn’t need the stress. Remembering the stress of a past situation with a missing child, even for a few short minutes, can cause some parents’ blood pressure to rise.
We were camping at Myrtle Beach when I was 6 or 7, and I got lost while we on the beach. I think I was trying to outrun the tide, lost in the game I was playing with the waves. A few minutes later I looked up and I couldn’t see my family. My mom had my glasses so they wouldn’t get lost in the ocean, but the glasses wouldn’t do my parents any favors if the head that wore them was missing!
I walked up and down the beach looking for my mother’s face. I wish I remembered more details, but eventually we found each other. The whole event might have taken only an hour, but I seem to remember that the sun was on its way down. I’m sure they were worried, then relieved. Then, they started figuring out that they needed a different plan the next day. They couldn’t have imagined that I had clinical ADD; it was the early 70s.
My wife and I have carved out a few days of rest at our favorite beach spot here in Virginia later this summer. It is an RV resort, and although we don’t own an RV, a few semi-permanent rentals are available. We’ve gotten to know a few other regulars over the years, and it keeps improving as a quieter, family-speed destination. We’ve been with the kids, our friends, and their friends. We have mostly sweet memories, and we didn’t lose any children there!
Two years ago on our beach trip, my sleep issues were not giving me any time off for being on vacation. I was up early, trying not wake my wife, so I stepped outside at 6:15. Cloudy, mild, quiet…I was looking forward to a few moments of peaceful “me time.” I started walking around the compound, and suddenly, a boy was running toward me from about 50 yards away. That’s strange, I pondered, he looks like he’s about 2 or 3… what’s he doing alone? As he ran closer, directly to me, he shouted, “Mommy Daddy left me!”
That seemed like such an improbable statement. But standing there and saying, “Oh, that can’t be true,” doesn’t help anyone. Being a former children’s minister, I dusted off and donned that figurative hat, grabbed his hand and said, “Are you sure? Let’s go find them.”
All I knew to do was to talk in a calming way while asking, “Is it this way?” “We’re going find them.” “They didn’t go far.” About 10 minutes into this surreal situation, another early riser began to jog past me. What do you say to a fellow camper who is also a stranger when you are holding the hand of a tiny stranger looking for the right stranger in a haystack of strangers – who are mostly asleep? “Do you know this boy? I’m trying to find his parents, or his RV, or someone who knows him.”
The boy started to calm down, and the jogger helped me find a former police officer who was also a property owner. She took this very seriously, having heard the worst from her work with the public, and the four of us rode around on her golf cart until the boy finally recognized a truck. It had not been 45 minutes, but with our stress levels stealing vacation moments away, hope and anger were fighting for first place in each of our minds. We knocked on the door of the RV near the truck. A moment or two later, a sleepy big sister slid the door open, and said, “Oh, thanks.” She reached out for this boy who was clearly at the right place and stood respectfully while listening to a clear rebuke from the now leader of this operation.
He was lost, but not far from his parents, who had used poor judgment to take a walk for a cup of coffee while thinking their children were asleep. They packed up and left that day, I heard later.
I didn’t relate the two incidents at the time. My parents were looking for me; his parents were not worried at the moment but could have become very worried if the situation had escalated.
As the day progressed, campers and beachgoers heard the story. At some point, I discovered that the boy had autism. My heart leapt. Did I actually help someone with autism? At the Sunday non-denominational service in the clubhouse the next morning, surprisingly all three of us that had been deputized for the previous day’s rescue mission showed up. We talked a lot about the “what ifs.” He was 5 minutes by foot from the ocean, 2 minutes from a road, seconds from a bayside pier. I had felt that they did equal shares of the work to find the right place to get this boy back to the safety of his loved ones; all I did was turn him around. I walked with him a few moments. I held his hand. I told him that his parents were coming back and that he was going to be okay. I hoped. I prayed. I asked for help, too. And I guess I saw it through.
We often need someone to hold our hand and reassure us that we are not completely lost at sea. Those of us on the spectrum might not understand the words at first. But we must believe that love and compassion speak louder than words. When I’m disoriented by my own emotions, or lonely, or stretched past the norm, I need that hand, too. Driving around solo might be fun, and might generate less conflict with others, but in the long run, isolation is not what most of us lost humans need.
Am I sharing this to get recognition? I think I’m expressing my gratitude. I am thankful that the boy was not harmed and did return to his family. I also am thankful that young Bart was not separated from his family years ago. And I hope that by sharing these two anecdotes that you readers know that you are not hopelessly lost at sea. There are helping hands who care and want to help.
We also need to remember that we might be the ones who need to extend our hands to someone else. I believe in a divine rescuer wants to equip all of us to be effective in helping others around us. Being the hands and feet of a living and loving Lord is a huge part of what I think I’m here for, and I hope to continue to hear the call for help when it comes. Am I listening? Am I ready? Am I playing the radio a little too loud, distracting me from what’s going on outside the car? If I spend all my time looking at my news feed, I might miss some real people who I should interact with. Even simply listening for a moment to another person can be the connection that he or she needs today.