A woman I'd never seen before in my life came to me tonight while I was out on my back deck enjoying the crisp, cool autumn evening.
She asked me if I'd seen a little boy.
I was a bit shocked. It turns out that the little boy was missing. No one knew where he was.
I told her my wife had seen him, sitting on his bright yellow plastic chair on the second floor balcony of his apartment. They spoke for a few minutes. When she came in, she told me she was worried. It didn't seem like much. Hours later, this woman, a friend of the parents, was looking for him. He was not in the apartment, which was on the second floor, and he wasn't accessible to anyone else that they knew who may have him. The mother was at work.
I was, instantly, sticken and worried. The boy in question was one that I'd seen from time to time with his dad, in the parking lot, walking together. He was younger than my own son, who will be four next month. I told the woman that I would get a flashlight and help her look; it had been hours since my wife saw him.
The father was looking for the boy. He was young, and explained to me that the little boy was wearing a red and cream set of pajamas. He gave the boy's name. I didn't ask if they'd contacted the police. I knew they hadn't; I just began wandering around the grounds, shining my flashlight in corners and bushes, under cars, behind air conditioner units -- anywhere I could think of in which a small child may have hidden ... or worse.
I prayed. I prayed frantically, distractedly. My heart was pounding. As I wandered around a stand of tall, wild grass, which looked like a patch of reeds beside a water hole, I was scared. I was scared to see that flash of color, some indication that something terrible had happened. I prayed and tromped, feeling my feet get wet as the water in the wet ground sopped into my worn shoes. I shone the light into the grass deeply, staring with eyes that did not want to see. It was horrible. I could feel my pulse in my temples, in my stomach, in my throat ... and I could hear myself muttering to God quietly for everything to be okay, not to let this be what it could be.
I came back and was met by the father; he asked if I'd found anything. I said I hadn't, but that his flashlight was better, and perhaps we could look together. We walked around the building again silently, not speaking, each of us shining our lights into the ominous dark places that can conceal evil deeds.
We worked through the immediate parking lot and the mother came home, hurried and trying to be upbeat. She greeted me with a subdued "hi," as she moved to ask if the little boy had been found yet. Her arms folded across her chest told me the answer though I could not hear.
The haunted look in their eyes was what struck me most. It sent shivers down my spine. Another stranger joined the search, and we worked our way farther away from our building. The night seemed colder, darker than before. I shivered again as the hushed mood and whispers continued.
It was more than half an hour later now. We'd looked in every possible nook and cranny around the buildings. There was no sign of him. The woman that approached me, the friend of the father, rejoined us with that same hollow, zombie stare in her eyes. No one wanted to think it; wanted even less to say it. She quietly suggested that perhaps the next step was to contact the police.
The father silently pulled his cell phone out and dialed. I trailed behind the two of them, as the mother came up from behind me, her arms still folded over her chest. Her steps were rushed, urgent, her voice tight and controlled. She called to the father and asked me to whom he was speaking. I told her I didn't know, but he'd made a call to someone. She hurried past me. In a moment, I heard the voices rise, excitement.
The boy had been found. He was at the local police station.
I nearly collapsed. I tightened my throat to keep from weeping.
It was more excitement than I wanted on a Sunday at nearly ten o'clock. But I prayed jubilantly and in gratitude for the boy being found safely. When I came into our home, the look on my wife's face told me she'd been praying intensely too. My smile told her everything. I felt the relief wash through me as I told her what had transpired.
We spent the rest of the evening being as near to our children as we could get.
I'm so glad, so grateful Lord, that this time, it turned out well. Far, far too often, it does not.
Thank you, Lord.