A few evenings ago I was bathing Daniel when I heard a commotion coming from our bedroom, fifteen or twenty feet away. As I came out of the bathroom to inspect, Luke breezed past me with lightning bolts shooting from his eyes and smoke billowing from his ears. He stomped downstairs. Krista stood in our bedroom, hands on hips, and gave me a look that would halt a charging elephant at a hundred paces. For the next five minutes I received an account on what transpired and a lecture about how she felt I should discipline the youngest amigo. I suppose it’s fair to say I participated in this “lecture” and that I didn’t always agree with Professor Krista’s finer points. As we had each communicated rather clearly our respective positions on the matter, I thought it best (i.e., I valued my life and limb) to proceed downstairs to confront Luke and discuss what he’d done, why it was wrong, how he should have dealt with his anger more appropriately, what better behavioral options might have looked like, and what their likely consequences would have been. Oh, yeah, and to hear his side of the story.
“Luke?” I asked the emptiness downstairs. “Luke?”
Silence. I looked in the playroom. Empty. I scanned the cubby hole to see if his shoes were missing. They were. I looked out the window and saw that the garage door was still shut. That meant he hadn’t left on his bike. Good. He was hoofing it and, though he had a decent head start, he couldn’t possibly go too far.
“Krista, Luke’s gone. I’m going to look for him. Call me if he comes back while I’m still out,” I shouted upstairs.
I hopped in the car and drove through the neighborhood. I engaged in the dangerous exercise of trying to think like Luke. Where would I go if I were Luke in this situation, fuming and feeling unloved? Lucas’ house! Nope—no one home. The swinging bridge to throw rocks into the water and mutter about his uncaring, unfair parents? Nope, not there either. I continued driving up and down the streets in our neighborhood and asked several folks I encountered if they’d seen a 9 year old boy walking by himself and looking forlorn. No one had, but they all promised to keep a lookout and to tell the fugitive, should they run in to him, that his dad was looking for him and wanted him to come home as soon as possible. I drove to the other side of the park and coasted up and down Memorial Drive and then down Water Street. It had only been 15 or 20 minutes, but I was growing concerned. It was 8:15 or so and beginning to grow dark. I came across a woman near the Water Street Cemetery and I rolled down my window.
“Ma’am, have you recently seen a young boy—9 years old—walking by himself?” I asked. “I’m looking for my son. He left our house pretty upset and I want to find him before it gets dark.”
“No. No I haven’t. Not by himself.”
“Well, I did see a boy about that age wearing a dark hoodie walking with a man. Maybe that’s your boy?”
Now the jello-like panic was crystallizing and expanding. I became a little woozy but tried to concentrate. What was Luke wearing? In my haste I had not checked the coat rack to see if Luke had taken his beloved (and predominantly black) Pittsburgh Pirates hooded sweatshirt. Was the boy this woman saw my son…with a (gulp) strange man? If so, was the stranger friend or foe? Was he trying to be a good Samaritan or….?
Like most of you, I have read horrifying accounts of innocents being accosted, kidnapped, harmed, and even killed under circumstances like this. I have read “The Lovely Bones” and “The Child in Time”, Ian McEwan’s devastating novel about a man who loses his 3 year old daughter during a routine visit to a supermarket. Kate, the little girl, is abducted and never found, and the story includes a one page description of the father’s activities on her 10th birthday that elicits tears every time I read it.
I drove a couple of more blocks trying to gather my thoughts and searching in vain for my youngest child. I turned on Broadway and determined to go to the police station when my phone rang. “Tim,” Krista sighed. “He’s home. He’s home. I saw him from the porch coming through the park and I wondered if he was going to turn toward home or go in a different direction. He came home.”
I sped to the house, entered, hugged our fugitive, participated in the conversation we SHOULD have had before his departure, and thanked God for His mercy and all the second chances He’s given me over the past five decades.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.