His name was Patrick and he was lost. And he wasn’t just lost, he was hopelessly, frantically lost and no one saw him. He was running around the Merry-Go-Round in Funland, just inside the Boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, among the sweaty throngs of shore-dwellers who have long since left the sandy beaches, have gorged themselves on Grotto’s Pizza and Thrasher’s fries and were playing for tickets. And no one saw him. His tears, streaking down his sunkissed face, had already fallen upon his camouflaged shirt, meaning he had been crying for a number of minutes as he dashed around and around the deaf and heartless horses, who were bearing my children while in their endless race. And not one single person saw him. No one, except me. I looked around and saw all these people shelling out money for meaningless prizes and priceless memories, and nobody could be bothered to see poor Patrick who was desperately seeking his mother, whom I could only assume, was desperately seeking him.
It’s a scene from every parent’s worst nightmare: you and your child are enjoying time at a busy amusement park/ Boardwalk/ city and while you are dealing with one of your other children or your back is turned, they get distracted and slip away. It’s an unfamiliar place, with lots of lights, noises, and people with no real landmarks they can easily identify, so they become lost. Before you can find them, some stranger, who seems like a well meaning bystander, tells your crying child that they will help them, and then leads them into a white panel van never to be seen again.
I told my wife I’d be right back and went after him. I realized how it may look to any other person, because the kid was obviously not mine. I’m a large Hispanic man with a shaved head and poor Patrick was skinny, blonde, and decidedly white. It would, of course, only be at the moment when I asked the kid, “Are you lost?” that anyone would finally notice and then they’d get involved, possibly ending with my getting questioned by police before anyone thought to ask me any questions. But the thought of this kid spending another moment feeling as lost as he looked overrode any sense of self preservation I felt. When I caught up to him I asked him his name (P-Patrick), was he lost (Y-yes), his mother’s name (J-Jennifer) and where he saw her last (That game where you throw balls up a hill). Armed with that information I took him to the Skee Ball. I started walking him there and he looked up at me and said, “Thanks for helping me, mister.”
And that look of absolute gratitude, and his running into his mother’s arms a few moments later, was the best part of my day. Yet I hesitated to say something to his mom. She saw me walking beside her son and the look was the one I expected someone to have right before they were going to say, “He’s trying to take my boy!” And I get it, she was no doubt in full Momma bear mode, ultra protective and pissed. So I did the only sensible thing a man in my position might do when faced with the Medusa death stare, I ducked my head down and walked away without a word. When I got back to my wife, she had a gleam in her eye and she jokingly said, “What did you do to that kid that he was crying? We were afraid that someone saw you and tackled you for trying to abduct him.” And she and my in-laws laughed, because really, it was funny.
But I’ve been thinking, when did it become better to let some kid who needs help go without it for fear that someone would think that you were trying to harm them or abduct them? Has our fear of being falsely accused of something so overcome our desire to help that we would actually place somebody further into harm’s way by our inaction, or have we just become so numb to other’s suffering from the constant bombardment of the shit storm that is our reality that something as mundane as a lost boy just dosen’t register anymore?
Well, if you know a Jennifer who is vacationing in Rehoboth Beach and she has a son named Patrick, please tell her I’m sorry I didn’t stop and say, “Here’s your boy.” And let her know that someone cares enough to risk being tackled by the Boardwalk employees to get him back to you. He’s a cute kid, and I’m glad he’s safe and I hope that the next time you and he see someone in need, you stop and help them, even if it puts you out. I hope you all take a moment to do the same. A little compassion can go a long way. After all, I’ve been a lost boy before, on several occasions, and I’ve been saved and I’ve saved myself. While I learned more by the latter, I’ve felt grateful more by the former. And perhaps in many ways, a lot of us are lost as well and we should look at those around us for strangers willing to help but don’t see the opportunity instead of fearing the possibility someone may hurt us and we never get found.
Originally published on July 12, 2016.