The pounding on the door shook the house. Our next-door neighbor appeared at our door, sweating and frantic. Had we seen his daughter? Maybe she had come to play with ours? His faced twisted in agony as it registered that she wasn’t at our house. My husband and he hurried outside as a trio of police cars, sirens blaring, converged on our street. I gathered that Dad had fallen asleep on couch watching a movie with his six-year-old daughter. When he woke up, she was gone.
Strapping my one year old to my back, I grabbed my other two children and hurried out the door. Out of doors our small town suddenly looked vast and unsecured. Fence-less yards connect alleyways and streets; she could have gone any direction. Methodically I began to canvass the neighborhood, knocking on doors and stopping bewildered passersby. Choking back dread, the lump in my throat made it hard to breathe. I remembered hearing that each minute a child is missing, the chances for recovery plummet.
My husband and I met a street over. Coordinating our efforts I headed down the hill on foot, toward the businesses while he combed the neighborhood calling out for the little girl. My grip tightened on my own five-year-old daughter’s hand as I described her six-year-old friend’s long brown hair and big black eyes to anybody we met, door by door, business by business. The further we ventured down our little Main Street, the greater the feeling of hopelessness. Where could she have gone and why? It had been so long already…
Looking at my phone for the fiftieth time, hoping for an update, when it actually rang I dropped it. It was my husband. FOUND! Tears sprang from my eyes as a wave of relief flooded over me. She had been sleeping underneath the bed, just out of sight, a heavy sleeper she woke bewildered and confused. My children and I shared hugs and laughter as we retraced our steps, sharing the good news with those who had joined the search. As we approached each one, their faces, creased in concern, broke into smiles of relief.
I couldn’t believe so many people had mobilized and formed an impromptu search party! We stopped to thank and reassure each one. The Hardware store that had broadcast over walkie-talkies, the mother at the park that had scooped up her infant and searched, the art gallery owner who left her shop to search the park; the smoke shop ladies who had stopped pedestrians on the street as well as many customers and others. The caring and overwhelming concern was deeply moving.
Trekking up the hill to our house the adrenaline finally receded. I couldn’t help feeling a pride in the bonds that we, as a family, have unwittingly forged with our car-free, lifestyle. We are a novelty of sorts, the family waiting in the rain at the bus stop in front of city hall, or walking our, frequenting local businesses and picking through our small farmers market. Outside the confines of a car even a trip to the grocery store we look more like a traveling circus than a family on bikes. We get waves and smiles from those we meet, turning strangers into familiar faces. We used to live in a small, rural farming town. We now live in a caring community. A community that turned “the worst thing” of a would be tragedy into a great day, a victory.
“The ultimate measure of a (hu)man is not where (s)he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where (s)he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Pardon the parenthesis, but Martin Luther King, Jr, in all of his civil rights brilliance completely overlooked the female segment of our population, but that’s another blog all together…
What do you think? Does the walking; biking, the car-light, car-free lifestyle strengthens physical communities? What’s your experience? How can you join in the revolution?