Yesterday was a steamy sunny Sunday in southern Maine with a low tide at 12:50 PM and everyone had the same idea. My choice destination was Pine Point Beach.
As I walked off the path from the dune grass the first thing I saw was a small pack of familiar runners easily making their way on the flat hard-packed sand, shirtless and tanned, one in bare feet. The scene made me smile and I felt a warm wave of kinship.
Fast forward about four and a half hours. The tide is well on its way in and my husband reluctantly removes his fishing pole from its stand after the last unsuccessful surf cast for the day. I sit very contentedly watching him and many others as they play in the water, walk, chat, read and do any number of things one does at the beach.
I watch a little guy as he runs past, and even though the sand is no longer hard-packed where he runs, he is light on his feet with a very quick turnover and seems to be moving with purpose. And I mean he is little, no more than four years old. He holds a large broken quahog shell and wears a black baseball cap, tee-shirt and yellow Sponge Bob shorts. The little runner catches my eye and I watch him go by.
And I keep watching because this little guy is alone. There is no adult chasing him and he does not veer up to his family's umbrella. He keeps going - running and running and looking. I stand up to keep him in sight knowing that this is not right. He's lost.
I set off in a jog behind him clad in my long beach skirt and cap, and realize he has covered more ground than I thought! Finally, he stops, looks and circles around a bit just as I approach him. I say in my friendliest non-threatening voice, "Hi! Are you looking for your mom?" He says "No, my dad," and starts to cry, except he really doesn't want to cry and now he's nervous. So in my most confident voice I say "All righty then, let's go find your dad. What's his name?" "Philip" he blurts out, and "Yours?" "Ryan," his voice slightly panicked and holding back the tears.
I feel completely confident we will find Philip and only want this little guy to know he is safe. I ask him if he'd like to hold my and he refuses but sticks close as we head back in the direction he came. I start chatting, mostly asking questions, and saying over and over "We are going to find your dad." I tell my husband what we are doing and grab my water bottle as we pass. Ryan refuses water and to hold my hand, and says he isn't tired when I ask.
This little guy is precious. When I ask about the broken shell, he easily tells me it's his tool for digging holes in the sand and in fact had dug a REALLY BIG hole that day. We laugh and I say "Okay, let's find that hole." (Seriously.) He tells me about the waves that had toppled him over and how much fun that was, and as I scan the people on their blankets and chairs I wonder out loud if Philip "might be asleep on his towel?" "No," Ryan is certain that's not possible.
As we near the municipal beach area, a woman rushes toward us asking if this is my child. I start to respond, understanding she's somehow involved with his situation, and Ryan takes my hand. Apparently a full blown search is underway and poor Philip is a wreck. Many others are up and about looking in the water and two police officers have arrived.
Just then Ryan tells me he has a really funny joke so I bend over to hear, and he gleefully shares about four words which I can't understand and he laughs, so I laugh. It's funny and it's a happy ending.
As I walk away, I feel an obvious sense of satisfaction but greater than that is another, much more complicated feeling that takes me a while to articulate. It's related to the connection between people and more specifically the resilience of children. I am reminded of the day I met my daughter in an orphanage in Cambodia. Within an hour after leaving, she realized I was "it" and she let me take care of her. She connected.
This little guy too gave me his trust, he connected, and I feel honored.