It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and we were in Washington Square Park, the iconic park in downtown Manhattan. The large marshmallow clouds marched in rows over the skyline; there was a slight breeze that brought comfort from the warmth of the sun shining down on the sea of humanity. The fountain was spraying water in the air, while kids danced and frolicked in the water. The landmark arc was white and seemed to glow as it towered over everything and everyone. People were everywhere: around the fountain, on benches, milling around, walking through, watching entertainers, on the grass in bathing suits. Dancers were dancing, musicians were playing, and the audiences were paying. Every creed, color, nationality seemed present. It was a collage of park, people, art, music, city, and nature. It was truly humanity at its best on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
We were sitting under a tree close to the fountain. The shade was welcomed relief from the sun, and lovely. My wife was wearing our newborn. Our older son held his water shooter and was running back and forth from the fountain to fill it so that he could run back to the patch of grass by us and shoot the bugs close to a group of girls in bikinis. We warned him not to shoot the sunbathers. “Okay…” he said in an exasperated tone like he always had when we were interrupting his play with some silly superfluous parental demand. We were waiting for friends who also had two kids with a newborn. They arrived, and proper greetings were given and received. And we started catching up as our son returned to his back and forth from fountain to grass, and our friends’ son joined him. Minutes went by as our conversations deepened. And I would break eye contact with my friend to find my son on his mission to drench every fly in the park. I’d see him flash by and continued talking.
Until I couldn’t find him. Seconds became minutes, and I asked my wife if she saw him. I was harried. Then she was, too. Our friends sensed it and started looking. We stood up and started going in various directions, unsure of which was right or better. The crowd that looked so delightful moments ago now all seemed like potential suspects. I scanned back and forth, panicking more and more with each second that ticked by. My friend started to walk the perimeter of the fountain. I asked my wife if she saw anything. Of course she didn’t; otherwise she would have told me, but that’s what you do when you’ve lost your child: You’re not just desperately looking for them but also for some assurance even when there is none to give.
We continued to scurry around the once delightful sea of humanity that had instantly transformed into a raging storm. “My son was kidnapped,” was the thought that dominated my mind. Images of Liam Nielson in Taken flashed in my mind, and I thought, “Great, now I have to be Liam and battle my way to find my son without any of Liam’s skills.” And my heart was drowning in dread. After several minutes, my wife walked back with our son clinging to her leg. He was scared. My fear melted away to elation and relief. Then that transformed into anger. “Where were you?” I asked him. “What were you thinking?!”
My wife calmed me down and told me that she found him on the other side of the fountain. “He must have gotten turned around and exited the fountain on the wrong side. He got confused,” my wife said. We hugged him and showered him with kisses and told him he was our treasure and thanked God he was back. The park slowly returned to the place of play and mirth, but, for us, it felt less safe than before.
Even though nothing happened to our son, something happened to us. We saw how quickly life could change.
In an instant, terror strikes. Bad things can happen to anyone. Kidnappings happen. Humans get trafficked.
Nothing happened to us, but something happened in us.
We had the naïveté slapped out of us.
5.5 children are trafficked in the world according to UNICEF
300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade.
Restore fights human trafficking. We support them.
Excellent writing but a terrifying moment. So glad he was safe.
Appreciate that, Linda! It was incredibly terrifying. We are grateful it was a happy ending.