My heart raced. Each beat left a resounding echo as I felt blood pump through me. My lips and hands were numb. As shock encompassed my body, my mind was swamped with terrifying thoughts. My feet felt like lead as I forced them to run in the midday heat – forced them to turn away from my beloved child in an attempt to get help. My baby cried. He was frightened and needed to be held. His helplessness we shared. Overwhelmed and frightened I prayed for help. Help to find my son, now lost for nearly 30 minutes.
How quickly an enjoyable family outing turned to absolute terror. A nightmare was unfolding before me and I could barely hold my fear.
We had headed off for a ride along our local bike track. As I pushed my baby in his push along bike, Harry rode on ahead within my sight. He was very familiar with this track having ridden nearly every day with his dad.
In a blink of an eye he had ridden beyond ear shot and out of my sight. I tried to walk faster to catch up with him, feeling the anxiety growing within me each step of the way. I knew a bridge up ahead and felt assured that he would stop here to look at the ducks. Beyond the bridge the track became unclear and I guessed he would go no further.
On arriving, there was no sign of him and I felt annoyance rising in my chest. Mixed with anxiety I began to ask local walkers if they had seen my five year old.
Over the past 12 months our local bike ways have been plagued with sexual assaults. A deep fear had consumed many people’s enjoyment of our bike tracks and wariness had enveloped our community.
As I searched for Harry near the bridge I began to realise he was lost. I felt out of control. Panic rose within me as I realised his vulnerability. There was no one to protect him, keep him safe. He was alone and lost and my only option was to turn back and get the car to search for him.
My heart wrenched as I turned around and began to walk the two kilometres back to the car park. Without a vehicle my attempts were futile. I had searched the immediate track and there was no sign of him. Baxter was tired and feeling my growing emotion. I had to leave my precious son in order to find him again.
Something in me rose up. A fierceness, a determination, a primal protection. I knew I needed to keep calm in order to find him and find him quickly.
I swallowed my tears and spoke firmly to myself. Stay calm, he needs you. Stay calm. I prayed for Harry’s protection – prayed for his safe return.
The night before, a friend had asked me if I had a word for the coming year. “Any word,” she said, “the first that comes into your mind.” “Trust”, I blurted as I wondered what on earth this would entail.
Little did I know that the next day my trust in divine intervention would be tested beyond my belief. Little did I know that I would place such trust in strangers that had little reason to help me but for their own compassion and good will. Little did I know how much trust and faith I would put in my little boy to find his way home and keep himself safe.
Finding Harry became my only focus. I didn’t care about people’s judgement of me. I asked everyone I met along the way. “Have you seen a five year old on a bike? He has red hair and a blue shirt.” “No, sorry” came answer after answer. No one had seen him. My fear grew.
Total strangers came to help me. Within minutes a local worker from a nearby college had organised a search team. With the aid of his mobile phone and clear thinking he had an assembly area and people searching on bikes and in cars. I left them to begin searching as I continued towards my car.
In my absence the search team grew. Local joggers and council workers all helped. Soon, the track and surrounding area was being raked for any sign of my little boy.
In that moment, I realised the humanness we all shared. Our outer shells were shed and we became our true selves – people, joining together for a common good. People with shared compassion and willingness to work together. Our backgrounds and abilities no longer mattered. No body cared. We were united, looking, searching for something precious.
Still no sign. I felt choked with despair. My mind raced with terror. Who had him? Where was he? Would I ever see him again? My mind swam with stories of children abducted, gone forever and their grieving parents. Please don’t let this be Harry.
Another possibility, another place to look. We raced in that direction to find him. Still no Harry. No one was there. Just emptiness. Time was up; I needed to ring the police.
A man, whose name I never got to hear, had anticipated my next action. He had called the police and greeted me at the car door with the news. My son was safe, he had been found. My knees buckled and my face crumpled. I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with fear, relief, adrenalin. Overwhelmed with possibilities and what may have been. Overwhelmed with gratitude and immense thanks.
As I held my son and listened to the police officers account of his resourcefulness and bravery, I felt so proud. Proud of this little boy and his immense wisdom. Proud of his courage and clear thinking. When put to such a demanding test, he came to the fore with enormous capacity. I will never again doubt his ability and strength.
This experience changed Harry forever. He matured in those hours. Matured to a new place of knowing and faith in himself. In his ability and resourcefulness. In his capacity to manage and take care of himself.
I am still to fully understand what purpose this experience has and will serve in our lives. Maybe Harry needed to see the strength of my love. How he is loved and cherished by me despite the birth of his sibling. He has never questioned me about this since. Maybe it was a gift that has given him a capacity and wisdom he was unaware of. A gift that has propelled him into full time attendance at preschool and a more independent life. Maybe it served my need to trust in a higher power. In divine intervention and the gifts of being held by a greater purpose. Maybe all these things and more. Maybe I don’t need to know.
In the days to follow, Harry talked a lot of his experience. I marvelled at his capacity and wisdom. I rejoiced in the strangers and their generosity. I wondered at what could have been. Most of all I knew the meaning of trust.