A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


Emily was missing.

Thankfully, it wasn’t for long.  Truth be told, it probably wasn’t more than two minutes.  But those two minutes were crammed full of enough anguish and anxiety to give a young father gray hair and to make two relatively young grandparents feel old.

We were at the mall food court having lunch. Everything seemed to be going along just fine – not counting our 8-year-old granddaughter Becky, who seemed to have a slight chicken nugget-induced tummy ache – when it suddenly occurred to us that we didn’t know where Becky’s little sister Emily was.

Emily, I should point out, is 2. That should be enough right there to explain how she could suddenly turn up missing.  It isn’t that we weren’t paying attention.  We were.  But there was a moment when everyone at our food court table was engaged in other things, and a moment was all it took.  Suddenly she was gone, and everyone at the table sort of . . . well . . . freaked.

While Aunt Beth stayed at the table with Emily’s sisters, the rest of us began searching the surrounding area frantically.  We looked one direction.  Nothing.  So we ran in the other direction.  Instinctively we fanned out, covering as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible.  We looked around the tables, up and down the lines in front of the various fast food places, down adjacent hallways – anywhere a precocious 2-year-old might toddle off to.

For just a couple of minutes, the world seemed too big, too scary, too frightening.  There were just too many places where she could have gone, too many frightening possibilities to consider.  My heart raced as I rounded the corner at the back of the food court.  I remember thinking how pleasant the day had been to that point, and how quickly and easily a pleasant day can turn into a tragic day

All it takes is one little girl – missing.

Looking out of the corner of my eye I could see that Jon, my 16-year-old son, was breaking into a trot.  Clearly he had seen something and was hustling toward it.  Seconds later he was scooping up his little niece into his long, strong adolescent arms and rushing her back out to us – safe and sound.

I stood there, waiting for my heart to quit pounding in my chest, and watched as Emily’s father tried to explain to his smiling, giggling daughter that she had just scared some of her favorite adults halfway to death.  She wasn’t getting it, of course.  To her, life is just one adventurous game after another, and this last one ended after her Uncle Jon caught her and turned her over to her Dad. What 2-year-old understands the need for effective communication and staying within certain prescribed protective boundaries?

Thankfully, our moment of crisis was just that: a moment. But elsewhere such moments can become tragedies and disasters, with long-term consequences for families. Tornadoes, monsoons, earthquakes, and other untold tragedies large and small stand as irrefutable evidence that lives – and families and communities – can and do change dramatically. Instantly.

Because we can’t control such things, we tend not to think about them.  It’s frustrating to know that “incidents” are looming out there, and when it comes right down to it there’s nothing we can do to prevent them.  And so we cling to our families and loved ones, and we cherish each moment with them. 

If we don’t, we should – if only because we understand how fragile life is, and how quickly and dramatically things can change.

Like, for example, when you suddenly have a little girl – missing. 

And fortunately, found!

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— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World."

Christmas on Mill Street - An All New Holiday Novel!