Advertisements ad

The Family Room by Michelle Martin

September 30, 2007

Lost and Found

It’s the phone call no parent wants to get: Frankie’s not here. I don’t know where he is.

That was the call my husband got when his father, Frank’s Papa, went to pick him up from an after-school program

Frank was fine, playing on the other side of the school building with a couple of classmates and their families. There was a mix-up, and he didn’t get where he was supposed to be.

As awful as the feeling was, I know it happens to most parents at some time or another. When I was young—before I was in kindergarten— I got separated from my mother at Sears. We were there with a neighbor and her children, and I lingered too long in an aisle and looked up and they were gone.

A woman who worked in the store found me sobbing at the top of the escalator, sure my mother and brother had gone down without me, and too frightened to attempt it by myself.

She took me to one of the counters and made an announcement over the loudspeaker. My mother came to get me within seconds.

I never asked how long it was before she discovered I was missing, or how she reacted when she saw I wasn’t there. But I remember how relieved she was to find me.

Then, times were different. My brother and I and every other child in the neighborhood walked nine blocks to school without adult supervision. We were sent out to play, and not expected home until dinnertime, or after dinner, when the streetlights came on.

Now, children live more circumscribed lives, being driven or walked to school, signed up for activities where there is always an adult in charge, never allowed to just roam the neighborhood.

When I was in first grade, I was kept after school one day to clean out my desk—my punishment for being messy. Now, teachers don’t routinely keep kids after school, at least not without communicating with a parent, because the parent would be either terrified or fuming.

So when a child is suddenly unaccounted for, a parent’s mind turns to panic. It can’t be a case of dawdling through the park, or changing plans.

I also think of “The Finding of Jesus in the Temple,” the fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary. A young Jesus—12, according to Luke 2:42—doesn’t join the group for the trip back to Nazareth after going to the temple in Jerusalem for holiday observances. Mary and Joseph don’t notice his absence for a day, according to Luke’s Gospel, because each thought he was with the other. When they do notice, they walk all the way back to Jerusalem, and find him still in the temple, catechizing the priests.

He, with all the self-confidence of the young, says, “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?”

The story emphasizes the wisdom of Jesus and the amazement of the elders. I’ve always identified with Mary, who tells him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

Great anxiety indeed. Of course, the day Frank was missing, he never felt lost either. He knew where he was, and that someone would be along eventually to get him to where he was supposed to be.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].