It was a wet, slushy night and our band gig down at the Lynn Valley Village Christmas Tree Walk had been cancelled. I was looking forward to a night in front of the fire, but life, of course, had other plans and at 4:30 p.m. I was instead trudging exasperatedly down the dark street to help my son look for his lost wallet.
When I caught up to him, though, he wasn’t looking for the Canucks wallet that had fallen out of his pocket on the way home from school. “I’m helping this kid find his sister,” he explained, gesturing to the solemn-looking boy beside him.
The story quickly became alarming. The young lad had come home from school, said hi to his little sister, then gone back to the adjacent field to play for a half hour with friends. When he had come back to the family’s basement suite, his sister was nowhere to be found.
By the time my son had caught up with him, the boy had checked all through their home twice. Unsure what else to do – he didn’t know his mom’s cell phone number, he said, and didn’t expect her back from work for an hour or so – he was pacing up and down the street with his dog.
Not sure what to do myself, I followed him back home and asked if it was okay if I checked the suite one more time. The upstairs homeowners were out, and the boy was certain there were no nearby playmates she might have taken it upon herself to visit. By this time he’d been looking for her nearly 45 minutes. I reached for my son’s cellphone and dialed 9-1-1.
By the time I had finished giving the details to the dispatcher, and walked through the suite one more time while the calm voice stayed with me on the phone asking questions, I could see blue and red lights flashing off the snow in the front yard. The RCMP had arrived.
Over the next forty minutes, flashlights probed the dark suite upstairs and the backyard sheds. More officers arrived and the police radio reported that other units were looking throughout the neighbourhood. The dog squad was scrambled and clustering neighbours were asked to keep their pets at bay so they wouldn’t add distracting scents to the scene. A young couple from next door arrived back from a fruitless search of nearby sidewalks and trails.
Amidst the steadily escalating action, my son and I tried to quell the boy’s anxieties with conversation about school, teachers, and Christmas. Inside I prayed that the situation would magically resolve itself before the mother came home from work and stepped into every parent’s worst imaginings. But different frightening scenarios kept interrupting my thoughts, each vying for my attention. I tried not to think about the creek across the street, and the slippery ground all around it.
We’ve all had these moments in life; time-suspended moments during which we balance on a fulcrum, teeter-tottering between life as we know it and life as we’ve never forseen it. Times when we’ve waited for a serious medical diagnosis. Times when the phone rings in the middle of the night and we reach out an arm, sleep-befuddled, scrabbling for the receiver that might be delivering bad news, or just a tipsy-sounding ‘sorry, wrong number’ apology. That agonizingly drawn-out slow-motion minute as a car spins on the ice, either to come within a whisker of the people waiting for the bus, or send them flying.
On this dark Lynn Valley night, every minute that passed seemed to tip the balance farther away from a happy outcome. But shortly after 6 p.m., something happened that suddenly sent the odds skyrocketing in a reassuring new direction.
The upstairs neighbor came home from a long dog walk, and was brought up to speed on the police activity throughout his yard. He didn’t seem particularly alarmed. “But I saw her at about 4:30,” he said of the mom, who everyone had assumed to be still at work at that time. “She seemed in a hurry.”
Relief billowed through the air like the condensation of breath on a cold night. Perhaps Mom had come home and taken the daughter out; someone recalled a festive event that was on the school calendar for that afternoon. Sure enough, five minutes later a woman came up the street, holding a little girl by the hand. It was Mom.
I didn’t stay to listen to what had happened; it was no longer my business, but from what I could tell it stemmed from a mish-mash of miscommunications that occur in one form or other in all our families. Mom had understood son to be playing at a friend’s house, I think, and things went sideways from there.
My point in writing this down – other than to commend the North Van RCMP for their calm, quick action – is to help me to hang on to that rush of gratitude that happens when fate’s teeter-totter crashes down resoundingly on the side we’re desperately hoping for. It’s so clear, at that moment, what in life is good, and important, and true. The funny thing is how quickly we forget again.
In his memoir The Boy in the Moon, written by Globe and Mail feature reporter Ian Brown about his profoundly disabled son, the author recounts a nail-biting sessions in the Emergency Room, awaiting an explanation of his son’s sudden physical downturn. As he waits, life as he knows it is on the brink. But then a doctor comes to report that things aren’t as bad as they seem. Brown can take his son home.
I can’t give you an exact quote from the book, but Brown’s description of what we people do after these moments of great relief resonated with me: minutes later, he wrote, we’re speeding out of the hospital parking lot, our mind “already making other plans.” It seems part of our human make-up to go from fall-on-your-knees gratitude to a “so, what’s next?” restlessness.
In our life we are surrounded by daily miracles that go largely unnoticed or later unremembered. Things go well – very well, in the grand scheme – far, far more often than they don’t. We often have a long memory for old disappointments, yet fail to see the good fortune that surrounds us right here and now. We remember indelibly those teeter-totter moments that tip us into tragedy, but the ones that deliver us back to normalcy quickly fade from our thoughts.
But at this time of year we pause to remind ourselves that light does, indeed, conquer the darkness. Starting now, at the winter solstice, each night will be a little bit shorter as our hemisphere tilts its face once more towards the sun. In a few days, most people in this country, religious or otherwise, mark the birth of a baby Christians call the “light of the world.”
But as the biblical Book of John points out, “And the Light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Sometimes we’re blind to the light that’s around us and in front of us. Sometimes it’s easier to adjust our eyes to the darkness.
So perhaps Christmas isn’t all about giving, gratifying as it is. Perhaps it’s also about creating a space in our hearts to remember all that we continue to receive. Space to remember those small everyday miracles that bring us home safely when night falls.
Space to remember a boy who witnessed his little sister come walking home, hand-in-hand with their mom, his face illuminated with flashing police lights – and so much more.
To all our neighbours, our readers, and our friends throughout the community, LynnValleyLife wishes you a warm and merry Christmas, and much happiness in the year to come.
– Peggy Trendell-Jensen, editor