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Volume 4, Number 5
May, 1999

My Favor

by Dave Lind

You don't know me, but I did you a favor today. It may have been a small favor and you may not appreciate it, indeed may not have asked for it at all, but then again, it could have been the greatest favor anyone can ever do.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to Walmart, just in and out for batteries and then on with the myriad other things that lay ahead in my busy day. As I wheeled my wife's mini-van into the parking lot I noticed a gray, late-model Datsun pickup with the tailgate down. It was parked away from the building, separate from the other cars and in the back was a toe-headed, freckle-faced boy of about eight playing with an adorable black-lab puppy. The puppy was all over the boy, bouncing and licking and wagging its little tail for all its worth. For a moment my mind flashed back to that old Coke commercial, you know the one, with the young boy giggling uncontrollably as he's mobbed by a litter of puppies.

Then, almost as an afterthought, I looked around for the adult I knew had to be around.

You were not there.

I pondered that as I parked a few spaces away and locked the car up. What would you say to your spouse when he/she asked you where you were while your child was being snatched out of a parking lot?

You were not there.

What would your child be thinking as he is being spirited away, terrified, by some faceless stranger?

You were not there.

My path to the store took me right past your truck, your son. I smiled at him, spoke to him, even petted his dog. Standing next to your truck, your son's puppy licking my hand, I looked around and not a soul was taking notice. An eight-year-old boy with a brand new puppy left unattended in a parking lot? It was a child-abductor's dream! A chill raced through my entire body and my mind's eye flashed on the image of a boy's picture on a poster. This boy. Your boy.

Are you frightened yet? Well I tell you, I was, and this was not even my child.

You see, I have children of my own, three of them, and like many parents my greatest fear is that one day one of them might disappear. My wife chides me for being over-protective, says I won't even allow them in the front yard without a security detail, and she's right. I am over-protective, I know, but I reason that I would rather err on the side of caution that have to one day look into that face in the mirror and say to it those four most horrible of words.

You Were Not There.

Perhaps you think I'm over-dramatizing things. After all, you weren't gone that long. Only a few minutes, right?

I confess that I don't know how long you were gone before I, and my self-righteous attitude arrived, but I know how long I stood just inside the doorway of the Walmart, unable to go any further, watching out over your child.

Thirty five minutes.

In thirty five minutes your child could have been on any one of three different interstates and well on his way to a half dozen others. He could have been in any of several different towns in three different counties or he could have been locked away in any of literally thousands of different closets, basements, attics, bedrooms, garages, tool sheds, etc. When it takes only a few beats of a panicked heart to spirit a child away, a minute is quite literally like a lifetime.

For thirty five minutes, You Were Not There.

As I held my vigil in that doorway, not knowing for how long it might last, I envisioned the type of parent who would take such careless, thoughtless risks with their child's well being. I confess the terms "unfit" and "neglectful" came to mind again and again. But having had the luxury of a little time to reflect on the incident, I have softened my stance, but only a little.

I do not think that you are a "bad" parent, but I still maintain that it is thoughtless and grossly irresponsible to have left your child unattended in such a manner. With any luck, you will see this and perhaps think twice about taking such chances in the future. I hope so, truly I do.

Maybe my little vigil in that Walmart parking lot today was all for nothing. I'm sure no harm would have befallen your child in any case. In all the time I was watching I saw nothing or no one to be suspicious of. So I probably just wasted 35 minutes of my life for nothing, right?

Or maybe I spent 35 minutes of my time to make sure that you would never have to answer to that face in the mirror.

You're welcome.

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