I found a Diamond last night...
on the parking lot of the church where my son plays basketball. She was a beautiful, frightened, lonely little girl who'd obviously been separated from her mother. Braids in her hair, khaki pants, a burgundy shirt and matching sweater, white socks and white sneakers: when I called 911 twenty minutes after finding her, I was armed with a full description of the petite gem of a girl. By way of clarification, her name really was Diamond.
But let me back up and tell the whole story; I hate when people skip ahead and don't give all the pertinent details. My son has basketball practice on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 PM at the Pleasant Hills Baptist Church. Last night, we had to meet up with one of his teammates and bring him along. (As a quick aside, the boy's name is London. His two sisters are named Egypt and Asia. His parents either love to travel or long to travel.) Anyway, because we met up with them, we arrived at practice seven minutes late - and I hate to arrive late, no matter where I'm going. I pulled up to the gym door, let them out, and headed two blocks down the street to our favorite Charlotte bakery, The Great Harvest Bread Company. The bread, cookies, and scuffins (a delightful combination of muffin and scone) are simply irresistible. But much to my chagrin, the shop had closed at 6. I arrived back at the church at 6:09 - and that's when I saw Diamond, alone, crying hysterically in the parking lot.
As I drove past her, I rolled down my window and asked her where her mother was. She shrugged. Suspicious New Yorker that I am, I wondered if it was a set-up and I was about to be car-jacked. I looked around, but there was no one in sight. I approached her, asked her where she'd come from, and extended my hand to take hers. She came to me, again shrugging her shoulders, and I walked her into the open door of the gym to see if she'd wandered away from one of the other team parents. Nope. Two fathers and a mother of Daniel's teammates immediately came outside with me, and we began to look around the neighborhood in hopes of finding the rightful owner, I mean parent, of young Diamond.
The other mother in our search party picked Diamond up and began to ask her lots of questions: were you in a car, in the park, in a building? We approached the playground around the block from the church and asked the adults there if they recognized her. Nope. One of the teenagers asked what Diamond's mother's name was: Tasha. She told us her father's name, her sister's name, and that her mother drove a red car. We asked others on the street: one woman walking across the church parking lot, a man on a bicycle, and even stopped a car that was driving past. No one knew her. We entered a well-stocked local candy store. (It was a good thing I didn't have my wallet, or I'd surely have bought something. Instead I held back and gave myself a pep talk: "Stay focused, Gail. This is no time for a sugar fix.")
There we were, four adults, a three-year-old girl, walking the streets of a neighborhood that none of us knew very well, on a chilly Charlotte evening. We were all amazed that during the 15 minutes that we were seeking this child's relatives, we didn't hear a single frantic shout, a desperate cry, or see anyone running madly around the streets searching for their lost child. At that point, we decided to call 911. I told the operator we'd wait in the church parking lot.
We weren't in the parking lot for five minutes when a girl of 11 or 12 years of age sauntered out of one of the church buildings and began to walk in our direction. I asked her if she knew the little girl: "Yes, that's my sister." "Well, we've been walking around the neighborhood for 15 minutes looking for her mother." She looked at Diamond and said, "Diamond, why did you leave?" "Leave? She's 3. Didn't you notice that she was missing?" One of the fathers asked her to have her mother come outside. He approached and spoke to her about the carelessness of allowing a child of that age to be out of her sight for so long. He told her that the police were on their way, and she said she'd be willing to speak to them when they arrived.
Five minutes passed.
Ten minutes passed.
(At that point, the woman we'd stopped in her car drove into the parking lot to make sure all was well and that we'd reunited the child with her mother. I thanked her for coming back. She said she just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Concerned citizens warm my heart.)
Nearly 15 minutes later, the police finally arrived.
We told him what had happened and that the mother was waiting to speak to him. I expected that he'd warn her about neglect and the dangers of allowing her child to stray so far away. Nope. He asked if the child was okay and back in the care of her mother. "That's all we care about." With that, he was gone. We shook our heads.
Needless to say, I've thought a lot about that little girl today. She took my hand, allowed herself to be carried, questioned, and transported by total strangers around a neighborhood that she didn't live in. She was compliant in every way. As parents, the four of us were shocked, horrified, and incredulous that the disappearance of this small child could go unnoticed for so long. Later, when her mother spoke to the Jermaine, the team father who'd joined in the search, she expressed no fear, no deep sense of gratitude, and no real concern at all about what had happened. Perhaps she realized the seriousness of the situation later that night, but no tears were shed when we saw her.
Looking back on the events leading up to finding her, I recalled that when London's mother showed up late at our rendezvous location earlier in the afternoon I had been quite annoyed. Traffic getting up to the church was abysmal. To top it all off, the bakery was closed; that was my greatest diappointment all day. Then it hit me: I needed every one of those disappointments and detours, missteps and missed green lights in order to arrive at the church parking lot at exactly the right moment to find that precious Diamond.
She could have been picked up by a pedophile.
She could have walked across the street and into fatal traffic.
She could have been lost among the boarded up houses and abandoned cars on either side of the church.
She could have... the list of all the "could haves" in this dark and sinful world is long and terrible.
Instead, I found her. She found me. Together we found her mother.
Once again, I was reminded that nothing happens by accident.
Inconvenient timing for me was divine timing for someone else's beautiful daughter.
I hope and pray that all life long Diamond will know in meaningful, memorable, and personal ways that no matter where she goes, Someone is looking out for her, Someone will reach out and take her hand when she's lonely and afraid, and that sometimes the scariest times in life are the portals through which angels and friends enter - when she least expects them.
That is my hope and prayer for all of us.