A little girl went missing tonight. She waved goodbye to her friends at the playground, turned down an older girl's offer to walk her home, and that was the last time anyone saw her.
An hour later she still was not home. My neighbor chased me down as I was walking, oblivious to all of this, to ask me if I had seen her.
Another neighbor and her daughter were going door to door near the playground. Her friends were carrying her picture around.
And as the GH abandoned our dinner guests to go searching into the night I noticed several bobbing flashlights. People that I only know by sight, but have never spoken with past hello, out in groups searching for a little girl with long black hair. The men were in whatever state dress they had been when the knock on the door came. Rushing out without shirts, in flip flops, with flashlights they combed the neighborhood.
The 13 year old who was the last to see her walked by again looking distressed. I asked, "Are you worried about her?"
She burst into tears and sobbed in to my shoulder, "It's all my fault. It's my fault. I should have walked her home."
And I said what anyone would say, "No it's not. It's not your job. You offered to go with her. She said 'no thanks'. No one blames you."
And still she sobbed on for a while until I suggested that she come in. But she wanted to continue her search.
The police were called and people gathered near our apartment to watch as her mother made her way down the hill to speak with them.
Only on her face was not worry, but relief.
Her daughter was home. Her dad picked her up on the way to her apartment and took her somewhere with him. And didn't tell anyone, not even her mother. She was never in immediate danger.
And then the search party turned into something a lot more like party and people were hugging each other and chatting as they made their way back home and to find others who were still searching and tell them the good news. And many words were said about her father, not all of them pleasant, but none of them truly violent so great was everyone's relief.
And I'm left with a sense of gratitude toward these people I barely know. It's comforting to realize that they are the kind of people who will drop everything to help in such a crisis, even for someone they don't really know. I am warmed to observe how quickly they are moved by compassion when it matters.