I was planning on writing something else. I had it all ready – finalized the topic, worked out the framework, and was waiting for some quiet time to put my thoughts into words. But, I guess, the universe had other plans.  I was doom scrolling through my Facebook feed (I try to be intentional about it, but it was one of those days! and yes I am a millennial, so I still lurk on Facebook. Believe me, I am not proud of it) and I received a friend recommendation of someone I knew. 

This was Amrita (fictitious name, true story), someone I knew from a few years back. A pleasant, and spirited woman who used to be my neighbor. I had come to know her a bit, through random interactions as I went about my day. I was a student then, and her husband was finishing his doctoral degree at the same university as mine. We lived in an apartment complex, not far from the university.  She was a homemaker, with two children – an older daughter, and a very young son. She was hardworking and quite active in the community. I remember her celebrating various festivals in traditional attire, taking pictures, and generally being very friendly and happy. I could hear laughter and happiness flowing through her home (her apartment was right above mine). The husband was a more subdued, serious kind of person. I remember him running experiments in our backyard, along with their little son. It was fun to watch and the baby was a delight. 

I remember this particular instance – I was getting ready for college. Amrita was trying to move some things from her car to her apartment and was having a hard time doing it with a baby in tow. I offered to help her. I took the baby and cuddled him while finishing up with my makeup. The baby was curious and quiet and quite enjoyed being held by a completely new human being. It was a new and a surprisingly pleasant experience for me too. You see, it’s been a while since I had held a baby, and to my surprise, it felt nice – nothing like the nightmare situations they show you in movies. After a few minutes, Amrita came along, thanked me, collected the baby, and left. She took the baby, sure, but somehow I felt a deep connection with the little one. Something that I can’t put my fingers on, to this day. 

Eventually, the family moved to a different place and we lost touch. I did not think much about it, until one day I was scrolling through Facebook (you see a pattern here..right?), and came across a post which said that a 2.5-year toddler was missing and the community was requesting help finding him. At a different time,  I would have scrolled right past it, but this one struck me. I clicked on the post, and enlarged the picture – it was the same baby that I held in my arms not so long back. The boy was Amrita’s son! After a few calls, I gathered that somehow the little boy had escaped from his home (despite baby locks and the usual caution that you expect when you have little people at home) and was lost. The mom called 911 as soon as she realized that something was amiss. 

It was a long night. The area was milling with police. People scourged around everywhere trying to find the boy. I could hear multiple helicopters scouting the area. Everyone was on high alert and praying for the kid to be found. I was especially anxious. I was a new mom then and remember feeling very scared and anxious. And stories like this – they leave you with a deep fear about your loved ones. I remember dozing off into the night, with a very uneasy sleep. I distinctly remember the moment. My husband woke me up and said the boy had been found.  I felt my heart stop. My husband handed me his phone and showed me the post. It so happened that the boy was obsessed with his dad’s car. He had escaped from his home, and opened the door of a car (which by some stroke of terrible luck, the owner had forgotten to lock) that looked similar to his dad’s, and had locked himself in. 

It was over 100 degrees that day. The owner of the car discovered the boy when he was on his way to office the next day. He called the police, but it was too late by then. No one would survive a hot day like that, in a closed hot car. The boy was not breathing when the police found him.  The mom was beside herself and the dad was taking care of things as best as he could. It was July 4th a day after and we were all out watching the fireworks. I remember someone seeing the dad fetching some milk and doing laundry, less than a day after the tragedy. He was stoic, going about his business, dealing with his grief as best as he could.

I have told and retold this story many times to different people. I somehow could not get over the enormity of the tragedy that the family went through. It was the improbability of the event that was so shocking. 5 minutes! This was how long the mom was in the kitchen,  taking care of things when the little boy figured out a way to unlock the door and run away. What are the odds? On every occasion I narrated the story, people expected a happy ending – the boy was found, right? He was fine! Right? The mom found the boy – right? Every one of them was shocked by the outcome. How can God be so cruel? A little boy? 

I read a post the other day about the virtue of forgetting things. Well, in this case, forgetting was indeed a blessing. Time had dulled the pain, and the memory was fading. Until today, when Facebook reminded me – hey, remember this person? I hesitated but clicked on the picture. The profile picture was innocent enough: a smiling Amrita. I started scrolling through her feed, and to my utter surprise – I see her holding a little boy! The boy looked exactly like the baby that I held long back. Could it be? No, it wasn’t. The boy seemed younger, around 2 years old. I scrolled some more and found a family picture – the mom, the dad, the daughter, the son, and a … picture of the lost boy. 

I felt a profound sense of … peace, of relief washing over me. I felt I could breathe! The family had gone through the darkest of times and had emerged jubilant. I can’t imagine what the family must have gone through to accept their reality. To not just accept, but overcome their deepest grief and to find hope! That one photograph was a beacon of hope, of resilience, of man’s victory over their circumstances. I remember reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s search for Meaning a long time back. Viktor had survived incredible hardships in the Nazi concentration camps but had somehow survived it. He attributed his incredible fortune to a book that he had to finish writing. Other survivors in the camp too had a goal, a hope, an unfinished business, or someone or something to live for. This ‘hope’ determined the living from the dead. I believe Amrita’s family too clung to hope – a day when things will be better, when it won’t hurt as much, or when life would be somewhat normal (is there such a thing?). And here they are – on the other end. 

All I feel right now is happiness. And peace. A deep sense of gratitude to the higher power out there. A belief that things are okay, and will be okay, no matter what. There is absolutely no reason to be afraid or scared, or anxious about anything. You go about your life, live it in the best possible way you know how, and leave the rest to the universe. It will all take care of itself. 

I will sleep slightly better today.