I have heard it said that the greatest battlefield is that of the mind. As long as you focus on positive things and don't give in to the whispers of despair and hopelessness, you can endure just about anything through to the end. People have overcome great adversities by hanging on to hope.
Saturday, our family went to the Georgia Renaissance Festival with some former co-workers of my husband. Hailing from a theater background, I was relishing the experience, my first in the state, and was looking forward to sharing it with the rest of my family. Half of us - myself, Nathaniel, and Gabriela - even dressed up in costumes for the day.
The children were lit up with joy, wanting to ride everything, watch half the shows (they got bored after a few minutes), eat the food, and experience the fun. As soon as we entered the grounds, the first thing Nathaniel did was look at his map. After a few minutes of studying it, he declared that he wanted to go through the maze. We saw various shops on the way, but he was determined to make that a priority, and was eager to get started.
Hubby and I decided to both go in so that we could stay with the children if they split up and avoid losing anyone. Well, naturally they did, and they outnumbered us. By time I got through the maze with Gabriela, the only one I could see from the top was Benjamin, still in the maze. Nathaniel was nowhere to be found. The woman at the slide said that one went down and I looked down just in time to see him drop a shredded map and tear off like his pants were on fire!
I slid down with Gabriela on my lap as quickly as I could, but by time I got to the bottom, Nathaniel was nowhere in sight. Benjamin was on his way down and I had no choice but to stay with them while waiting for Richard to get to the slide. The whole time I was looking in the direction I thought I saw my son go, but the area was flooded with people and the disappearing act had already taken place. As Richard took off in the direction we last saw Nathaniel, I went over to the closest location with a communications device and asked for assistance.
By time I had given the security and police officer a description and discussed the best way for strangers to approach a child with Autism Spectrum, it seemed like a lifetime had passed. A few more minutes later, and my dear husband returned with no son, hoping that he had come back toward the maze on his own. Richard's next action was to do what he thought Nathaniel may have tried: he went back to the beginning, to the parking lot, to see if Nathaniel had gone to the car or, worse, tried to walk home.
In the meantime, it was almost noon and the others were hot, hungry, and thirsty, so I had to keep my wits about me taking care of them. It proved to be a blessing in disguise, but there is almost nothing worse than being a mother with a missing son, and unable to just take off after him, feeling completely helpless. As time dragged on with still no word on Nathaniel, I desperately fought the thoughts that tried to creep past my sensors.
The first hour passed and security informed me that it was a very safe place and that a child had never made it past the gate, so I shouldn't worry. Trying to combine not worrying while letting them know that my son is an escape artist and can get past when he wants to was quite a balancing act, though convincing them that he has been known to hide in dark corners away from people did help in some strange, convoluted way. After a while, it was my turn to search while Richard cooled down with a drink and watched the remaining children. I went from one end of the park to the other, going from the children's petting zoo, craft station, and playground, to First Aid and the edges and around buildings with still no sign. By time hour 2 came and went, just about everyone working there was keeping an eye out, including the resident man on stilts and the sweet woman who was selling pixie dust.
I finally made my way back to the front gate again, just to check and make sure for a third time that Nathaniel hadn't slipped past. You can imagine my relief when the woman said that he had been found and that my husband had come for him. For 2 1/2 hours I had fought the imaginings of him making it out to the highway. I had refused the vision of him passed out from heat exhaustion or being lost in the woods after climbing over the wooden fences. I had rejected the notion that he was harmed, while knowing in my heart of hearts that with every moment that I had suffered in worry, he had painfully endured in increasing fear and confusion. Never before had he been lost in a crowd of such magnitude, nor for such length of time.
Heading for our prearranged meeting picnic table in a tumult of relief and sudden release, I choked down the tears of relief and just offered up silent prayers of thanksgiving for his safety, for his rescue. I hurled past the adrenaline rush to the explosive drain as all energy all but left me in the moment I hugged him close to my heart. In spite of the emotion bubbling inside me, I forced myself to remain calm as not to overpower and thus frighten him with my reaction at seeing him once again.
I knew what a blessing, what a privilege, how amazingly heartbreakingly true it was that Nathaniel was returned to us complete. I realize how many mothers have those moments of terror and they never see their child again, but I would not, could not, allow myself to think that way at the time. It was inconceivable to do so because my Nathaniel, my gift of God, was depending on us, on his parents, to find him. I also realize that it was an eye opening experience for those who worked at the park that day.
I realize that because for the first time in the known history of the park,, a child had made it out the gate. A child made it to the parking lot. A child wandered around, looking for his minivan and, upon not finding it, wandered back to the gate, unseen. That child hid in the bushes near the gate, staying away from strangers, waiting for us to come get him. Over 2 hours after that child exited the gate, a police officer finally saw him behind the bushes, walked up to him, and offered him some water. Even then, that child moved farther into invisibility to avoid the man, and waited for his father to come to him.
Yes, for all that time, with hands over his ears and hiding his eyes, he sat there, the prodigal, waiting, trusting, with an incomparable knowledge, that we would come to him. What kind of faith!
Welcome to My World
Regardless of where we are, life comes at us. If we want to cherish the moments, they tend to pass us by faster than we can savor them. If we would rather skip a day, it seems to linger endlessly. But life is what it is, and we have to make the most of what we have and focus on the good aspects, large or small, to truly relish our life.