I walked my youngest daughter down the aisle last Saturday.
Her waiting groom beamed, taking in her beautiful smile. I looked to her eyes again. Gorgeous. Memories stirred, some from distant places. . .
Branch out, guys. She can’t be far. . . but Heathrow’s a big place!
The airport lies 23 kilometers west of London. Heathrow buzzes each day with 200,000 arriving and departing travelers. A sea of strangers were likely sweeping our four-year-old Amy along and we had no idea where.
Amy had been standing beside me at an airport kiosk during our family’s wait for a connecting flight. I bought something in U.S. currency. My change came in British sterling. In the seconds it took to interpret the coins my little girl was gone.
Catching my urgent tone Amy’s older siblings, Julie and Scott, hurried into the stream of humanity – its patchwork of luggage trailing, emitting a low rumble throughout the terminal. My wife had fractured a toe shortly before our Kenya departure. From her wheelchair Ann did what she could do. She prayed. Five minutes into our search, the public address mic crackled. The voice was male – distinctly English.
All passengers, may I have your attention, please. A young girl by the name Amy Bethlout is looking for her parents.
I didn’t worry at his blending her middle and last names. Relief washed through me. The voice continued, Please make your way to airport security. . .
I learned that Amy – attracted by the buzz of airport activity – had stepped into the sea of travellers and wandered off. In time, discovering her isolation in the crowd, she tugged at an elderly man’s coat. He stopped and looked down.
Do you know my daddy?
When we left the area – Amy’s hand securely in mine – we moved again toward the kiosk. A father-daughter visit lay ahead. I knew my assignment and hoped for understanding.
Hey sweetheart, let’s get a donut.
Settling into a dining booth I surveyed her pre-kindergarten face. Amy lifted her milk glass. Two gulps chased a bite of pastry down and her eyebrows lifted approvingly. A slight donut remnant shared a spot on her upper lip with a newly-fashioned milk mustache. Charming innocence, I thought. I was moved freshly by the care a father can feel for his children. My smile faded. How vulnerable children are. I stifled a shudder and began.
Amy sweetheart, Daddy needs you to understand something about airports. . . really about any places where there are people – you know, strangers – around. I held her gaze a few seconds before the not-yet-finished donut, resting at her eye-level, won out. I waited till the pastry was further reduced. My pet name for her was Angel. She again looked my way. Being a parent means limping toward wisdom and often finding it illusive. Fifteen years parenting children left me still feeling a novice at times. I felt that way now.
Amy Bethlout sat patiently as I painted one scenario, then another – making my best effort to instill caution and not paranoia. Inhaling slowly, I barely introduced my final case on the importance of sticking close to daddy and mommy. Amy issued a soft sigh. Daddy.
In a poised, self-assured tone she continued. Daddy, I already heard you the first time.
Instinctively I knew my drill was over – while thinking, Oh baby, I hope you have. I sure do.
Now here we stood. Before the minister under a sunny and crisp November sky. David, her handsome groom nearby. Amy’s mom moved to my side.
Thank you Father for bringing her safely, wonderfully to this place. Thank you.
“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” The minister’s voice was clear, strong.
“Her mother and I do”, I announced – hoping my manner was poised – my tone self-assured.
©2015 Jerry Lout