I usually write about difficult social issues but this time, I thought I’d write about my instinctive talent for finding lost items. It started in an airport many years ago, perhaps in the 1970s. I came across a group of people that was milling around slowly, staring at the floor. Curious, I stopped and asked them what they were looking for. A contact lens, one person said. This was in the days when lenses were made from hard material and were likely to fly out of your eye at any given moment.
The group was at the point of giving up. I thought about it for a second and then I realized how it would be easy to find the lens. I laid down on the floor and put my eye at floor level. I looked for the reflection of the room’s light off the little glass dome of the lens. I found it within seconds and returned it to the owner. Rather satisfied with myself, I continued on my way.
I also once found a child who had wandered away from home. This was in El Cerrito, California, a suburb of San Francisco. I was about 13 or 14. One of my neighbors, Mrs. Hanson, had a son who was about 18 months old and he had disappeared. She must have been yelling in the apartment courtyard because a bunch of us showed up to help. The adults all ran around the corners of the small apartment building, looking for the child. That seemed like an unwise plan to me so I walked out to the sidewalk. I threw my attention as far away as I could see, gazing up and down the street.
I just stood there, watching for a few minutes while the adults continued buzzing around the building. I finally saw two men ushering a small child across the street and into a house about two blocks away. I dashed off in that direction and ran up to the door of the house and banged on it hard. The door opened and inside, there were several adults staring at this blond, cherubic child who was happily running around in their living room. It was obvious that these men had found this child wandering down the street and took him home until they could figure out what to do.
I don’t even think I said anything. I ran to the child, grabbed him up and ran out the door. As I neared the apartment house, I began to yell the mother’s name. She came out to the sidewalk as I arrived and, sobbing, threw her arms around her child and took him into her home.
I was a bit dazed at not even getting a thank you but my mother made a comment about the lack of acknowledgement that comforted me. It was actually a life lesson for me that sometimes, it’s just not possible to be appropriately grateful when you are overwhelmed by other emotions.
The third item I used particular talents to find was a young dog. The gate to my Seattle suburb home had been left open and one of our two dogs, the newer arrival, had taken off. I arrived home from work and learned that the dog had escaped about a half hour before. I walked out to the cul-de-sac in front of our home and looked in both directions. I was trying to figure out which way I would have gone if I’d been a dog. It was obvious to me that the more desirable direction was through the houses that sat at the end of the cul-de-sac. There was a grassy open space between these houses, and more yards and trees in the distance. If I’d been a dog, that’s where I would have gone.
There were no streets that connected with these yards, but I could drive out of my neighborhood and into the next neighborhood and find myself in the area where a wandering dog might end up. I made the drive and sure enough, there was our chipper lab-pitbull mix trotting down the street. I pulled up in front of him and he looked at me and the car, suddenly confused. It was sort of like I was out of context for him. I plucked him off the sidewalk and took him home.
To find him, I just had to think like a young, curious dog.
There’s one more find-it story that is a little different but I’ll include it here because it’s useful.
In 1986, I had a job working for a company that printed color photography books in Tokyo. On my third trip to Tokyo, I had to take my three-and-a-half year-old son with me as I had just separated from my husband. In Dulles Airport on the way to our flight, I had a sudden realization that if he ever got lost in Tokyo, we could be in real trouble because of the language barrier. I decided to teach him what to do if he got lost.
I told him that if he ever got lost, he was to go to a person behind a counter or a person in uniform to get help. I had him practice spotting people who fit this description as we walked through the airport. When he showed that he could make this distinction perfectly, we quit.
Well, yes, he did get lost once in Tokyo. We were in a small multi-floor shopping center. I had turned to reach some paper towels so I could clean him up and when I turned back, he was out of sight.
That’s a panicky moment for a mom. My mind raced as I tried to work out what to do. Every instinct told me to run and find him. But a few calmer cells in my brain told me I had to stay put. If he came back or someone brought him back, I needed to be in the same place he disappeared from.
Nervously, I scanned every inch of the shopping center I could see. Back and forth, up and down, my eyes traveled across the floors, escalators and storefronts. Within a couple of minutes, a woman wearing an apron appeared on the upper floor, holding my son’s hand, obviously looking for me. She spotted me and knew that this anxious woman was the mother of the missing child. She brought him down the escalator and handed him over.
What had happened was that my son realized he was lost and recalled his training. He immediately found someone either in uniform or behind a counter (she was probably both) and asked for help.
Since we had been standing at the foot of a pair of escalators when I reached for some nearby paper towels, I might have realized that my son would have run onto the entertaining ride as soon as my back was turned. In shopping centers at home, it was hard to get him off the escalator. It was likely that he was ON the escalator while I was starting to look for him but because he was only three years old, he was too short to be visible.
I’ve told many moms about this little training exercise with the hopes that they might use it to recover a lost child.
So those are my three find-it stories and one find-me story. They might help you sometime when you need to find something elusive.