It has become painstakingly clear to me that people have lost their hearts.
Just before 6 p.m. one recent evening, my three children and I rushed through the crowds at Wiregrass Mall to make it on time to a holiday performance there in which many of our friends were participating.
It was then I heard the screams — the kind of scream that make a mother stop dead in her tracks. I scanned the glittery landscape, and there he was among the holiday lights, the festive trees, the groups of friends and families and shoppers laden with gifts — a young boy, about 3. He ran frantically up and down the cobblestone, screaming for his mommy, and he dashed farther away from the holiday lights ceremony.
I tried to fix my eyes on anyone who might be chasing after him, looking for him, noticing him in any way. Nothing. No one noticed. He ran in a circle, screaming at the top of his lungs. He ran toward Café Laredo, screaming, crying, clutching his candy cane. Nothing.
I called my own children and then watched in horror as the boy ran behind a car down the side of the restaurant and out of my sight. My children and I started running.
The boy raced toward the crosswalk, the street, the dark parking lot, and the unknown, still screaming. I yelled to the boy as I closed in on him. He looked back, stopped for a second, and then turned to run into the street. My fourth-grader sprinted to him and grabbed his tiny hands and said very firmly, "Stop.''
The child froze. I put my hand on his back and assured him everything would be okay. I bent down until our eyes met and I told him, "I am a mommy, these are my three children. I am also a teacher. I want to help you. Are you looking for your mommy or your daddy?"
He nodded. I asked him his name. "Nick."
Clutching the tiny candy cane, little terrified Nick came with us. We headed toward the large tree in the center of the mall and the stage where the dancers were about to perform. The guest services building was in sight! A vendor stopped us. She wanted to point us in the right direction. She had seen the whole thing and was eager to know the boy was okay.
One person, one in hundreds, was actually willing to help us out. We thanked her and quickly pressed on.
Just as we came upon the tree, out of a sea of onlookers, we saw Nick's dad. He was scared beyond belief. I could tell it was him, he had pain and fear on his face.
When he saw me with his son, he grabbed my arm and thanked me for finding him. He embraced his boy. Little Nick, having held in his fear and panic, began to cry.
"It was only for a second,'' the father said. "We only turned away for a second. We've been searching all around the tree for him.''
He thanked me again and took Nick off into the crowd. As I sat there on the cold, hard bench waiting for the performance to begin, I couldn't help but wonder, what if?
What if I hadn't come (too many projects and homework almost kept us home), then what would have happened? Would anyone have noticed poor little lost Nick? Would anyone in the crowded mall have seen past their to-do list or evening agenda to notice this small boy bearing the same name as our beloved St. Nick, running and screaming in terror in search of his parents?
As I write this, I sit wondering — scratch that, I sit fuming mad — that no one at the mall took notice of what was happening right there in front of them. No one paid any attention. The family loading packages in their SUV didn't even stop when Nick ran by them.
Are the holidays so busy for us that we forget about humanity? Have we lost our spirit for doing the right thing? Or maybe, as my husband said, people just don't want to get involved.
One night, more than 2,000 years ago, a family was turned away multiple times before a kind and caring innkeeper decided to get involved and let Mary and Joseph stay in his stable, where Baby Jesus was born and laid in a manger. I know that our savior would want us to look out for each other. He would want the spirit of the season to mean fellowship and goodness, not shopping madness and humbugging hullabaloos.
So, stop everything you're doing and just take in the sights and the sounds and ask yourself if all is calm and all is bright. If you can answer yes, then you are truly blessed. If your answer is no, then please find what matters most to you in this world and grab onto it tightly and give thanks. I may not know Nick's family, but I am sure that is what they are doing.
Karen DiBrango, of New Tampa, teaches at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Wesley Chapel.