This past Sunday we hosted a gathering at our community garden. It was a time for neighbors to come together, help weed the plots, install a Little Free Library, and build growing structures. The theme for our neighborhood garden is “Growing and Gathering.” It’s an opportunity to grow food and grow relationships.
Dozens of neighbors came, and it was beautiful. Kids were running in the sprinkler, neighbors met neighbors, and we worked side by side. Together we were creating a little bit of hope on our corner. We planted food to be eaten and flowers to be enjoyed. We built a bonfire pit that would gather neighbors together. When the work was done, we grilled out, harvested lettuce from the garden, and cracked open cold beers as the adults rested and the kids ran free.
That was when we noticed a small two-year-old boy running in the sprinkler that didn't belong to anyone. We looked around and inquired with all the neighbors. We asked if anyone knew where he lived. We asked all the kids if he was their brother. No one knew him or where he came from. We asked him where his mom was, but he gave us nothing but a big smile and a giggle.
So, we tried again. Nothing.
We each looked around and we each came up empty. No parent could be found. No one was sitting on his or her stoop watching for him. None of the kids remembered where he came from. It was as if he was a tiny garden sprite who just appeared out of nowhere to play in the sprinkler.
We went two doors down and asked the dude sitting on his porch if he knew the child. Nope. But he said maybe we should try the house behind him. Apparently, there were always kids there.
My neighbor Joab and I walked through the alley and started knocking on back doors.
Now, being someone who lives here and knows how things work, I did this once and then realized we would get nowhere. Most people don't even open their front doors, let alone their back doors. Joab put our little garden boy up on his shoulders and we started walking down the street, asking anyone we saw if they knew this little boy. We asked if they knew his name, his mother, or where his lived. Twenty minutes later we still didn’t have any answers.
I just kept thinking,
We held this nameless, homeless child and wondered what we could possibly do next. We were running out of options, but we weren't ready to involve the authorities. Not just yet. Joab had a gut feeling about a house across the street and down the block where people were gathering. We headed that way.
As we approached the house, we called out to the people on the porch. When the guy game out he looked at us a little strangely. We asked, "Do you know this little boy? We don't know where he lives." Then he gave the child a second glance and said, "Oh yeah, he's with us. Thanks." He was all casual and cool and nonchalant. I was surprised that they hadn’t noticed that he was gone, but I was grateful that we’d found his home before he met any danger.
With the little boy delivered to his family, we headed back towards the community garden to share in the communal meal that was awaiting. It was a beautiful moment of rest and peace and laughter after a few hours of hard work. Over the next hour we watched as the little boy tried, again and again, to run away before his mom or his aunt or his uncle could grab him. I knew this family had a long summer ahead of wrangling this free spirit of a little boy.
In order to create healthy communities, we need to commit to showing up when opportunities arise. When we discovered the lost toddler, we needed to stop our meal to ensure that he was returned home safely. Witnessing a fracture in the community, no matter how it presents itself, is an opportunity to gather together to repair it.
Members of a community should never feel isolated and alone—especially toddlers running amok.