From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
How far is Malibu from Venice, California? According to the maps used by the locals, it’s approximately ten miles. That’s about 15 minutes by car and a bit longer by bike; maybe let’s figure an hour at most. Not a long time or distance—unless, of course, you had no intention of being in Malibu.
Last Thursday I experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s one thing losing track of your child in a shopping mall, where a general lockdown can be effectuated. It’s quite another matter to lose a child on the shores of the Pacific in Venice or Malibu, where—how shall I phrase this?—all kinds of interesting folks hang out.
Three of my daughters rented bicycles in Venice and headed south towards Santa Monica. The plan? Ride south for 20 minutes, turn around, ride 20 minutes back north to the bike-rental station, and have another 20 minutes to putter around the immediate vicinity. My daughters asked me to join them on a bike of my own, but I declined; I had some phone calls I needed to make.
Twenty-five minutes after the three girls departed, only two returned. “Where is your sister?” I screamed. “We don’t know. She sped ahead. We lost her. We have no idea” were the answers. I went into full panic mode. I confess that I thought of every scenario—the good and the unimaginable.
I ran to the police station located on the beach and provided them with a complete physical description of my daughter. My heart was racing and I was imagining how frightened she must be if she realized she was lost. The police filled out a report and alerted all the lifeguards up and down the beach as well as the other local police departments. They assured me that they would find her, and I forced myself to believe them.
They instructed me to return to the bike-rental location just in case she found her way back there. When I arrived, there was another set of police officers standing there to take more information from me.
While I was speaking to the second set of officers, my cell phone rang. How I prayed it was my daughter. Now, she had left her cell phone in our car, so I was banking on the fact that she would ask a stranger to borrow a phone. My heart sank when it was not my daughter’s voice on the other end of the line. It sank even further when the voice on the other end was my wife’s, asking me how the children were doing. And I thought having lost my daughter’s glasses earlier in the week was going to be my biggest problem.
My wife was surprisingly calm and expressed full confidence that the police would find her. I hung up with my wife to speak with the officers again. About a minute later my phone rang again. Through the sobs I recognized my little girl’s voice. A stranger had seen her crying and allowed her use of her cell phone to call me. It had been one hour and ten minutes since my daughter had veered to the left at the tunnel instead of veering to the right and, after bypassing the bike-return stand at Venice, had wound up in Malibu.
I handed the phone to the police, who pinpointed my daughter’s location. The officers asked the helpful stranger to remain with my daughter until they arrived. The next half hour was a mixture of emotions. Anticipation for her return, anger that she had separated herself from her sisters, relief that she had been found.
I phoned my wife to report that our daughter had been located and that she was in the rear of a police cruiser, on the way back to Venice. The bike-rental facility wanted to close but assured me they would stay open till our daughter was safe in our arms.
My wife gave me some incredible advice. “Make sure you don’t yell at her, just throw your arms around her, hug her and kiss her, and tell her you are so glad she is safe. Tell her we are so glad she is back where she belongs.”
I watched as the police cruiser pulled up with a shy little girl in the back seat. We ran towards each other, hugged and kissed, and I said exactly what my wife told me to say, which is exactly how I felt.
And the next day I let her go out again with her sisters, without me, because I wanted to show her that she shouldn’t let fear restrict her in the future.
Veering from the chosen path seems almost inevitable for man, woman, and child. We sail right by the signposts and don’t realize we are lost sometimes till hours, days, or months later.
But the bike-rental place stays open. It never closes. It stays open till we are back where we belong. And while the “Father” could react with anger for our detour, we are greeted with open arms and a message that we are loved and that we are safe once again until the next inevitable diversion.
And as much as we hope that we are treated in that fashion by the One Above when we stray from His path, there is another lesson for mankind in our interaction with our children.
All children stray; it’s just a matter of degree. If you want them to return after they veer, they must know beforehand that you will be waiting there not with anger or disappointment but with love and with hugs and with kisses and a message that you are so happy to have them back where they belong. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.