Finding Wesley

Halfway through an hour’s walk in the cold, I was perched on a cinder-block wall in front of the Grace Baptist Church in Portland, Maine. There are not many places to rest in this part of town, and I needed a rest. It was overcast and lightly snowing.

A boy who looked about nine years old was trudging along the slushy street, backpack slung low. He was also carrying a reusable grocery bag with something bulky in it. He looked weary.

To my surprise, he put a cloth mask over his small face and walked towards me. I noticed that his ears were red. The mask had a Batman logo on it.

“I’m lost,” he said, simply. His voice was even but quiet. I could sense panic just held at bay.

I tried to be as calm and reassuring as I could. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m sure I can help you out. Let’s get this figured out.”

“Can you tell me where you are going?”

He gave me the name of a street in the next town over, which took a few tries for me to understand, as his voice was muffled by the mask. I pulled out my phone and typed in the street name. The route was direct, but Google Maps said the walk would be two miles and take forty minutes.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Wesley,” he said.

“I’m Josh,” I said. I showed him the phone and told him it was a 40-minute walk. He was discouraged, since I guess he’d already been walking a while.

The light snow turned to light rain.

“I live pretty close to here,” I said. “We could walk to my house and I could drive you home.”

He didn’t respond. Walking to a stranger’s house and getting in a car was probably not something he was ready to do — stranger danger, you know. And I didn’t blame him.

“Can we call someone?” I asked.

“I know my mom’s phone number,” he said. “Let’s call her,” I said. He recited it hopefully, and I called it.

A woman answered.

“Hello,” I said. “My name is Josh. I’m here in a church parking lot with a boy named Wesley. Is he your child?”

The woman began crying.

“He’s fine,” I said. “He got lost on his way home.”

“Thank God,” she finally managed to say. “We’ve been worried sick. Where are you?”

I explained where I was.

“We’ll be there soon,” she said.

“Do you want to talk to Wesley?”

“Yes.” I put the phone on speaker and the boy talked to his mother. He’d been waiting at school, no one had arrived for forty minutes, so he had started to walk home. There was a lot of confusion. Wesley’s mom said she’d be there in about fifteen minutes and thanked me. Wesley had started crying a little, quietly. I promised I would stay around until they showed up.

Now it was just Wesley and me. What do you talk about with a nine-year-old kid?

“Where do you go to school?” I asked. He explained that he went to a school down the road, because his father lived in Portland — not the next town over where his mother lived. So I guess the parents were separated or divorced.

“Do you like football?” he asked. He was actually trying to make conversation with me. Actually, I don’t like football much. But I wasn’t going to say that.

“Big game coming up,” I responded. “Who do you root for?”

I can’t even remember what he said after that. What must it be like to have to come up to a random stranger in a church parking lot, in the cold drizzle. And here he was trying to make me more comfortable. Poor kid.

We sat there quietly for a few minutes. A greenish minivan and a well-traveled black pickup truck pulled into the parking lot. There was some sort of construction logo on the side of the pickup. Mom got out of the van and Dad got out of the pickup.

Wesley ran over, backpack bouncing up and down, and hugged his mom. I stayed seated on the cinderblock wall, I didn’t want to intrude. She looked like an average working-class mom, a little tired, with a worn-out minivan. He had a little black goatee and a gimme cap. Now he was hugging Wesley too.

I waited a minute or so to see what would happen. Nobody was shouting or screaming. They were just hugging and talking. Happy ending.

I waved and walked away. It was warm in my house when I got home, but it was still cold and raining outside. Wesley was found, and that made things seem a little better.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


    1. You know, living in a new place with few friends, there have not been very many opportunities to be kind. I’m sort of grateful to Wesley for giving me an opportunity to just do what any good human would have done. It felt pretty good.

    1. I appreciate that, but I don’t think any thanks are necessary. I thought about that. Not only can I not imagine doing anything other than what I did, I cannot imagine anyone else — especially any parent — doing anything else either. In some sense, the whole thing could only have come out the way it did. I’m just glad that the kid’s mom answered the phone!

      1. I understand why you say that, Josh, but this story could have ended so much differently.

        Perhaps your need to rest at a church was providential.

  1. I could not love this story more! We have so many opportunities to demonstrate kindness if we just look around us and pay attention to the look on someone’s face, their gait, their voice, and then decide to act. Thank you.

  2. I’m glad Wesley ran into you – someone nice and trustworthy who made sure he got reunited with his parents. I got lost once on my way home from school when I was in kindergarten. It was scary. My house was just right up the road but one day they made us all go out a different door on the other side of the building and I was too shy to ask for help. I crossed a big street with the other kids who normally used that door and I followed a boy I knew from my class. When he told his mother and grandmother that I was lost, they gave me directions on how to get back. But I didn’t understand so I just walked up the street and stopped at a stone wall, feeling very sad. Luckily they saw from their window and walked me back to the school. In the meantime, realizing I was late getting home, my Mom took her other two toddlers and came to find me. Happy ending 🙂

  3. I recall a female friend and fellow parent once telling me about a book. I believe the title was “Protecting the Gift” – gift meaning our children. Among its sad tales were those of children who’d asked the “wrong” adult for help. The author invited parents to instruct their children to seek help not from men or even men in uniform but from other moms.

    I’m pleased this boy had you to turn to, Josh. We must all protect these gifts.

  4. Josh, thank you for this story. It’s good to know you are out walking (something I wish I could find time to do more) but most importantly that you haven’t changed a bit since we last talked. You MADE my very tiring week with this story …it’s about connections to me. Thanks.