On a recent trip to see family in Oklahoma, my little band of four merry travelers decided to break up the 450 mile trip with rest stops to allow my five year old daughter and 11 year old son some wiggle time. This helps us decrease the monotony and greatly improves the mood of the minivan on the way down to Grandma’s house.
One such stop was at a new place for us to explore, a state park at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri called Pa He Tsi (part of Grand Glaize Beach/Marina). This is a pretty little cove with a playground and stream to explore. We got out and set about rumbling around and looking at nature. This is where a remarkable story begins.
My five year old daughter hopped of the van clutching her ever faithful stuffed bear named “Beary”. We walked and played and explored and after about 20 minutes decided to hop back in the van and head south. About an hour and a half later, just outside of Springfield, my daughter asked a question that sent a chill through us all, “Mom? Where is Beary?”
Just about all children have special toys. The ones that give them comfort during stressful times and make them happy. To her, this was Beary. And in the next few moments, many sad revelations came to light for us. A frantic search of the van revealed that Beary was, indeed, not with us. My daughter then thought a little more and remembered that she had carefully placed him on a park bench to look at the boats while she played and had forgotten him in our haste to leave. We knew that there was no way we could go back to get him at that point as it would have put the whole trip in jeopardy. We also knew we needed to break this news to her. As you can imagine, she didn’t take it well and her heartbreaking pleas made this old, gruff, surly dad want to cry. Questions I couldn’t answer like “Who will take care of him?”, “Where will he live now?”, “What if they throw him away?” I was nearly as devastated by the answers I had to give as she was to receive my awful and ill worded replies. She was genuinely devastated and took full responsibility for the loss, which I admired in one so small. But that didn’t make it any easier.
After much discussion, crying and heartfelt pleas during lunch, I decided to make one, last gasp effort to contact someone at the park. I walked out of the restaurant and paced up and down the sidewalk chasing down the right number as if I was the one who had lost a family member. Finally, I got the right number and actually got to talk to a someone with a pulse on the other end of the line. Hastily, I explained my plight, but my secret cynicism could only be barely suppressed. The person on the other end of the line, after getting a firm location, said he would drive over and take a look and then transferred me to another real person who said she understood but that they were very short staffed. She would do what she could and took my number, just in case.
Do you know how hard it is to hide your doubts about humanity from a child? To try to be optimistic when you doubt the outcome will be anything but bad. Those big brown eyes just pierced me when I told her that the rangers were looking for Beary. It was all I could do to keep my outside voice weakly positive, even when I had huge doubts inside. We loaded up, all (including me) still on the verge of tears and drove on to Oklahoma. My wife and I were secretly discussing a plan B when the most amazing thing to happen to me in a very long time happened. The phone rang.
And on the other end of that phone was a very cheerful and positive human being. His name was Ranger Dave Stark and he was calling with the best news I could possibly imagine. It seems an APB had been placed on one wayward little brown bear named “Beary”. All park personnel had been placed on high alert (yes, I’m embellishing a bit) and after a brief pursuit, Beary had been “captured” while enjoying the view of the marina. And it got better! Ranger Stark informed me that “Beary” would be part of the bear relocation program and would be boxed up and shipped back to us. He should be there when we got back from our trip.
And he was. Not only did he arrive safe and sound, but the staff at the park had a little fun with him. They took a picture of him with Ranger Stark, sitting on his truck. Ranger Stark included a very sweet note detailing the capture, inviting my daughter down to meet him and encouraging her to be a ranger someday. There were also goodies such as a badge included in the package. My cynical, doubting, black little heart grew three sizes that day. And I will admit to feeling a little ashamed because I doubted this process would go well from start to finish. I even doubted whether the box would indeed arrive after Ranger Stark told me it would. That’s sad. Shame on me.
We have made a thank you package for Ranger Stark and the staff at the park. Lots of thank you’s, not just from my daughter, either. Pictures, cookies, the whole bit. And an addition to our holiday card list as well.
See, this isn’t just about a little girl losing a toy. Or about a nice person finding it and returning it. To me it is about what is, or appears to be sometimes, lacking anymore in society. Truthfully, as you were reading this, didn’t you have those same adult doubts? In a civilization that seems sometimes to be losing all civility, a simple act such as this is, unfortunately, remarkable. However, in my opinion, it is absolutely essential to recognize anyone who goes above and beyond the call, regardless of whether it is to put your life on the line for someone else, or just to show care and compassion in daily execution of your job.
But the reason I submit this is to let as many people as I can know that great people exist and that we are all still capable of courtesy, understanding and appreciation. We don’t just have to do great things to be great people. Little things still mean very much and go a long way toward making things better. Like a little bear to a little girl.
My heartfelt thanks to the staff at Grand Glaize, Pa He Tsi and Lake of the Ozarks, and especially to Ranger Dave Stark. I know sometimes it seems that what you do doesn’t make much difference. But just know that it does. And we appreciate not only what you did for us, but what you do every day in service to the public. Enjoy the cookies!
Note: I have sent a copy of this to his commanding officer, several local papers and am planning on sending it to the state rep for his district as well as the local chamber of commerce. If you can think of anyplace else I should send it, let me know.