My daughter couldn’t wait to get to the beach. At age eight, she loved nothing more than building sand castles, and we’d just purchased a lime-green bucket with a yellow shovel she was dying to test.

The weather was weird that June day six years ago — heat and humidity punctuated by sudden sprinkles. The sun never quite broke through.

We packed beach chairs, towels and snacks and headed out anyway, to Big Marine Park Reserve, not far from our house in Scandia.

I was reading the paper, my daughter busily molding sand, when we heard a whistle and shouts to clear the water. A minute later, a female lifeguard approached.

“We need you for the human chain,” she told me. “A 6-year-old boy is missing.”

My shock must have registered, because she kept talking. “To search for him,” she said. “It’s standard procedure. All the adults help.”

I said: “Of course.”

I thought: “Oh, no.”

My reluctance was rooted in fear. What if we were to find him in the water? But I knew there truly wasn’t a choice. What if it were my own child?

I told my daughter not to move from our spot. A dozen or so grown-ups were lining up at the water’s edge. Some were patting their arms and legs with water, preparing their skin for a sure chill.

A male lifeguard gave instructions. We were to hold hands and stand no more than a foot apart as we walked into the water in a straight, even line.

If we felt anything with our feet, we were to stop and alert the lifeguards.

I wordlessly grabbed the hands of the strangers next to me. The contact united us in a sense of duty and propelled us forward through our dread. We had to help.

The thing that makes Big Marine a good family beach is its easy grade, perfect for little kids who would have to walk a long way before it gets deep. There’s no sudden drop-off. We could see our feet as we waded in.

I wondered who the 6-year-old was and whether the woman I’d glimpsed watching us from the lifeguard office was his mother. I thought about the time a stranger helped pluck my 3-year-old from the pool when he slipped off an air mattress and started to sink.

We were up to our waists. Chests. Shoulders. No one had stopped or called out. The shortest among us were by now up to our necks, and the lifeguard told us to turn around. We shifted to cover more area and then began our deliberate march back toward the beach. Chests. Waists. Knees. Then we could see our feet again.

Nothing. We found no trace of the boy in the water.

The lifeguards thanked us and told us they might need us again. I returned to my daughter, her sand castle abandoned as she’d watched the search.

Then the word started spreading. You could see the message move, from a lifeguard at the station to the ones who had guided our chain, to the nearest clump of people, and finally over to us.

The boy had been found, alive and well. He’d taken off alone on his bike. He was back now, safe with his mother.

The rush of relief was collective as the news reached all who, in those 20 minutes that seemed like a day, had worried, feared the worst and stepped in to help. Our human chain linked us together, and we celebrated.

 

 

ABOUT 10,000 TAKES: 10,000 Takes is a digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.