Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lost and Found

Nearly two weeks ago, the teacher in charge of the group decided that we should walk the entire length of the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. It was rather late and I was tired and asked if we could take the bus instead. My teacher was adamant and inquired which path was better. I opted for the 'high road' because it was lit by a series of lamps and the one along the pool was dark and littered by Canada Geese droppings.

Unfortunately, the 'high road' turned out to be a gathering place for gigantic swarms of gnats, although harmless unless they fly into your eyes, nevertheless, they are still annoying. Frightened students started to scream, waving their arms, and anything they had in front of them which would disperse the gnats. Many started running toward the WWII Memorial only to slam into another swarm! (There were about ten of these!) It was an amusing sight that had me laughing between 'bouts', being careful to keep my mouth shut while in the midst of the gnats.

When we finally reached the memorial, the teacher said it would have been better to have taken the 'poopy' route! (I think next year she'll take the bus!) However, one young man was extremely upset, for he had lost his wallet.

One of the other teachers tried to retrace his steps with him to look for the wallet and asked the usual questions regarding the last time he saw his wallet etc. He was sure he had it with him at the Lincoln Memorial. It became evident that it must have flown out of his fanny pack while he was 'defending' himself against the gnats.

The head teacher was rather cynical and wrote this off to irresponsibility. It was a done deal in her mind that he would never see his wallet again and that someone would find it and the $200 inside and declare it a holiday! I told her I would pray for it; again I was faced with a cynical expression. This young man was a nice fellow who didn't seem like the careless or absent-minded type. I felt badly for him.

Despite being brought up in cities where one experiences a greater cross-section of behavior, I am not cynical; just the reverse. I have a great deal of faith in my fellow man and the grace of God. In fact, there have been several instances on my trips that lost items had been found and returned. I told her that I would call several places the next day to report the wallet missing and try to track it down. She didn't understand why I would take the time and trouble to do this. What were the odds that a small, dark, ballistic nylon, fold-over wallet would be found or turned in? Well, one doesn't get, unless one asks.

The next morning I called the US Park Service grounds personnel, both the Lincoln and the WWII memorial National Park Rangers, DC police, as well as some other numbers given to me. Interestingly enough they all did have wallets and purses that were either found or turned in by others (So there are honest people in the world!), but not the one I was looking for.

The young man was devastated and accepted the inevitable truth.

Our day was being spent at the International Spy Museum, National Archives, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian before touring the US Capitol and meeting their US Representative.

It was at the National Museum of the American Indian that my teacher received a call on her cell phone.

She quickly handed me her cell phone and on the other end was a voice proclaiming that the wallet had been found!

It was the voice of another tour guide who had followed the same route with her group (for the same reason) and were evidently right behind us! When she picked up the wallet, she noticed that there was a school ID in it, besides the money, and set to track down the owner.

After she returned to her hotel room, she hooked up her laptop and researched the school to find that indeed, their eighth grade was in Washington, DC. She called the school as soon as it opened (a three hour time difference since the school was in California) and was able to get the head teacher's cell phone number!

At the point of this call, she was aboard her own tour bus and was two blocks away from the Smithsonian we were visitng!

Naturally, I literally ran out to meet her and retrieve the wallet.

Imagine my surprise when it was pointed out that she had been a new tour guide I had spent time encouraging three years previously! Hugs all around!

She certainly went the extra mile!

She wouldn't accept a 'reward' as she felt what she did was her duty - the right thing to do.

After thanking her and hopping on her bus to thank the group and let them know how much this was appreciated and how good it was that they were honest and compassionate, I rushed back to the museum to reunite the young man and his wallet. All the cash was there.

The young man was joyous and the teacher was flabbergasted. I gave thanks and I used the opportunity for another teaching moment on compassion and honesty. (The two, in my mind, go hand-in-hand.) The teacher said that some of her lost faith in people was found. (Some!)

It also brought home the fact that blessings and grace can be found and not all the lessons learned on tour are academic.


The other tourguide's group was eating in the same Kosher Jewish restaurant in New York City before the Broadway show, as we were! She recognized me and came over to my table where I introduced her to all the teachers, the entire group, and especially to the young man. I was glad they all had the opportunity to put an actual face to the person responsible for returning the wallet.


I think not.

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