I was walking through the park beside my house, not for a leisurely stroll, but to take a shortcut. There was a job fair on the other side of town and the nearest bus stop was on the opposite end of the park.
Up ahead there was something like a jungle gym. A children's play area with little structures to climb, slides and swings. There were a few parents along the perimeter and a handful of really young kids playing and laughing. Yelling and running around.
One little boy went up to his dad, who was sitting on a nearby bench at the edge of the play area. The boy was no more than maybe 4 years old with neat, combed brown hair and wearing an oversized coat. The dad was engrossed, reading a book when the boy pointed at a red balloon tied to the arm of the bench. The dad leaned over, untied the balloon's string and handed it slowly, carefully to the boy. Just in that split second, a big gust of wind pushed the balloon up, away and out of the boy's hand.
Somehow in the same split second, without a moment's hesitation, I took a few big strides and leapt into the air. I caught the balloon by what felt like the last inch of its string.
It took a second for the boy to realize I had saved the day. I went down on one knee, not too close though to not scare the boy. I extended my hand, trying to give him his balloon. He seemed to inch back nervously, but then he sheepishly smiled. With the smallest step forward, and another, he was close enough to gently take back the balloon. Once back in his hand, he raced back to his dad the first moment he could.
The dad said to his son, "What do you say?"
The boy, leaning up against his dad's leg and his face buried against the outside of his thigh. He looked up at his dad and then looked over at me and in a hushed tone he said, "Thank you."
I said, "You're welcome." I couldn't help but smile.
The father gave me a look of relief and a quick nod of appreciation. I nodded back.
I turned back to walk to the bus stop again. Still needing to get to the job fair after all. But a moment later I stopped, turning again to look back at the boy. He was smiling ear to ear, running to the swings, his combed hair a little less neat, the string clutched tightly in his small hand and the red balloon following just behind.