Musings: The lost is found

11-01-2019 17:01

Breaking news  Thursday night informed us that Jayme Closs, an eighth grader who lived in northern Wisconsin, has been found alive. Her parents had been murdered; she had been kidnapped. Subsequent news reports indicate that she had been the target all along and that her captor has himself been captured. What a relief. I cannot imagine living through such loss, as a small-town community, a part of a school and unimaginably, as a parent or grandparent. She will be returned to her family by the time this is posted, having spent some time in the hospital getting checked out.

Still, it got me thinking. Alexis Patterson went missing in 2002 at age 7. Her stepfather says he dropped her off at school; she was never seen again. It has been so long. I am sure there are those who remember her, but there has been no word about her. There were the usual posters, searches, balloon launches, remembrances over the years, but nothing.

My students were upset. Some of them knew the Patterson family because they lived in the same neighborhood. When the schools were asked to tie white ribbons to the trees around their campuses, our principal told a child who brought in the ribbons she had gotten from her local church that he needed to get permission from the school’s central administration’s PR department to hang them out front. She and I talked briefly. The excuse was that Alexis “wasn’t our student.” My response was that all the children belong to us. I took the ribbon, tied it in a bow and tacked it to the classroom door. We should not ignore the pain of our children.

Of course, I think race is a factor. The cute blonde children who disappear get more publicity than the brown children. In this moment, time is also a factor. Jayme was missing for two months, Alexis now gone these 17 years. Should we think of this as apples and oranges? Can we compare the two? In some ways, the cases are quite different. Still, this bothers me. I am grateful that Jayme is back with her family. Her grandparents, aunts, and uncles must have such a sense of relief. But somewhere there is a family that belongs to Alexis who is still waiting for news–any news. All in all, for them there has been silence. The police department occasionally gives and update, saying that for them the case is not closed. I hope not. I still think of Alexis and wish there would be some closure.

When I extend the scenario to my family I break down. I cannot imagine losing my child in such a manner–to have him disappear without a word. I think of friends whose children have studied abroad who have gotten into difficulties and my heart breaks. I am grateful that my son is whole and close, that he has street smarts and that he uses them. I believe that people are basically good, but that we have to pay attention to our fears and those gut-level moments that warn us. All we can do is the best we can and then keep on keeping on.

So welcome home, Jayme. I hope that as you work through the trauma, you eventually are able to reconcile these events and move forward. Like all loss, there is no “getting over it” but there is getting on. Take care.