on The Path and we alongside

Wrestling hours of a two-day interview into a fourteen-minute segment that covers more than eight years of trauma-ringed lives is a feat I would not wish to attempt. Yet this is what Anna Sussman, a producer at Snap Judgment, recently did with a part of my life: searching for a lost child in the Colorado Desert while my own children were missing. You can listen to it now via podcast at Hunted | SnapJudgment, “The Path” (episode #601). I am so honored to have been involved and grateful to the show for spotlighting stories like these, because otherwise those of us who are living them can feel so alone. The point of the interview for me, as ever, was that maybe what happened to my children and me could help someone else. I can think of no other earthly reason to do something that is so painful in public!

I’ve already written about this process in previous entries (see on seeing in stories and on violence and survival, domestic to us), so will reprise none of that here. I have never listened to interviews done with me in the past, but for this one I decided I had to find the nerve to do so, and I just must say: Anna and the team at SJ did an incredible job with the piece. Although hearing it raises the demons of trauma for me personally, they managed to find the core of the story and convey that. If there are any limitations in the content, they’re all mine. To wit and to name just a few: my voice no longer has the beautiful timbres it naturally did even a few years ago; my laugh sounds tinny and strained; I struggled to find the right words and the right sequence even in these short clips; and it is always hard for me to describe what I see happening on the ground to people who do not track.

The one thing I wish to make sure that all listeners know is that the search for the missing child was done by many more people than just me: upwards of a hundred on the ground and/or incoming by the time we found her. Since the interview focused on me, it sounds a bit as if I were alone and found the child by myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a green tracker, I was alone for a good bit of the start of the search, yes, primarily because my door was the one that her father found first and nearly everyone else was at least an hour’s drive or more away. And I also spent a couple hours in the middle of that morning working alone, when the two rangers who had been sent to help work the track with me until more trackers could arrive were called off for other tasks in the rapidly expanding mission. And, as it turned out, what I did that day mattered, and for this great good fortune I will ever be grateful. I wrote about all of this at some length in my book Point Last Seen, if you wish to learn more about how such a search functions (and how many people are involved!), and I talked about it at length during the field portion of the SJ interview. Getting a sense of all that into so few minutes for the podcast, of course, would have been even more of a feat than the whole gig already was, so I in no way intend my comments here as a criticism. I’m too blown away by how effectively these minutes turned out anyway.

Nevertheless. I have lived my life in dread of being singled out as a hero (something I also addressed directly in Point Last Seen), for I have seen firsthand how easily heroes can make other people feel less valued and valuable. In search and rescue I saw it destroy teams and lives, and I have done my dead level best not to participate in that. The cook is one of the most important people on a search, I always say, mainly because it’s true! And without everyone, no one gets found. I am greatly comforted by the fact that my work was valuable to that team and has been to some others since, and I am delighted for everything that any team I am ever on accomplishes, but I am just one little person in a great big world and no hero (or heroine). Contributing is what I care about. Having one more chance to walk alongside someone else and make a little difference while here.

So if you listen to the interview, please remember that I—very much like every one of us on this planet—was only alone for some of the time. And even when any of us feels most alone? There is always help nearby, if we can but find our way to it. I pray that, if you find yourself or a loved one or even a stranger in such a place, you, too, will find your way to the souls walking alongside.

My deepest gratitude to Anna Sussman and her team for letting me walk alongside for a spell.

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  1. Michelle McMillen

    Well, I listened to your segment on Snap Judgment last night and never got the impression that you were the solo searcher or the triumphant hero. It was very much about what the search meant to you PERSONALLY, and why, and how your experiences particularly equipped you for the job. It was riveting, compelling, and wonderful; thank-you for sharing.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Michelle, for your kind words. I appreciate hearing your take on how that search-not-solo came across. I’m likely too attuned to such things, having seen how angrily people can react when someone gets too much credit, and so I spend (possibly way too!) much of my waking energy trying to work in collaborative and non-hierarchical ways. I’m glad that you let me know how it sounded from your angle: I’ll remember that next time I over-do sidestepping such things. Thanks again for your post.

  2. Dan

    Hi, I heard the amazing episode on Snap Judgement. Thank you for your love for your children and turning that energy into doing something for other people. Thank you for sharing a very difficult part of your life with us. I am so sorry for the terror and anguish you endured. You are an inspiration. I wish you the very best on the rest of your path.

    Washington, DC

    1. Author

      Dan, thank you so much for the kindness in your comments to me. It is an odd thing, being so public about something so personal, and can sometimes leave one feeling quite disheveled and undone—rather exposed—but every time I hear from people who say it has helped. (Many contact me in backchannel ways, because speaking in public about this doesn’t feel safe or okay for a lot of us yet.) I just want the pain to count for something better in the long run, you know? Maybe if people could understand these things better, we could find better ways to support those who are dealing with them. That’s been the case, I believe, to some extent nationally, but we still have a very long way to go. I am so grateful for your kind words and intend to remember them a long way forward. They are a great gift to someone in my shoes! Warmest regards, h

  3. ellen jantzen

    So wonderful, so soulful. I was especially moved by your feelings after your husband was found but not your children. Thank God for the news that came….

    1. Author

      Thank you, Ellen, for hearing the soul in it: that’s the whole point of speaking out for me: that the soul somehow be given a voice for its passages here. It was hard to find words for how I felt when that call came. The utter dread and stillness was informed by the threats he had recently made and our efforts over the previous six weeks to evade him and how determined he was then to follow through. The world empties of purpose and substance, I think, when we are pressed utterly to the floors of our beings. In not being able to think or see footprints or do any of the things that sustained me, I wound up empty and undone and unable to carry on. In that place, we must be carried forward by something bigger than ourselves for a while. The deputy DA and investigator on the case took it on, as did one dear friend, who came from a long distance and did everything possible to help (much of which was effective). I, too, thank God for that news . . . and that we made it. For it seems to me that if god exists, everything that exists must be part of that great love, and thus we little humans stand in need of it daily. Over and over my life has proven to me how interconnected everything is (bar none and nothing!), and how lucky I am to be alive to experience it. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment here.

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