Thursday, 4 October 2012

The abduction

of April Jones has reached the Australian as well as the British media. Pictures show a very attractive little girl with one of those perfect childish smiles that make you want to hug her. Why anyone would want to harm her - or any other child - is beyond comprehension.
It is something I cannot even begin to understand. Even when one of the children in the house next door has a screaming temper tantrum I have not the slightest desire to do them any harm. Even when a child goes on an uncontrolled rampage through the shopping centre, the park, the library or somewhere else I have not the slightest desire to do them any harm. I do not know anyone who would wish them harm - althought, like most people, I sometimes long to discipline them.
Like everywhere else we have had children go missing in this state. We have some particularly disturbing unsolved child disappearances. The most famous is probably the case of the three Beaumont children who went missing on Australia Day in 1966. The case resurfaces every so often but it has remained unsolved. It may never be solved. Their parents lived (and may still be living) with this for the rest of their lives. To wake every morning with the knowledge that your three children were missing would surely be enough to tip you over the edge of sanity into a living nightmare from which you would never wake. To never know what had happened to them would be mental torture beyond understanding.
Even when you do know what has happened I do not believe it is something you "get over". It would always be there.
I once knew, they are both now dead, a couple whose only child was murdered.
She was, from all accounts, a lovely and much loved child. Family, friends, parents of her friends, her teachers and people who just knew her casually all said she was a lovely child. She would not have gone willingly with her abductors. They would have had to overpower her. They were eventually caught but not before they had murdered more than once. They have never given any reason for what they did - apart from some sort of incomprehensible "thrill" of doing it.
I met her parents after she had died. Her father was working in the same area as I was. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who offered me more help than people who had not had a major tragedy in their lives. 
His wife was, among many other things, a writer. Several years after the murder of their child she finally found the courage to leave her husband for a few days and come to a residential conference at a university I had moved to. Her husband wrote and asked if I could keep an eye out for her. Of course. I knew it was taking an enormous effort for her to come - and for him to see her go.
I quietly informed several other people and they were supportive too. We saw to it that she had company when she wanted it, that someone walked to and from the conference venue with her without making an issue of it. We saw to it that she was included in discussions, again without making an issue of it. We simply tried to support her without smothering her with sympathy.
It almost all came to pieces when another student, training for the priesthood of all things, took it on himself to start quite deliberately telling "jokes" about death and funerals in her presence. They were not funny. They were cruel.
          "She has to get over it," he told us.
None of us could comprehend his attitude. I still cannot comprehend his attitude.
She wept in my room and then she went out and confronted him. She told him,
          "I am learning to live with it but I am not going to get over it."
No, you do not "get over" it. It is something the rest of us need to remember while we support them in living with it.

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