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Worst Fear & Moving Forward

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About a week or so before Jaycee Dugard was discovered, alive and well after 18 years in captivity, I had a recurring dream. My young son was walking in front of me, and then in an instant disappeared from my sight – my life. I felt desperate and empty. As I searched for him, it seemed I walked a very long time before I finally rounded a corner and found him. Years had passed but he was alive – and returned to me. I felt so relieved…

When, days later, news broke that the little girl who’d disappeared from South Lake Tahoe turned up nearly two decades after being snatched from her home, my strange nightmare seemed to make some sense. That is, if you can make any sense of what we now know, in vivid detail, about what happened to Jaycee Dugard.

Remember how we were all so indescribably relieved to learn at least one missing child actually survived being kidnapped? Overjoyed at the thought of a mother and daughter reunited. But we were also torn apart, thinking of the years they missed together and unable to imagine her suffering. Now that Jaycee Dugard has written down exactly what happened to her in black and white on the pages of her memoir, “A Stolen Life”, we no longer need to imagine. Somehow, though, I cannot bring myself to read about her suffering. Especially those passages that have left my coworkers gasping – with shock and horror. And they thought they’d seen, read and heard everything.

It is nearly impossible to understand how such cruelty can exist in our world. People of religious backgrounds will offer their own explanations. Perhaps the devil is alive and well and our lives are predetermined. People who aren’t religious but who consider themselves spiritual will draw conclusions too. They may argue we evolve through our experiences, good or bad or painful. But these philosophies still cannot take the sting away. Or the worry.

When my oldest son was about 5, I did a report about how to keep kids safe from kidnappers: “An adult never needs help from a child…” was one piece of advice, “…not for directions or to find a lost dog”. Another was to tell kids to “get another adult to help” and stay away. How to get away? Run in a zig-zag pattern (in case the bad guy had a gun) or crawl underneath a parked car, where their little bodies would be hard to reach. In our story, we even covered what kids should do if they were pulled into a car: jam a button in the ignition or from the back seat wrap a shirt around the driver’s head and blind him. These were tips I learned for the first time, and then came home and taught my little guy – even though my husband cautioned that if I said too much, I might scare him.

He is not the only one who’s warned me. I am mindful of allowing children to enjoy their freedom. I admit, I can be overprotective. I work in the news and on a daily basis see the worst that can happen. But when you see video like the one we showed this week, of the Garridos (both of them) intent on videotaping innocent children at a playground for sexual gratification, I would rather err on the side of too much caution. I won’t stifle my kids but, as one viewer recently put it, I’ll do whatever it takes to give them a good chance of having a future.

While Phillip and Nancy Garrido proved to be real-life monsters, they aren’t the only ones. Just as we were trying to process what we learned about Jaycee this week, the story broke about the little boy in Brooklyn. He was just 8 and was walking home from camp for the very first time by himself. It was just a few blocks. His parents had practiced it with him. He got lost, and trusted an adult who police say didn’t just kidnap but also dismembered him.

Stealing the lives of children and shattering their precious innocence with demonic urges and violence. No words can explain it. Jaycee’s own words will lift the veil for some who have not yet learned such evil exists. And life will keep teaching us that no matter how much you try, you cannot fully protect yourself or your loved ones from it. We just have to find a way forward, eyes wide open but seeing the beauty and joy, not just the darkness.

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