Yesterday they found the skeletal remains of a two year old, just a couple miles from where I live. This was not shocking. We have all been looking for him for over 3 weeks now. He had disappeared from the campground less than a mile away.

The first day of helicopters, many sheriffs and jeep patrol vehicles, the mobile coordination unit set up at the top of the road where I turn in to work and home was shocking. Shocking because this is such a bucolic place. People come here to recreate, bathe in the rushing creek, commune with the rocks and ‘get away from it all’. But here was ‘it all’ on our doorstep.

Oh, we all know about the cactus every fifth step, the steep ledges that drop down to washes, the cats’claw trees, rattlesnakes and occasional mountain lion. But those are natural to this place, they belong here. It is part of what we ‘come to’ in order to ‘get away from’. Away from human violence with its malicious intent, or drug influenced behaviors or simply the impoverishment of body/mind/spirit. So when they said that this two-year old had wandered away on his own in the dark at night, unheard, with no trace, we knew that was not possible.

The days went on bringing more searchers – dog patrols, horseback searching teams, 3-wheelers. Volunteers came from as far away as 150 miles, returned veterans groups came and camped as well in the now buzzing campground, commandeered by the many who were dedicated to the search. Retired sheriffs manned the road blocks that checked all of us going in and out for 2 weeks, day and night. Groups of people in brightly colored vests with walkie-talkies, walked arms length apart through the thick brush and prickly stuff daily. And the media lurked on the edges of the Zone, where they were held at bay by respectful but determined law enforcement.

Then the FBI arrived. Another layer in the search, the struggle to know what happened and why. They interviewed all of us here at the small international boarding school at the end of the road just past the campground. They were unfailingly polite, surprisingly young and nothing like the people in Without A Trace. Then the retired sheriff volunteers started monitoring our ponds, as they were the deeper holes in the creek, looking for something to rise to the surface.

Living here I was, by proximity, involved. Sometimes riding out on my horse with deliberation to look, mostly as I walked from the house to the yards past the pond, as I drove in and out along the narrow roads that were in the search zone, I was always looking. We all were – the staff, the students, the locals, the people who kept their horses here. We’d take a walk just to look. We automatically scanned the ground for anything unusual we might see. We watched the sky for circling buzzards.

The faces of the searchers changed as the days went on, from hope with anxiety, to frustration and fear, to a quiet deep determination to find the evidence they needed – to find the little boys’ body. They were tired, they were watchful, they were human beings looking for one of their own. No-one was going to give up. So when the helicopters flew away the last time, the road blocks vanished and the last of Sheriffs vacated campground,  there was still a presence, the forestry service, the occasional patrol, and always those of us who live here.

The last day of the official search Big Push it rained. It poured, one of those ferocious rainstorms with voluminous water cascading out of the sky all day. How could anything be found now?

But the desert has a way of revealing its stories. A week after that storm, when it seems that we might never know, although we still look, they find him. A little body at the bottom of a wash, carried into the open by the cleansing storm of a week ago. I see the road blocked again, and ask the sheriff. He says ‘It looks like we have found something’. It is the first time anyone has said that in 3 weeks. I take a deep breath.

As I round the corner onto the short road back to the school and home, I am crying. Why now? Because now I can rest. Now I can close my eyes. Now I can feel.

I think maybe that is why it is so important find the missing, because otherwise those who are left are always looking, always on alert, never able to close their eyes and rest. I cannot see all of the searchers one by one, but I hope that their faces are relaxed, that they can close their eyes, that they can grieve freely without the responsibility of being the searchers. They deserve it.

And the family of the child? I cannot know for them. I cannot say. I write only for the searchers. The family and those directly involved in the drama, in the story of his disappearance, need their own door into closing their eyes and resting. It will be different for each of them.

Riding here with one of the students, a young girl from China, that same day, the choppers back and the road blocked again, before we know for sure, she tells me something. She says, “In China if a baby went missing like that, the police would look for maybe 5 days and then stop. If you are rich enough you might be able to pay them to look longer, but it would not be like this.”

This morning I think of the many people whose eyes will never close, who can never rest. I am grateful again for the rest of knowing where he is.  I grieve the loss of his life, and wonder about the litany of failures that led to is death. And I look at that young, thoughtful Chinese student and want to hug her. I hope she can always rest and close her eyes throughout her life.

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