It is around nine at night and I am half way home when I hear the call. A mom is slowly walking up the street, two mournful kids trailing behind. Every few steps they call out “Tigger! Tigger!”
“Oh!” I stop. “Are you looking for a kitty?”
“Yes,” the mom replies. “She seems to be missing.”
“I’m so sorry. What does she look like? I’ll keep my eyes open for her.”
The little girl’s eyes fill with tears.
“She’s black with white paws and a white patch on her body.”
This cat is clearly a beloved part of the family. And she is missing.
I find myself unreasonably affected by this sorrow; this grief associated with a missing cat, a stranger’s missing cat no less.
But I know exactly why.
I am returning home from watching the screening of a film called I Am Jane Doe.
This film is a documentary that exposes the world of underage sex trafficking and tells the courageous (and ongoing) story of mothers and daughters who have come forward to take on the big business that supports online trafficking. It a legal battle against wealthy men and a misinterpretation of a law that protects freedom of speech on the internet at the cost of the lives of kids. The law was created in 1996 when the internet was a baby, and no one would conceive of the evil and exploitation that it could and would generate. At one point in the film the statement is made that it is more difficult to sell a motorcycle online than it is to sell a kid.
The film is gripping and poignant. One moment I find myself in a rage against the evil of both the industry and the justice system; the next moment I tear up as I listen to a teenager talk about being raped over and over again.
The statistics are profoundly disturbing. There are over 450,000 entries for missing children in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children data base. Of those, one in five are likely sex trafficked. Approximately two-thirds of these children are trafficked online, primarily through a website that sells furniture, instruments, and bicycles. Young girls and boys are manipulated and forced into the nightmare of sex trafficking by men and women who are masters at deceiving and recruiting. It’s horrifying and it’s nauseating. And it is happening in a city near you. I guarantee it.
I leave the theatre deeply disturbed. The statistics and stories wake me up to an area of which I have only a peripheral knowledge. The lives of those in the film are forever changed because of actions of evil, greedy people. Yet, for all the evil present, there was the profound hope represented in all those who had come forward to fight against this wrong. From brave parents to lawyers that will not give up, there is a fight to end this wrong.
I have all this on my mind when I hear the low call of a mom and her kids looking for a lost cat. It is dark and the streetlights seem dim. Sounds of a summer night in the city are all around us.
It feels poignantly connected. Lost cats and lost kids in a world that repeatedly chooses exploitation and money over humanity. I feel a bit silly connecting the two. A lost cat is nothing compared to the agony of a lost kid. I am well aware of this, yet still I feel sad. It’s all too much.
I remember the beginning of the beautiful book The End of Suffering. The author, Scott Cairns, is grieving over the death of two dogs, and this is his starting point for writing about suffering. His words poignantly describe what I’m currently feeling.
The graves of two dogs may seem to some to be a relatively poor starting point—maybe even, to some, an insulting starting point—for this sort of inquiry. I hope not. I would never mean to equate the loss of a dog—or even the loss of two very good dogs—with every other occasion of human suffering.
Still, I will not discount how hard, how sharp, even this loss remains—and how puzzling. It’s the puzzlement, frankly, that makes even this current, specific grief remind me more generally of other grief, of other painful occasions, and of our overall predicament.
In any case, as I shovel and as I weep over my big sweet dogs, I wince off and on, a little embarrassed that in a world where each newscast and newspaper brings new images of heart-wrenching human tragedy, I continue to be so broken up over losing my dogs.
My only defense for the moment will have to be that these really were extraordinarily good dogs. And they loved me.
They were Labradors, no less.
Big yellow Labradors.
Innocent as rain.*
I am nearing my own home. The sparkling white lights on the porch that glow all year round, challenging conventional wisdom that says they are for the Christmas season alone, beckon me to warmth and safety; beckon me to the haven I call home. I sigh as I walk up the stairs. I think of the mom grieving her lost girl; I think of the little girl on the street, earnestly looking for her lost kitty. I do hope they find Tigger.
*From The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns