As I write this, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been lost for nearly two weeks. It’s hard to imagine that in this day of technological wizardry and high-tech surveillance that something as big as a Boeing 777, with its 239 passengers and crew members, could be lost.
And yet it is.
For two weeks, international news outlets have focused attention on the search for this lost airplane and those who were aboard. They struggle with the concept: lost!
They want something finished, something final, something complete — even if that means floating implausible speculation involving black holes and the Bermuda Triangle. But the only thing they can say with any degree of confidence is "lost." The intrinsic uncertainty of the word hangs heavily as people around the world wait and wonder and worry.
During the Vietnam War, I had friends who had big brothers or cousins who were sent off to fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia. It was a frightening time, especially when we saw the horror of that conflict played out every day on the evening news. I knew families whose sons were killed, and I grieved with them and mourned their loss. But the most difficult families to console were those whose sons were listed as "missing in action."
What do you say? Do you extend hope — or sympathy?
Years later, I bumped into the mother of a young man who had been missing since his plane went down near Da Nang. I gently asked if she had ever heard anything definitive about what had happened to her son. After years of waiting, wondering and worrying, there was still pain in her eyes as she shook her head to say "no."
“You know," she said wistfully, "on holidays I still set a place for him at our table. Of course, in my mind I know that after all these years he’s not coming. But somehow, in my heart, I just can’t close the door on the possibility.”
As a young journalist, my first A-1 assignment was covering the disappearance of a 3-year-old girl in a small town just north of where I lived. When my editor called me at home with the assignment, I instinctively looked at my own 3-year-old, Amy, who was sitting in her high chair happily eating breakfast. I wondered how it would feel to not know where she was, to not know if she was safe or if she was well not.
My heart began to pound. It continued pounding throughout the morning as I talked to those who were conducting the search, gathering information for my story. I watched the girl's parents and understood the pain that was brimming in their eyes as they waited, wondered and worried. And I know it might sound callous, but it felt like there was almost a sense of relief when the child's body was found.
Of course, there was an outpouring of grief and sorrow from those who had come to help in the search. All were heartbroken, to be sure. But at least now they knew. They could deal with a hard reality more readily than the uncertainty of not knowing.
Today, we live in a world in which we are surrounded by lost souls. Many go missing from broken homes and dysfunctional families. Some have vanished into the murky haze of mental illness. Others have lost God, or have lost themselves in the meaningless pursuit of false gods like wealth, fame and power. Still others have fallen into dark holes of addiction and are missing in an action that is ultimately destructive to their minds, bodies and souls.
I can't help but wonder if there is pain in God's eyes as he looks down on his lost children and waits, and wonders and worries. Perhaps he's waiting for us, wondering what we will do to reach out to these lost souls and worrying if we will be in time to find them.
Before they're lost.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr