The Land of the Free and Lost

Runaway train

a Runaway train

The issue of lost children resurfaced in America again this week as national media coverage centered on a more than three decades old missing child case, the case of Etan Patz.

Etan was just six years old when he disappeared on May 15, 1979, about a block away from his home in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, and he has never been found.  Etan was one of the first missing children whose face was shown on thousands of milk cartons in an effort to locate him – a technique that became widely used by those searching for missing children in the years that followed.

Do you remember seeing the images of missing children displayed on milk cartons? I remember the images and recognizing the disturbing irony of a milk carton as a communications channel.

I mean…what’s more synonymous with the apple-pie, wholesome view of America than milk?  Yet, the images of missing children on milk cartons seemed to blatantly run counter to that image and, instead, pointed to an ugly, unclean and hidden side of America.  The images silently screamed to all of us in America at our breakfast tables, “we don’t live in a pretty, clean milk-and-cookies sort of world.  This may be the land of the free, but this is also the land of the lost.”

It’s devastating to consider the tragedy of stolen youth and the number of young lives being snuffed out by sick individuals in our country every year.  Today, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that more than 700,000 children are reported missing each year.

It’s also equally harsh to consider how many of our youth are intentionally lost and the harsh realities that drive many of our youth to claim the title of intentional runaways.  In 1994, the band Soul Asylum released a track titled, “Runaway Train,” that earned the band a Grammy for best rock song of that year.  The video for the popular tune began by highlighting a disturbing statistic, “There are over one million youth lost on the streets of America.”  That stat has continued to grow.  For example,  in 2010, the National Runaway Switchboard estimated: “on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth living unsupervised on the streets, in abandoned buildings, with friends or with strangers.”

What about you?  How do you feel about the lost in America?  Do you think their stories get told often enough, or do you think their stories surface from time to time in our national psyche but are generally hidden away like a national secret?

Also, have you ever been intentionally lost?  Have you ever wanted a ticket for a runaway train? If so, what kept you from running?

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