‘Luuk is missing. He went outside to play with Jesse but we can’t find him anywhere’.
With every word, the panic level in my husband’s voice rises.
Our nine-year-old went to play football with a friend on the playground. But the playground is deserted. They’re not in any of the streets around our house either.
To be honest, I’m annoyed at his panicky reaction. There’s no need for it, right? The boys are fairly adventurous but don’t ever do anything really stupid.
I attempt to calm him down:
‘Easy now, they’re probably just playing at someone else’s house. I’m almost home, hang on. Let’s look at the facts and the full story when I’m back.’
The facts do not help.
The boys haven’t been seen for almost two hours. Jesse was meant to go home at five and it’s already a quarter to six. They never usually stay away for that long.
I bike around the neighbouring streets once more, completely convinced I’ll run into them. They are probably just playing football somewhere else.
But no. No trace of them.
Neighbours near the playground haven’t seen or heard anything either.
Messages have been sent out in the school- and neighbourhood app groups. No one has seen them. By now, about 30 people are out and about looking for them. Every few seconds a new app shows on my phone: ‘Looked at the football club. Not there either’.
My heart rate has gone up by 30 beats a minute.
Suddenly everything and everyone is suspect.
‘I wonder why that van has tinted windows and is playing music that loud? I’ve never seen it parked in our street before. I’ll just take a quick photo. Better safe than sorry.’
‘What’s that man doing there by the fence? What’s he looking at? Is he photographing something or did he just leave after seeing me?’
‘Oh no! That boy over there is staring at something in the water. What’s he looking at…? And what is that girl with all those piercings doing on her own in the stands at the baseball ground?’
I’m not someone prone to thinking in doom scenarios. Even though part of me is still convinced that someone will ring me anytime and say: ‘They’ve just come back to the house’, the rest of me is indulging in macabre fantasies.
Yes, time to admit that I am genuinely worried.
‘What if some kind of lunatic has taken them?’
In my worried state, I see all sorts of things that I normally do not see. Or rather, I attach a very different meaning to what I see.
The van? I would normally not even notice it. Just someone on the way home from work relaxing to music.
The man by the fence? Probably just tidying up after his dog.
The boy staring at the water, the girl at the baseball ground? Teenagers just wanting to be alone with their thoughts.
This is what fear does to your perception.
You start labeling everything based on those fears. Everything becomes a sign that something can be seriously wrong. The other explanations for what you see are still there, but easily dismissed with a : ‘yeah, maybe, but I still think it’s suspicious!’
In the middle of all that fear, with no signs that things are OK, your darkest thoughts gain the upper hand. I do not experience the luxury of being able to calm myself and accept the more reasonable explanations for what I see. Not until I know for sure that everything is actually fine.
People involved in organisational change also have genuine fears and concerns.
Fears that are the complete opposite of all the positively-tinted messages that are doing the round. Even if you think that those fears are nothing compared to fearing for your child, for those involved, the fears are very real.
The fears they have for themselves, for the organisation, their position or job, financial security, all of these colour their perception.
They genuinely see different things than you see, with your come-on-let’s-go-for-it lense. And even when you do see the same things, they interpret them based on their fears. The world then looks very different than what you see from your optimistic perspective.
Little steps forwards that you see as a sign of progress, they see as evidence that the larger ambition will never be realised.
The new week start-up? An example that ‘they want to keep a close eye on us’ instead of a way to support each other.
Before you know it, you start to label this as resistance that needs to be broken.
As long as you are worried, you simply cannot be open to any other explanation.
Whether your fears are grounded or not. They need attention. They need to be taken seriously. It’s your job to tune into how they see things. By really listening and asking questions from their perspective.
You may not be able to take away their fears. However, if you take them seriously, it will be easier to put them to rest for a bit. This is important, because without calming those enough, they will keep experiencing everything through the filter of those fears.
And see suspicious people and vans everywhere.
Just after I finish my phone call with the police to report them missing, my phone rings.
An unknown number.
It’s my husband. His voice slightly broken.
In all the scenarios we conjured up, the real explanation never came up.
What really went on? The boys had come home through the front door, which was accidentally left ajar. They had been having a great time, sat upstairs, very quietly watching videos on YouTube for hours on end. Uninterrupted. Because no one had seen of heard them come in.
While I had wondered which ball they had taken to play with – their favourite ball was still in the hallway – none of us had noticed their shoes standing there neatly. Talk about selective perception!