IN FARO airport in the Algarve, two weeksafter Madeleine McCann disappeared, there are children everywhere. I look around me and all I see are little girls with huge eyes and long blonde hair. I look at them and then look again carefully, at each and every one of them, just in case one of them might be her.
I catch myself staring at a child and then catch her mother staring at me, and I back away, in horror atwhat she might be thinking.
One of the friends that I am travelling with makes an innocent remark about a cute kid in a pram, and the father says "You can look after him, if you like!"
"Oh you would have to watch out," my friend says. "I might take him home with me and keep him!"
I cannot help wondering about how parents feel safe to take their eyes off their kids for even a second. How would you live with yourself, if it happened to your kid?
"It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." I begin to question the truth of this, as I consider the possibility that not having known a child might be better than losing one. And if I, who have never wanted to have children am thinking this, what must devoted parents be thinking?
Two of my sisters have gorgeous children, and naturally I adore them, as do their parents. I briefly allow myself to contemplate what life would be like if one of them disappeared. Even just imagining it feels horrific, as if the world has been ripped apart and instead of the normal, day to day concerns that one has, their loss has become the centre of the world, and agony the dominating force.
I am aware (as everyone who reads this is aware), that Madeleine Mc Cann is not the only child to have gone missing in the world. And that her parents are not the only ones suffering. All children are precious, and no one has a monopoly on suffering.
But Madeleine, with her little face and her huge eyes has become a global icon for missing children. And perhaps she represents more than that, perhaps she is a symbol of the ultimate conflict within the human experience, the war between what is natural and beautiful and innocent and what is cruel and corrupt and evil.
Today, when I look at the "Find Madeleine" website, I am informed that fifty million other people have already done so. I imagine millions of people looking at that face and imagining, as I did, the children that they know and how they would feel if anything happened to them. I want to help. But how can I?
In times of great distress, when life seems too cruel to tolerate, humans often turn to some kind of faith. The McCanns have been attending church, and saying prayers, and it is said that they derive comfort from that.
When my life goes wrong, I don't go to church, but I do call upon angels for guidance, and they do answer. Even though I have had my moments of doubting that they exist (and of assuming that I am mad to be talking to imaginary angels), when I look at my life now, it is not possible for me to deny that whatever I was talking to, it has worked for me.
And so I decided to ask them if they could help Madeleine and her parents.
They responded, and this what they said: "As you have already pointed out, it is not possible to experience the joy of love without there being the possibility of loss, and the more you open your hearts to loving each other, the greater the pain for you, when the person that you love is removed from your life for whatever reason," they answered.
"And while many of you fear love, for this reason, only you can decide which is better, to have loved and lost, or not to have loved at all. You have asked about Madeleine, and what you could do to help her and her family. The answer is that you can do more than you might think.
"But what are you already doing? You must ask yourself, when you think of Madeleine, do you say 'Oh, isn't it awful? Oh, the poor child, the poor parents, how they must be suffering!' Do you imagine pain and torture and do you then see it happening to people you know, perhaps your own family?"
"Of course," I replied.
"We understand that it upsets you, to think of the child disappearing, and of the distress of the parents," they continued. "And we understand that you wish to help. Many of you have people in your lives who are suffering in one way or another and it is natural to wish to alleviate the suffering of those you love.
"However, if we might make a suggestion, you can be far more effective in alleviating suffering if you do not imagine the person's pain, and feel it for yourselves. It is a common thing, when you hear that someone has been bereaved or injured, to picture that person in your minds, and to simultaneously imagine their pain. As you yourself have just done.
"We understand that it is difficult for you to connect your own thoughts with your external reality, but we assure you that the two are not separate. Obviously, we would not wish to in any way demean the sympathy that people are feeling in this case. But if we were to give advice on how to be of assistance, we would have to say two things.
"Firstly, that no outcome is pre-determined, in any situation, and any outcome is possible. Secondly, that by imagining and picturing the McCann family being happy, and without pain, and also imagining the child Madeleine being happy and free from suffering, you contribute far more than sympathy, but can actually influence the outcome of the situation in a way that is uplifting for all concerned.
"And so, if you wish to be of assistance in this matter, become aware not only of what you are thinking, when you consider Madeleine, but also of what you say to otherpeople."
I considered the many times that I have imagined the worst, for others, and also for myself. And I wondered how many people around the world are imagining the worst for Madeleine. And how many people are imagining her to be safe and well. And at that moment, I overheard a conversation next to me.
Some women were looking at the local paper and discussing the case. "Oh, it must be agony for the parents," one of them said. "Oh, it must be a living Hell," the other agreed.
And I know it may seem a far-fetched notion, but I wondered what would happen to the world if we all stopped doing that and began to picture a living heaven, instead?
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