The thought of your child being kidnapped is terrifying. So much so, that it represents one of the greatest fears of all parents. According to a 1998 study by the Mayo Clinic "nearly three-quarters of parents said they feared their children might be abducted." This outranked other concerns such as "car accidents, sports injuries, or drug addiction." Looking at the numbers it's easy to see why so many parents obsess over this potential tragedy. Parents.com reports that "every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted." That works out to about 2,160 per day or 788,000 per year. Of this mountain of kidnapped youth, about 1,000 or so (roughly one percent) are removed from the U.S. While nearly 50 percent of all kidnappers are family members, when it comes to abducting a child to a foreign country the crime is almost always perpetrated by one of the parents. Tragically, only about half of these children are returned to the victimized parent.
Liz Meredith's story takes place within the confines of that one percent. Her two young daughters, aged four and six, are abducted by their abusive father-four years divorced from Meredith-and smuggled away from Anchorage to Greece. The good news, if there is such in memoirs like these, is that from the very beginning we know that Meredith was successful in bringing her children back home. Notwithstanding this knowledge, her recounting of this painful episode remains a taut thriller, a twisting, rollercoaster ride up and down the gamut of emotions, wringing from the reader disbelief, anger and sorrow. This is not to say that Meredith engages in clichéd bits of melodrama-far from it. One of the many strengths of her trenchant pilgrimage to rescue her children is that it does not devolve into a cloying composite of artificially constructed set pieces, designed to squeeze our tear ducts dry. Meredith gracefully pulls us into her journey, so that we're traveling into Greece with her, by her side, silent participants, holding on, as best we can, much like she is doing.
It is an incredibly frustrating ride. At almost every stage it seems like events and people are conspiring against her. It would be unfair to potential readers to disclose those specifics-suffice to say, most every institution and many of the people staffing those organizations, at one point in time or another, fail to help Meredith and in some cases, rather than helping at all, hinder her efforts by either giving bad advice or no advice at all. I was so incensed by the actions of some officials that I researched them, hoping to learn if they had paid for their transgressions.
On a much more celebratory note, there are scores-yes, literally scores of them-of people who rise to the occasion. Meredith, who lives here in Anchorage "worked as a battered women's advocate at Abused Women's Aid in Crisis (AWAIC)" when her kids were stolen from her. Her colleagues, friends and supporters from around the community worked tirelessly to raise contributions (she spent well over $100,000), critical in her quest to secure the return of her girls.
When she went to Greece she was afraid that the Greek community would rally to her divorced mate's defense, not caring about the heinous crime he had committed-thankfully, she was wrong. Except for some government officials who let personal biases interfere with their professional responsibilities, the Greek community opened their arms to her. She was sheltered in private homes by people she had never met before. Individuals who were strangers risked their reputations and livelihood to help her. The altruistic outpouring buoyed her spirits, kept her aloft through the turbulence and finally, it was her Greek friends who crafted the solution to rescue her children. Meredith was blown away by this sweeping support she received. Speaking with her from her home in Anchorage she said that even today, more than 20 years after the event transpired, she was amazed at "how unifying our crisis was to people everywhere. Here in Anchorage, all around the world, people were saying, 'This is horrible, what can we do to help you?"'
It is Meredith's acknowledgement of the role all those individuals played that makes this a universal story. She elucidated on that theme when I asked her what she most wanted her book to achieve: "I hope it becomes a book that helps, gives back in some small way-pays it forward." And it does exactly that.