Arjen Kamphuis went missing in August, and there’s still no clue as to what might have happened to him. All scenarios are open (even if those aren’t the scenarios feverish twitterati still keep dreaming up, replacing sparse facts with dopamine oozing speculation): an accident, someone did something to him, or a self chosen disappearance. His friend Ancilla van de Leest writes evocatively about what it means to his close ones to not know. The mix of hope, heart break, guilt and optimism against the odds. Because for each of the scenarios there’s a way to rationalise it as what might have happened. Yet, they all carry their own form of deep pain, and should Arjan return, by now it will not be the same Arjan that went missing. There’s a road forwards, but it’s never a road back to the spot you came from. That point in time is forever unreachable in the available evolutionary space, whatever may follow.
As Ancilla writes, for every scenario there are clues that potentially match. One scenario is self disappearance, and she points to what the combination of an active brain, stress, and a bit of isolation can do. It’s one part of why I find her posting so evocative. I know what it’s like to have your brain on fire, and how the notion emerges to just lose oneself, walking off into the mountains on my own. At times people have known how I was, but precisely at such potential inflection points they didn’t. I would never have allowed them to know.
I know Arjen since over a decade. His work on open government, open source and then increasingly privacy and cyber security, regularly overlaps in terms of events, network connections and content with some of the work I do. So we bump into each other. On a long late train ride to Enschede with us the only two passengers in the entire compartment, a good time ago, we discussed the state of the world and our work for governments. I told him I am an optimist. Arjen said I had to be, as I am a father. He’s right. Fatherhood is a reason I’m optimistic. An older reason however is that it’s a survival tactic from decades ago, back when it was tempting to disappear. It’s not a choice really. I have to.
That’s the second reason Ancilla’s words resonate with me, likely also because she recently became a parent too. Where she writes that whatever your perception of the state of the world, commit to keeping the ones you hold dear close, to ensure you know how they feel and vice versa. It’s a path out of the struggle with conflicting emotions she describes. Out of the struggle, by embracing the conflict. It’s not a choice really, I think. She has to.
We all have to.
Making sense, even built out of ratio, is deeply emotional.