Thursday, August 16, 2007


Tonight a fellow who works in a group home was talking about how careful the adults had to be with the new children who came to the home. They get raped. He said how he'd seen a child turn around and grab his ankles, when an adult was angry. That's how daddy showed his anger. By anally raping his son.

I had a student once, an 11 year old boy -- a handsome blond boy in an entirely Hispanic-background school -- who had little circular scars all up and down his arms. I was always very gentle with him. You could tell he was heading for trouble, and you could see he wanted to be good. ... You'll have to pardon me. I had an emotion just then, for some reason. Cigarette burns, of course. Not just on his arms, of course. That's just what showed.

I had a student once, a pretty 13 year old girl -- very troubled -- who disobeyed one of the few simple rules I had for the classroom. I called her to my desk to speak with her about it, and she said she didn't bother to raise her hand because she knew that the answer would be no. I smiled softly and said, in a mild tone, "So not only do you know the future, but you can read my mind?" She didn't smile back. She got confused and defensive. Her lip started to twitch and she put her finger on it. And my heart was filled with compassion for her. I said, "You know, we all feel that way, sometimes. We all feel lost and alone and misunderstood." She blinked back tears. A boy who thought he had some stake in the conversation said, "I don't." An unhelpful interjection. "Not yet, you don't." And to the girl, "Sometimes the answer is no. It's not personal." Punishment? For breaking the rule? Please.

And tonight, in the context of a discussion of foster care, former heavy-weight champion of the world Mike Tyson was mentioned. My contribution to the topic was that he had no excuse. His horrible childhood was horrible. But he was rescued from his reform school at the age of 13 by Cus D'Amato, who not only trained him, but from all accounts loved him like a son. We need two things from the world. We need physical competence, and we need emotional fulfillment. If we get these, we have no excuses. Tyson, for all the criminal activity he was raised into, had a chance that has nothing to do with deserve. If we squander the grace we are given, we can expect excuses only from ourselves and from the morally confused.

I've dealt with kids who have been sexualized. It's hard, because you can't be touching them, and a lot of me as a father was about hugs. With them, it's about establishing boundaries. I've dealt with kids who have been abused. It's about clarity and about patience. I've dealt with kids who have been neglected. It's about helping them build meaningful self-esteem. I bought back some kids from insanity, long ago. I took them into my home and loved them like sons. I would have died for them. Maybe I did.

You may not understand my point. You notice the words of these various efforts, and think its all about islamists or abortion or some political tripe. It's not. It's about how we treat each other. This is such an unutterably horrifying world because of what people do to one another.

If I decided to love you the way I am capable of loving, it would be more than you could bear. Expedience matters. If we loved each other as we might, the world would cease to function. Practicalities matter. So don't worry. I won't love you. Or if I do, you'll never know it. We have to live in the world, after all. We'll concern ourselves only with what shows. We'll expect punishment for breaking a rule, and be angry about it -- you know, we'll grab our ankles, and then do the same thing to our own children when we are grown. Because that's what the world is, and we live in it. Of course. Of course.


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