Saturday, May 24, 2014

   I walked up the baking aisle on my way to turn right toward the dairy, half a dozen rows over.  A little girl came around the corner toward me in the baking aisle.  She was crying and sobbing ‘mommeeee.’  She went back around the corner to the right before I got near her, and then she crossed in front of me as I was leaving the aisle.  No one was with her. 
    I knelt down.  Are you missing your mom?  She didn’t say anything.  I stood up..  hang on, honey, I said.  I saw a worker from the meat counter talking to a customer.  I went to ask him if we could use the intercom or something.  He kept talking to the customer.  It seemed like many minutes went by, but it could not have been more than a few seconds.  I looked back at the little girl, about twenty feet away.  Another man had stopped to talk to her.  Did you lose your mom?  he asked.  She nodded, still sobbing.  I told him that I had set out to try to use the intercom.  Well, he said to her, let’s go up front and find your mom up there, ok?  Let’s go with (pointing at me) this guy, too.  What’s your mom’s name? 
Ok, let’s go, here we go. 
We walked up the aisle toward the registers.  We looked around at the end of the aisle, and the little girl went over to a woman four rows over, near the store exit.  The woman was pushing a cart and was talking animatedly (happily, it seemed) on a cell phone.  The woman was in motion when we saw her, and as her child joined her she continued talking on the phone and headed for the exit.  The fact that her child had been so far away and had been separated from her for several minutes did not seem to make an impression.
    Rich Melheim says that he is motivated to help families to connect because of the great connections he enjoyed in the home in which he grew up.  I am motivated to do this because I know that when we are kids, everyone, including our parents and caregivers, everyone is big, like trees.  This child at the store was terrified.  Two strangers helped her to find her way to her mother, but in the meantime she was alone in a forest full of trees, trees that don’t stand still, trees that move and speak in unfamiliar voices.  Sitting with a safe adult, with the phone turned off, with real and kind attention, makes a bubble of good in a world full of unfamiliar, indifferent or menacing or terrifying towering trees.    

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

   I am very excited about leading a campaign to encourage parents and other caregivers to connect with their children- to turn off all noises and to ask them about their day, to read with them, to listen to what they have to say about what they read, to pray for one another, and to give a blessing, something like God is happy you’re here, and I’m happy you’re here too, or some less churchy kind word.  I’m excited about encouraging this connection and safety, excited enough to risk failing and to risk doing it all wrong.  I am inspired by Rich Melheim, a colleague who has been passionate enough about  in families to devote his life and work to encouraging and supporting these kinds of connections.  In his book, Holding Your Family Together, Rich tells how these kinds of connections (sharing, reading, talking, praying, blessing) were all part of his childhood home.  Rich’s passion and energy come from his positive experiences of family, and as I read his words I wonder whether it would be useful to describe my reasons for setting out in this direction.  
   Some of my passion for this project comes from positive experiences of sharing and reading and talking and blessing my children, but my strongest feelings about it, including my willingness to risk making a fool of myself in making this invitation, comes from the pain of other kinds of experiences, from the absence of the kind of safe space and kind responses that Rich describes in his book.  When we turn off the computer, tv, etc. and tell and ask about the day, we are saying ‘I love you.’  I know that when we don’t do that, we risk sending other messages.  I know this because my house was not like the home Rich describes- it was the inside-out and backwards of Rich’s house.  I remember asking my father once, when I was in elementary school, whether he thought about me during the day while I was at school.  Of course I do, he said.   This didn’t compute, though.  The time we spent together was organized around what he needed and wanted, around his need to use alcohol, around his need to feel good by being in charge and being stronger than anyone, stronger than me. te
   When I ask,  tell a story, talk, pray and bless in church on Sunday mornings, a kind of sweetness is born in the sanctuary.  It’s more unpredictable and messy than many children’s times, but after worship is over I know that at least they will have had the experience of being listened to and responded to.  It feels right.  I am ready to make a fool of myself if necessary as I put little how-to-connect-with your-child once a day folders into adult hands.  Am I prepared to tell the same people that I know how important this is not because I read a book or a study but because I know what it’s like to go to bed night after night after night without any of the good things Rich describes? 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

   We can see from what we’ve investigated so far that Rebecca wasn’t attacking back,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Thursday. “She appeared to be beat down. She appeared to have a defeatist attitude. And quite frankly, the entire investigation is exceptionally disturbing to the entire investigative team.”  - LA Times, 9 13 13
  There is kindness and warmth in the world, sure, but everywhere there is coldness and cruelty, the struggle of all against all, too.  Czeslaw Milosz would notice the kind of power that was at work in Lakeland, FLA and everywhere else in the world last week. 
    Girls humiliating another girl over the internet got to feel that power come out of her and into them. They got to feel those puffs of power, whether they were sitting together or alone and watching their words head her way: Go kill yourself. Why are you still alive?  Now the police have their computers and phones, but they may still be feeling that power that came out of her and to them when they saw her change her IM name to that dead girl.  Even if they are punished, now that she’s dead, while they do their time they can feel those puffs of power again and again. 

    Czeslaw Milosz wrote, from occupied Warsaw, about what Robinson Crusoe would have learned if he had looked closely at the human violence-free world around him. (He) might have stopped in front of a spider’s nest, listened to the drowsy buzzing of a tortured fly, and perhaps one of those thoughts that contribute to the birth of heresy and create philosophical revolutions might have occurred to him.  “If the same law of life governs me and the spider, perhaps I am not as good as I think I am, even when I am fulfilling the commandments of God’s law.  Evil resides deep inside me beneath the surface of things. ---“The Legend of the Island” in Legends of Modernity, Farrar Strauss Giroux 1996 17
     The power to shame, to beat one another once we are down and helpless, is real and deadly.  It’s evil, but don’t let anyone tell you that it’s unspeakable. Their shame words pushed her off a ledge, and their words are still out there somewhere for detectives to find.  That kind of power is changing hands all of the time, time after time after time, whether we stop to look and listen or not.