It is a Terrible Thing, This Knowing

I am still reading Mira Rothenberg’s Children With Emerald Eyes. I’m almost done, but there is a passage I came across, in her chapter “Winthrop and Others,” which struck me hard as I continue to do this amazing and strange ministry with abused kids.

The picture looked as though he had carried it forever. “He is a clown,” [Billy] told me, “he laughs. And he makes people laugh. But really he is sad. Very sad, Mira. Why?” “Maybe it is because he has lived so much and knows so much,” I said. Billy then said with a smile, “It is hard, Mira, to know so much, isn’t it?”

Why? Is it because it is hard to find words? Hard to say all one knows? A child is only a child and people don’t know how very much a child knows. Or is it because people won’t listen to a child, or even to an adult? Because they don’t want to know, other than what they already know. Or is it because they just can’t, won’t understand? Maybe because they won’t believe whatever doesn’t come within their experience? (217–218)

It is hard to know things others do not know and do not want to know. I suspect this why the phrase “children of the secret” is used. I know this ministry started with kids in the Pacific Northwest, though it is also beginning to take me farther afield, but as I drove the streets of Upstate New York, to and from work, I often wondered — what I am not seeing here? What don’t I know about this place that I know about Spokane? Who might need me here that I will never find because … because they don’t know how to find me?

Honestly, it is also tough to be an adult and know things that others do not want to know. Rothenberg is right — some people simply do not want to listen. Cannot be bothered. Like Pharaoh, their hearts have been hardened, calloused to the suffering they inflict, or just conveniently ignore.

But I listen. I have heard so many awful stories, so many terrible secrets. So much pain, sorrow, and anger. So much loneliness. I listen. I will never stop listening.

“Love Me and Do Not Leave Me…”

It’s been a while since I’ve deal with an actual book in this blog. Mostly that has been because Jennifer and I have been poor and unsettled, and because of that, we’ve not had the time and the energy to focus on real books. Plus, to be honest, the Internet has gotten in the way.

A pastor friend, however, recently gave me a copy of Mira Rothenberg’s Children With Emerald Eyes: History of Extraordinary Boys and Girls, I think because of the ministry I have been called to with young people who dwell (or have dwelt) in darkness. To walk into hell with the wounded, to rescue the lost and then find our way back out.

Jesus did it. In that time between he gave up his spirit and rose from the tomb. That gives Jennifer and me the confidence to know we too can walk into hell and carry out the lost.

This is both a hard book to read and an invigorating one. By that, it is helpful to have someone professionally trained (Rothenberg was a clinical psychologist who began working with wounded and troubled kids in the 1950s, a time we can half-romanticize because treating kids, as opposed to medicating them and returning shareholder value, was actually appreciated) confirm a great deal of what I have observed and concluded.

I’m going to let this long passage about Rothenberg’s introduction to her time at the Katy Kill Falls residential treatment center in upstate New York speak for itself. Because I can add nothing to it.

Katy Kill.

Children: Labels. Categories.

Rape, assault, murder; some reached out to the world in this fashion.

Withdrawal, inaction, regression; others removed themselves, withdrew into their shells, and waited—waited for the world reach out to them. They reached out in this fashion.

The ones in-between; they did both.

Katy Kill. Always erupting or ready to erupt. Seething with greed from so much deprivation, with hate from so little love, with rage from needing and not getting, with love hidden deep and yet right on the surface. Seething with terror. Seething with sorrow deep and pain so potent that when the eruption comes, it has the howl of pain that it is driven by, rather than of the rage that it expresses itself through.

Katy Kill. Have you ever heard the sound of rage when it seems noiseless? It roars with an intensity. It grumbles with a desicating rhythm. Its voice is dry and throaty. Sometimes it sounds like hell. And its color is white.

Have you heard the sound of terror when it is noiseless? It rustles helplessly, like a leaf in a hurricane. It breaks hard, like the thunder. And it has a smell, a smell that shrivels your skin, a smell that makes you break out in a sweat so cold it freezes you. And its color is blue—deep, dark blue.

Have you ever heard the sound of pain when it is noiseless? It howls the loudest and it whines the quietest. It sounds as if it comes from the deepest bowels of the earth—that is you. It shakes with intensity and trembles with its own resonance over oceans of nothingness. And its color is black.

Have you ever heard the sound of loneliness when it is noiseless? It has a blast of thousands of trumpets. It has the howling of hyenas waiting for their prey. It has the howl of herds of starving wolves. Its melody is neither nice nor pretty. And it is gentle and full of fury. It is deep and somber, threatening and pleading. And its color is gray.

It shouts and echoes over all of eternity. It reverberates over the whole world and echoes in every cave, cavern, and mountain. It has a frightful sound; it has a howl. And the plea is: “Love, come to me.” Its basic ingredient is: “Give, give to me.” And the other ingredients are pain and terror, hate and rage, anger and tears, and: “Do not leave me, love me, and oh, it hurts so much.”

And the search. Have you ever seen the search for “that” which one no longer knows by any rightful name, but “that” or “what” or “Oh, God, help me!” or then no longer even that, but the burning ashes of a long, long, long ago fire?

Have you ever seen and felt and smelt and heard them all together? They have cold, sweaty hands. And eyes that sometimes burn and sometimes weep, red-rimmed, sleepless, hopeless. Eyes that try to hide deep into the sockets of the head, and finding the futility in this, just stare—nowhere. And the body, no matter straight or bent, or fat or skinny—something just about the shoulders—a little tilt, which in spite of of all its bravura and all its bravado in a very, very small voice asks: “Protect me.”

A child. Any child when abandoned. But all these children feel abandoned. It is the world versus the child. The child versus the world. In all, the impotence of both. In all, the fear of both.

And sometimes this loneliness of theirs takes you by the shoulders and says, “You are going to give.” And sometimes it kills because you didn’t give. And sometimes it kills because that it is a giving too: their giving. And sometimes it just withdraws and waits till you come and give, and in its waiting often dies. It stops. It doesn’t talk and doesn’t walk, and sometimes doesn’t move. It waits. It often dies, and in its strange perverted way it makes you give.

Sometimes there is sex to fill the voice. And the sex is then strange. There is little giving, but there is taking, there is devouring of you and whatever you can give to fill this voice. The exquisite giving and taking is no longer. The balance is disjointed. Because it is to take, to calm, to quiet this awful howl of loneliness and the hunger that derives from loneliness. To feed, so that for once, for this one short while, the need, the plea, the want is filled.

One doesn’t cry, with tears.

One doesn’t sob, with sobs.

One doesn’t ask, with please.

One waits, one watches. One is ready. One is tough. One pushes away. Except in the dream. One doesn’t talk about the dreams. That is the way to be, out there in the world that is a jungle. One hurts. One fights. One kills. So that one does not get hurt, get killed, one withdraws. In order not to get refused, one doesn’t ask.

The price of the ticket for a lifetimes is high. One pays. But one sees to it that everyone else will pay too. (p. 68-70)

I have never seen it described any better, with such force, power, and clarity, as Rothenberg has here (save maybe by Andrew Vachss). There isn’t a single thing I can add to this.

Not a thing.