Companions on the Journey

Companions On The Journey

When I call to mind the good companions who once shared my journey, the pain of their loss returns. I feel like crying. Yet, in a strange way, they seem to help me move along my way and we walk together.”

                                                       Rabbi Chaim Stern

      My wife Kathleen passed almost eight years ago, but she is with me still. I don’t think of her all the time but at certain times, I feel her presence and know that she is still with me on my journey.

I have shared my experience with others who have lost a spouse or child or parent and there is instant recognition in their eyes. “I know exactly what you mean,” a woman friend told me. “It’s not that I obsess over my late sweetheart. I have mourned his loss but I am fully engaged now in living my life.” She paused before contining. “It’s just that, I feel him with me sometimes. It’s kind of eerie but also comforting. “

When we lose a loved one, we can’t help wondering. Is she still alive somehow? Does her soul rise from the ashes of death to live another life? Is she or he “up there and looking down on us?”

My own Christian religion has no doubt about an after life. Resurrection from the dead is one of the basic dogmas of our belief system.  Yet, I believe that even without the reassurance of religion, I would hold on to a conviction that the spirit in us remains alive.

The cynics will say, “Nonsense, when you are dead, you’re dead. End of story. I don’t agree. We may bury the bodies of our loved ones but their spirit remains. It’s the soul within us that puts a sparkle in our eyes and a spring in our step. It’s the spirit within that reveals who we are.

That same human soul that can dream dreams, and yearn for peace and compose songs and poems that can move the world, that soul capable of giving his life for another person or for a nation, is that soul dead? I don’t think so. The human spirit is as eternal as love and faith and beauty.

I know my wife is present on my journey because, as the Rabbi says, and I know, we walk together. She is with me just as surely as your parents or spouse or children are with you.

Stripping For the Journey

There is a lot of press given to football injuries these days, Rightly so, it is a dangerous sport and kids, especially youngsters whose bodies have not completely developed, are vulnerable to suffer concussions.

My admittedly cockeyed theory is that the cause of many football injuries lies in the very armor players wear to protect themselves. Concussions come about almost exclusively from getting a helmet or a cleat to the head. So, if everyone stripped down to shorts and t-shirts and played barefoot, there would not be nearly as many injuries.

The thought occurred to me that even if the NFL turns down my suggestion, maybe in the larger world beyond football, in the way we live our lives, the idea has some merit. Know what I’m saying? We are so afraid to get hurt that we don the armor of pretense and fake it through life. The guy puts on his stud mask and the women portrays herself as Ms Perfect.

I have been reading a book by Glennon Doyle Melton who has written on this subject. In  “Carry On Warrior, Thoughts on Life Unarmed” she says “Maybe the battles of life are best fought without armor and without weapons.” What she is saying is suppose we shuck off our emotional defenses and were “real” to one another?

Sounds like a “chick book.” Maybe it is. But listen up guys. We wear even more equipment than women. We are so damn competitive with one another that we don’t dare let down our guard.  “Big boys don’t cry” is our mantra, a stupid mantra but we let ourselves be hobbled by the armor we wear.

Someone said “The more together we look, the more needy we really are.”  Remember the poem Richard Cory? The man who seemingly had everything, mesmerized people by the way he strode down the street, handsome and smooth and oh so cool. Then, one day, this cool man put a bullet through his head. On shit! How could that be? We thought we knew him.

We kid ourselves and (sometimes) we fool others by the way we handle things. No fuss. We are in command. “Hey, I’m good.” We say. But we are not good; not all the time. By pretending we are in control we not only hurt ourselves (because we know better, deep down) but we deprive others of the gift of our own weakness and vulnerability.

People think that we are in command. We stride through life unafraid. But no one does that, not really. We are all afraid that we don’t belong or that we are not the moms or dads or bosses that we would like to be.

It’s okay. We all share the same human condition. Maybe it’s time for all of us to doff that heavy protective gear; put on the shorts and t-shirts of our vulnerability and just be who we are.

 

 

 

 

What Maisie Knew

What Maisie Knew

There is a sleeper of a movie out now with the unlikely title of “What Maisie Knew.” Based on a Henry James’s short novel, it tells the story of the breakup of a marriage seen entirely through the eyes of a sad and wise little girl named Maisie.

Maisie, with her child’s eyes, says very little as she finds herself the pawn in a struggle between her mom, an aging rock star clawing desperately to salvage a career and her equally self-centered dad, an art dealer who loves the good life. She hears their bitter shouting matches; listens as they cut one another down. The little girl is a silent observer to scenes worthy of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.”

Maisie is nothing more than an inconvenience to the careers of both parents. She is mostly a bother. Neither spouse wants to have to take care of her, yet both are unwilling to let her go lest they be the one accused of child abandonment. For spite, each parent takes up with a younger person. Overnight, Maisie finds herself with two moms and two dads.

Pardon me if I state the obvious; this is not an untirely unknown scenario in real life. Trust me; I have worked with far too many foster kids who know exactly what Maisie is experiencing. Their parents, tired of taking care of their kids, want the freedom of living the good life without the burden of being responsible for their offspring.

In the movie, neither parent is seen as a complete villain. They didn’t set out in life to damage their child. They are “sorry” that their little girl has to suffer but, after all, they have their needs. They want a life for themselves.  The bottom line is painfully evident; neither is willing to be an adult.

The media is full these days of stories of adults who want their “rights.” Whether gay or straight or some combination thereof, we all insist on our civil rights. We want our tax credits and our civil rights and off with the head of any politician who doesn’t hear us pay attention.

Then I think of Maisie and all the little kids who can’t speak for themselves but who are not getting what is coming to them, a safe home life, loving adult parents, a quality education.

Instead, they are getting broken homes, self-centered adults who love them too little and keep them as only as long as it is convenient to do do so. Like Maisie, all they can do is sit on the sidelines while we adults squabble over our rights.

 

Go see the movie. It’s painful but we need to see it.

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

A Dad Named Charlie

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

 

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

 

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

 

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.

 

This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

 

 

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

 

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children.  This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dad Named Charlie

You may have caught the news story. A crazed man in Alabama boarded a school bus and demanded that the bus driver, fella named Charlie, hand over two of the school kids. The man had a gun and pointed it menacingly at the bus driver.

Charlie stepped between the deranged man and the kids. “You’re not taking any of these children. They’re my responsibility,” he said. The gunman shot Charlie, put four bullets into him, and then fled with little Ethan, a five-year old special needs little boy.  (Later, that week the killer was found and killed by the police and Ethan was rescued)

I can’t get Charlie out of my mind these days. His photo was in the papers, white whiskered, grandpa type, wearing suspenders, maybe in his sixties. He is smiling in the picture. One of his sons said afterwards “That’s my dad. It was his goal, his purpose to make sure every child was delivered to his mom and dad every day. For my dad, every one of those kids were “his kids.”

I try to put myself in Charlie’s place as he faced a totally unexpected crisis. How could anyone prepare for a mentally ill man to jump aboard a school bus and with a gun pointed right at the bus driver’s chest, order him to turn over two of the kids to him. So the account goes. “Charlie faced down death, putting himself between the gunman and the children.”

I am in awe of this man. He is the average man’s version of Nelson Mandela or Gandhi or Jesus Christ. In that moment of truth, he did not back away; he stepped forward. He made his choice. He would rather die than be less than a man for any of those little children. This was a man at the peak of his manhood, strong, courageous, and protective.

What is the saying?  “No man stands taller than when he stoops to help a child.”  Oh yea! Double yea! As we dads and grandpas gather to celebrate Fathers Day, may we all salute the ordinary guy who became in one shining moment, a hero and model for our manhood, a man named Charlie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

I’m doing my meditation at the chapel when a Latina mom arrives with her little boy. The kid is draped over mom’s shoulder and is fast asleep.  Any parent who has carried a child when he is completely zonked out can identify; the 25 pound kid has gone to 125 pounds in an instant.

The mother needs to unload her kid somewhere so she can say her prayers but doesn’t want to wake her child.

Not to worry. The mother makes room on the carpet and gently lays her little guy down. Whoops! He wakes up. Knowing full well that the only one crankier in the morning than an adult without her coffee, is a sleepy little kid awakened from his nap. Mom takes quick action.

She kneels down on the floor next to her boy and starts to rub his tummy. The little guy’s eyes flutter, half open and half closed. Mom lifts his t-shirt and puts her warm hand on the child’s belly. Little by little, the kid returns to his deep sleep, perfectly at home sprawled out on the chapel floor. His mom sits herself down and takes out a prayer book.

There is a blessed stillness’ in the chapel. When I was a little kid, we used to call our church “God’s House.” In the silence there is something sacred about it now. Candles burn on the altar; I hear only the soft hum of the fan.

A little boy sleeps peacefully on the floor while his mom prays.  It’s only one moment in time but I want to hold on to it and make it last. It’s only then that it comes to me. It’s Mother’s Day. Of course it is.

 

A Dying Man, a Boy. a Legacy

                              A Dying Man, a Boy, A Legacy

      I was thinking recently about President George Bush and the legacy he left the nation in his memorial museum in Dallas. Presidents and former presidents get to do that sort of thing. I guess it’s okay.  Not a damn thing I could d do about it anyway.

     But as I sat by the bedside of an ordinary kind of guy dying of cancer, I

begin to think of the legacy this man left to literally hundreds of foster kids he worked with through the years. The kids who experienced the love and caring attitude of Jim were blessed.

 

     I wonder if many of us can relate to the traumas, the neglect, and the abuse that has been the lot of many kids in foster care. Abandoned by their parents, they troop from foster homes to group homes, never quite understanding what is happening to them.

 

     Then, for the fortunate ones, a man called Jim shows up as a house parent at a group home. He understands them. He respects them. He sees their possibilities. He does not give up on them. Wow! A seed is planted in the soul of a kid who, until then, thinks that he is a failure. Someone believes in him.

     As Jim lay dying in a board and care home, I recalled one of Jim’s proudest moments in his work at the Children’s Village (a home for abused and neglected kids in Santa Rosa.) A fourteen-year-old boy was in the throes of a major melt down. I don’t know what caused it, parents not showing up to visit him? Maybe being blamed for something he did not do? Being bullied by one of the other kids? Who knows what can set off the ticking time bomb that sets off a kid already traumatized by rejection and abandonment.

      The boy was out of control. He was cursing to heaven, blaming God, his parents, the village with all the energy of his fourteen years. He kicked garbage cans; he threw rocks; he cursed God. It was scary. 

     One of the other group home staff, fearful of the boys own safety and that of other kids, was about to call the police, to take him to mental health services for observation.

     Then I saw Jim quietly approaching the boy. He didn’t say a word. Words were of no use now. Instead he took him in his arms and hugged him. Just hugged him. Gently, this caring man led the trembling boy to a place on the edge of the village grounds. They sat together arm in arm for maybe ten minutes while the boy magically calmed down. In his despair, the young boy had found someone he trusted, someone who cared for him.

      Legacies come in different forms. For the rich and famous, it is wonderful that they can leave libraries and papers and all the things that make people sit up and notice them for all they have done.

      I have no quarrel with that but I am in awe of a man who showed up in the life of a kid who was starved for affection and respect and love and gave him all three. Now there’s a legacy.

      PS. Jim died two days ago, surrounded by a small cadre of friends who knew him and who will always hold him in their hearts. And the desperate kid who got his hug from Jim? He graduated from high school last year and is now attending college. Somewhere up there I am betting there is an ordinary guy named Jim who is rooting for him.

 

   

 

Words To Parents From Troubled Kids

Parents Might Learn from the Words of Troubled Kids

Every year, the Juvenile Justice Commission of Sonoma County sponsors an essay contest for youth caught up in the Juvenile Justice System, whether residing at Juvenile Hall or in one of the group homes or alternative schools scattered throughout the county, The contest gives these kids an opportunity to share their thoughts on what went wrong for them and how they would like to change their lives. It also gives parents a chance to listen and learn from what these teenage kids have to say about the kind of parents they would like to become.

“I would like to be the parent I never had. My friends said “Your parents are cool.” What they didn’t know was how I hated the way my parents did not care what I did or where I was or how late I got home. I wanted more protection but I never got that and I felt abandoned.”

15 year-old girl.

“Being a parent to me means you step up to the plate and make your child’s living environment stable as well as healthy. I want to be the kind of parent my kids will look up to and can go to for anything.”

15 year-old boy

“One of the biggest mistakes parents make is getting a divorce. In my experience my parent’s divorce kept my own father distant. When I needed a male role model, I had no one to look up to. I vowed to myself to never divorce because I know the damage that it does to your kids.”

17 yea-old boy

“As a young father, I want to give all the support I can give to my daughter and to be there for everything she needs from her first fall to the days of motherhood.”

17 yea-old boy

“Parents need to step up and lay down rules. They especially need to follow the # 1 rule, be a parent; not a friend.”

15-year-old girl

“I want to be the kind of parent who likes to hang out with his kid, teach him or her how to ride a bike and help him with his schoolwork. I will never spank my kid. That just teaches him to be mean.”

“I was told that drugs are bad but I was never confronted about my problem. My father didn’t know I did drugs until I was 16. He wasn’t a bad parent; he just worked too much.”

17 yea-old boy

The essays spoke of other teenage issues like bullying, teen suicide, gangs and other problems but most of the youth spoke of that universal yearning they had for parents who would be there for them, parents and other adults who would give them the gift of time and attention and understanding.

Just as important was their longing for a certain amount of structure and discipline in their lives. We do our kids no favor when in our striving to be “cool”, we lose sight of our role as parents.

 

 

Gershwin in the Monastery

Gershwin In the Monastery

Gershwin In the Monastery

It was quiet as the Trappist monks lay to rest the body of Brother John.

But then, it’s always quiet at a monastery. The monks thrive on silence as much as our modern world hungers for noise.

I was making a private retreat at the New Clairvaux Monastery a few miles from Chico when I had the unexpected opportunity to experience the funeral of a monk.

At the service inside the monastery church, the Abbot told us about the life of this man of God who had spent close to fifty years of his life at New Clairvaux. Brother John took on flesh and blood as the Abbot painted a picture for us of a young man growing up in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Brother John fit right in with the lively and lusty Irish Catholic atmosphere of early and mid 20th. Century San Francisco. He loved music and the theater, a gregarious man with a passion for song and life. His last request was to have Michael Feinstein’s version of Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here To Stay” sung at his funeral Mass.

As we listened to Brother John’s eulogy, I could not help but wonder how this very outgoing man had been drawn to enter perhaps the strictest religious order of the Catholic Church and to live out his life in silence. The Trappists vow to spend their lives in silence. Even their meals are taken in silence. When they open their mouths, it is to praise God and to pray for the rest of us.

What made this man who loved jazz and the music of Gershwin devote his life to the prayer and work and silence of a monastery?  When I put this question to one of the monks after the service, he just smiled. “You would be surprised at the variety of personalities that God calls to this life. We number kids fresh out of college or military service, former businessmen, widowers, people from all walks of life. Each in his own way and for his own reasons is seeking peace of mind and closeness to God.”

I mulled this over in my mind as I joined the procession of monks to the gravesite on the grounds of the monastery. Brother John’s body, dressed in his religious habit, was set down gently and respectfully in the grave dug for him by his fellow monks. There was no casket. Prayers of farewell were said and all of us guests were invited to put our shovelful of dirt over his body.

The lyrics of Brother John’s favorite song played in my head.

“In time the Rockies may crumble

Gibraltar may tumble

There’re only made of clay

But, our love is here to stay.”

 

 

 

“Thank Heaven for Little Girls”

Thank Heaven For Little Girls

Song from the Broadway Musical, “Gigi”

A Latina mom comes into the meditation chapel with her little girl. The girl, who looks to be about ten-years-old, kneels with her mother. Mom brings out a prayer book and mother and daughter kneel close together reading from the same book.

It’s quiet, oh so quiet. In the distance, I hear the faint hum of traffic on Montgomery Drive but within, there is nothing but the sound of silence.
In the quiet, a little girl rests her head on her mothers shoulder and whispers her prayers.

As I ponder the peaceful scene, my out-of-control mind takes a nosedive down, down, down, it wanders. Somewhere, a little girl that age is being teased or bullied by a gang of schoolmates. Somewhere, little girls are being imprisoned as sex slaves by lustful men or made to work 14-hour days in a factory in Central America. Somewhere, little girls like this can not read from a prayer book or any book because they are not taught to read. I shake my head and try to dismiss the negativity.

I re-focus my attention on the little girl kneeling with her mama in church. She is safe and loved and praying to the God of love. I never met this little girl but I know her. I have seen her in my own daughter and grand daughters, protected kids who have their own room, play with American Girl dolls and eat nourishing food.

I see her, too in the children I lived with at the Children’s Village and in the kids I visited in an elementary school in Guatemala, and the little kids I see playing in the homeless shelter here in Santa Rosa. This little kid is all kids who have filled my life and I pray to God that her mom may continue to love and protect her in her journey.

I am sick at heart about the suffering that girls have to endure in this world of ours. The parent in me cries; the dad in me is angry at what we allow to happen to all the little girls (and little boys) who are our responsibility. It’s not okay; it never was okay that our children be made to suffer because we have allowed our dark side free reign. No! Dammit, No!

In the chapel, mom puts her arm around her child and they say a final prayer together before they leave. I send my own prayer and my dreams winging their way.

The words from “Gigi” run through my mind. The jaunty Maurice Chevalier is singing “Thank Heaven for little girls. They grow up in such a delightful way.” Please God, may we work together to make it happen.

Invisible Children

Invisible Kids

“Yesterday upon a stair, I saw a man who wasn’t there
I saw him there again today.
I wish to God, he’d go away.”

Ogden Nash

I’m reading a book called “The Invisible Children,” about the hundreds of thousands of kids who wend their way through the Juvenile Justice System in our country. Call them “wards of the court.” Or foster kids or, more harshly, “throw away kids.” They are all around us but we don’t “see” them.

I have had quite a bit of experience with kids in this situation. Many of them, finding themselves rejected by the only parents they have ever known, are in shock. They yearn to be re-united with the very parents who abused them; they can’t help it. Their very identity is at stake.

For some reason, when I think of these invisible kids, I find the comical little verse of Ogden Nash going through my head. “Yesterday upon a stair, I saw a man who wasn’t there. I saw him there again today. I wish to God, he’d go away.”

We see our throwaway kids too, but we turn our heads away and pretend they are not there. Then we see them again “on the stair” and to be honest, we are irritated. We wish they would go away. For some of us, their very presence makes us feel guilty. We get defensive and tell ourselves that we are doing our best. These kids are fed and clothed. A mattress company gives them shoes or coats, the local civic organization gives them Christmas gifts. What’s the problem?

The problem is, and deep down we all know it, is that providing food and clothes and a basic education for kids traumatized by parental abuse and neglect is not enough.

The mental health issues faced by traumatized kids are not that dissimilar to the problems faced by our military men and women returning from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We can choose to put a label like PTSD on them or no. The fact remains; many of the abandoned kids who live among us have been profoundly scarred. They think that is their fault that they have been taken from their abusive or neglectful parents. They blame themselves for becoming foster kids.

We need to really SEE these kids; put ourselves in their tennis shoes. It is not their fault that they find themselves in foster care. And, like the man on the stair, wishing they would go away will not make it happen.