The story of N.
From the book “Tattoos On The Heart” by Gregory Boyle
“At 3 o'clock this morning, the phone rings. It’s Cesar. He says what every homie says when they call in the middle of the night. “Did I wake you?”
I always think, “Why no, I was just waiting and hoping that you’d call.”
Ceasar is sober and it’s urgent that he talks to me.
“I have to ask you a question. You know how I’ve seen you a my father- ever since I was a little kid? Well I hafta ask you a question.”
Now Cesar pauses, and the gravity of it all makes his voice waver and crumble, “Have--I--been--your son?”
“Oh hell, yeah,” I say.
“Whew,” Cesar exhales, “I thought so.”
Now his voice becomes enmeshed in a cadence of gentle sobbing, “Then---I will be--your son. And you---will be my father. And nothing will separate us right?”
In this early morning call, Cesar did not discover that he has a father. He discovered he is a son worth having.
“Now what do I do? I know how to sell drugs, I know how to gang bang. I know how to shank fools in prison. I don’t know how to change the oil in my car. I know how to drive, but I don’t know how to park. And I don’t know how to wash my clothes except in the sink of a cell."
I hire him that day and he begins work the next morning on our graffiti crew.
Because this man has discovered as scripture would have it “that where he is standing is holy ground.” He found that God’s voice, (whosoever God may be) is not of restriction, “to shape up or ship out.” He found himself in the center of vastness and right in the expansive heart of his personal God. The sacred place toward which God had nudged him all his life, is not to be arrived at, but discovered.
Psychiatrist James Gilligan writes that the self cannot survive without love, and the self starved of love dies. The absence of self love is shame, just as cold is the absence of the sun.”
Guilt of course is feeling bad about one’s actions but shame is feeling bad about oneself.
Let me tell you about N., a ten year old girl who is full of guilt and shame. Her mom used drugs most of her life and continued well into her pregnancy — N was born addicted. Not ADD, not ADHD but fetal drug syndrome. She tells me she has been on meds since she was 5. She sits next to me in the car and weeps. There is no middle ground for N — she’s either beaming with joy, or she’s in a deep black pit. And don’t other kids know this. She has been bullied most of her life, some of it in retaliation for things she has said or done, some of it is because the power to hurt another person, keeps that person from being in a similar spot. And it is addictive this being king or queen over another humans life. It starts with a single voice and soon it is a regular chorus.
And the final chapter is N, sitting in my car, beside herself with grief and self loathing.
And as she sobs, she talks, it seems, she is out of her meds. “If I don’t have my 2 pills a day, I got mean, and I can’t stop.” This is a 10 year old, a little girl saying these things about herself. “I didn’t get my second pill today,” she weeps “and I have none for tomorrow, and my mom doesn’t have time to get them, and I know I will be bad and get kicked out of school.” And she cries, and the tears pour out of her eyes, in a tumult of water and salt. And all I can do is hold her and rock her, I can’t even say it will be all right, because it won’t, it will never be alright. Not her whole life through.
On a better day she comes to ballet, she has an old battered tutu given to her by the instructor which she adores (both the tutu and the teacher). She loves ballet. And she is good at it, she listens and behaves, simply because the other ladies in the class love and respect her.
At the end of the class, we have “3 little maids in a row, who were outstanding in class and get to go with me to deliver food to Steinmetz, and N is one. And she is over the moon, she can’t contain herself. She has friends here, and she can help, and she can go in the car and everyone takes turns riding shotgun. And my trio load the car with food and fruit and chatter away just like he little girls they are. We have an hour of normalcy and bonding, we drive to Steinmetz, and my 3 little maids pile out and bring food in and help deliver door to door to seniors and shut-ins, and each child gets an apple for her help. But each child gets so much more than an apple. They get a feeling of friendship, of belonging to the community at large, of making a contribution to others lives, and having a hell of a good time. We sing and they chatter in the car and no one wants the day to end, but of course it has to, but next week it happens again and again. And I hope they (all 3) carry the memories into adulthood and never stop giving back.
Which reminds me of some one from way back in QUEST History, Jeanie. A long time parishioner of Sacred Heart/ St. Columba Church. She was a little slow and did house cleaning for private clients. She had been married in her past to a man much older than her, who had been abusive but she stayed and nursed him through his final years. She loved to sing and she loved to bake and she loved to share her home. QUEST started as a mixed choir and many is the time we rehearsed in Jeanie’s living room serenaded by her yellow canary who thrilled right along, no matter how late the hour. And Jeanie always baked for us- chocolate cookies warm and fresh from the oven, sugar cookies decorated in every guise for every holiday, zucchini bread, and at Christmas homemade fudge. Her legs were tired after many years of heavy cleaning and she suffered from blood clots, but she was always game for choir practice and church on Sunday.
We were a motley crew, aged from 7 on up to 66, male and female, and we sang with heart and gusto. We had songs written for us, and performed yearly on WAMC. Every Christmas we bundled up and took our hand held percussion and swept through the streets of the hill and various nursing homes and hospitals. We always came back to the rectory for candy canes, snow ball fights and hot chocolate.
Maybe this year we can try to go house to house and sing, as they do in England stil. But time does march on and things change and I am not so sure it would be safe anymore. But we had such innocent fun then and never felt frightened or threatened. Those memories ring still in my ears, clear as a bell.
And here's a little tidbit that brings information about music from my pen straight to your ears.
“One of the only activities that stimulates, activates and uses the entire brain is music. Brain scans showed clearly the color changes and enhancements that music brings to minds of all ages, including dementia patients, people in comas, and people with severe stroke damage.”
Look at these stats:
1.) Improves verbal I.Q., and reduced seizures.
2.) Allows for openness at an extremely high level.
3.) Amps up happiness.
4.) Helps treat heart disease by reducing heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety.
5.) Allows mood mood management by both patient and therapist working as a team.
6.) Is a proven rehabilitation for stroke patients, or those whose brain has been damaged, and/ or Alzheimer’s patients.
Psych Blog- Jeremy Dear
Remember last week when I was discussing people viewing other people as property? People to be owned in other words? 21st century slavery! Here is a shining example of such a phenomena.
We were writing about a couple screaming in the parking lot. Here is the very unfortunate conclusion to this drama. The wife/woman in this drama took it upon herself to beat up the other female in this sordid triangle.
How do I know this? The woman involved was sent to me for community service, and she was bragging- I mean puffing herself up and bragging all over, speaking loudly about about her defense, and offense, and how she had pulverized the other woman in question. Loud enough so that all of her own children and all the others in attendance listened with mouth agape, that is until I stoppered the voice box of the fighter. Where do children learn violence? From their parents, from their families, from their mom who go out with their daughters and cheer them on? By the age of two the little ones are made to fight by their older siblings and if they cry to or run away are thrown right back in the fighting circle. I have heard with my own ears, people yelling at 2 and 3 year olds, “If you don’t go back and fight, I will beat you up and then you will still have to go back and fight.”
And this lady, the one whose two kids are starting to bully other kids, she is 30 years old, and has an excellent job. And what is even more ironic, they all troop down to family counseling, to work on the problems the children have with self control and behavior in school: Geez Louise. Raise your hand if any any of you might know the answer. Case closed.
Let’s look at my infamous “King.” They have initiated a Wed. movie night for kids, starring such horrendous movies, as Happy Feet, Shrek, and the Goonies. We have all these men and often their wives running around, coming early setting up. Just like a real movie theater on the second floor, hanging sheets (our screen) and making a fancy enclosure to hide the equipment. There is a notice put up on our marquee in front of the building. “Free movies, Wed. at 4:30.” There are announcements on local radio stations and new releases on web sites. And now females coming in to do face painting before and after the big event.
And mixing in are these great caucasian volunteers from uptown, who are also helping to supply D.V.D.’s and snacks. And there’s my staff and me and about 40 to 50 kids and some parents all colors, shapes and sizes, all working together to make a great day. And all cleaning up after (even the kids).
One small fly through dirtying up the ointment. My nice suburban men and women went to movie theaters including Bow Tie to solicit popcorn. And no one responded not even the personal visits, or our spiffy new letterhead stationery. Now look, moviegoers, all your favorite theater has to do is bag up the leftovers the night before, and my apple cheeked help will come by and pick up. How easy, how simple? Don’t talk to me about health and business issues. We get food weekly from Subway, every Subway in the city donates somewhere, and Perreca's, who like wise spreads the goodness.
We did get popcorn through from a Hess Station out in Scotia. And the kids loved it, ate it right up, and even stood in line to get a bag full and came back for seconds.
This is so sad! Enough said the act or lack thereof speaks loudly for itself.
“None of us get where we are going by pulling ourselves up by or boot straps. We got here because somebody, a parent, a teacher, an Ivy league crowney, or a few huns bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”
Thinking of you Zoe
Missing you daily