Here I lived. Almost. About 40 miles north. In Abiquiu. Where Georgia O’Keeffe visited in the 1920s. Captivated by the rawest of beauty, she never returned to NYC.
In March, I saw a piece in my local paper, The LA Times. Written and photographed by Pulitzer finalists. Why, I thought, is the LA Times writing about Española — a dusty “city” of 10,000, thirty minutes south of Santa Fe? New Mexico?
Then I read it.
I decided to drive south — meet those gritty souls sacrificing to save a city ransacked for decades with generational trauma and infamous for its drug culture.
My heart is there now. I go back and forth. Hop from Orange County to Española.
I work with the shelter. And the schools. The teens. The ones who look into my eyes with disbelief. “Why would you want to come work HERE?”
“It’s a hobo town.”
“Because I want to. You inspire me to be a better person.”
I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve. A couple of times, they’ve asked.
“Are you religious?”
“No, but I follow Jesus.”
Week by week, transformation. I see it— glimmers of hope, recovery, healing.
“You mean you left LA to be here? In Española? Why in the heck would you do that? There’s nothing out here. It sucks.”
She is about 10 feet away. Black shiny wavy long hair. Maroon sweater and a blue backpack to her left on her desk.
I zero in. Stare into her eyes without even a fluttering of my eyelids.
“Because I want to be here with you.”
I jerk my gaze and look at José, then James then Sylvia as I say, “And for you, and for you, and for you,” pointing with my right index finger in unison with “you.”
Do you know that look – almost like a blush, but nothing romantic? The this-is-so-hopeful-I-almost-don’t-believe-it look?
I was one of them as a teenager. And in my twenties. And into my thirties. You feel alone. You think you’re not one of them. You feel nobody important cares about you.
A boy at the corner of the horseshoe table raises his hand. “So, Paul, you were a horrible student in high school. You didn’t have the best family life, and education wasn’t stressed when you were our age. And you made it.”
“What do you expect we do better?”
Total silence in the class. They await my answer. I relish their attention. What I say will matter.
“You’re in bed. It’s pitch dark. You’re thirsty. You get up. You must search with your hands for the light switch. You all know what I mean?”
“You find the switch. You flip it. You now see. Your vision changes. You’ve all been there?”
“That will happen to some of you. You will somehow see that nobody can f-ing determine your future. You will become almost enraged, obsessed, almost demonized. Because it’s your life — you will own it and not let anyone else own it.”
Silence. Fourteen fixed gazes.
On the wall is the mission statement of the school. I point to it. I read this part.
“Look at that. You believe it? You? A globally competitive citizen?”
“I do, and I thank each of you for being so respectful and paying attention.”
As founder of theChild Rights Foundation, I am here, we are here, for them. Because children matter. And they are always innocent.
Audacious goals. Some call them North Stars. Regardless, for centuries, men and women have committed themselves to radical visions — reform and change and revolution that seemed impossible to the masses.
The greatest exemplar was Jesus.
As one studies any movement, the people behind the movement must be considered — the organizers and idealists and troublemakers who were crazy enough to lead and join and work and believe that transformation was possible and that their persistence could bring it about.
I think of our audacious goal at For The Children, our North Star: An end to family-induced childhood trauma and eradication of the cycle of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
I mean like, who do we think we are?
Answer? — we are no different from those organizers and idealists and troublemakers. We really aren’t.
Saint Francis and Martin Luther and Florence Nightingale and William Wilberforce and Harriet Tubman and the thousands that worked alongside them, and now…
From Thursday’s article by NPR: “At the age of 89, Lee decided her new life mission was much like that of Granger: ‘I knew I just had to spread the word about Juneteenth to everybody.’ The best way to do that, she figured, was to help get Juneteenth accepted as a national holiday.”
Eighty-nine! And today the entire world is learning a new word, Juneteenth, and the meaning behind it. (And millions get a day off work.
As followers of Jesus, we follow the most extraordinary lineage in the history of mankind. He spawned a movement, an audacious one, turning “reality” on its head — a message of the last being the first, the poor being rich, the weak being strong, the losers being winners, the outcasts being those he chose first.
An end to family-induced childhood trauma — what could be more of an audacious, and possible, goal?
Last thing. The reason I chose Judith Herman: she was one of these pioneers, audacious, working for decades to advocate for the reality of trauma, PTSD, against the powers that held to the mind-over-matter canard. But Herman was unrelenting. Trauma and Recovery might be a bit dense. But it is the single greatest work that paved the way for doctors, academics, and organizations like ours to treat and heal victims. The New York Times called the book, “One of the most important psychiatric works to be published since Freud.”
I look forward to reading with you and understanding the core of what our children face.
On that September morning, I walked the Krakow cobblestone streets in near-freezing air at 5:30 a.m. to grab a bus to Auschwitz. I had pulled an all-nighter but not by choice.
The reality of visiting that infamous “there.”
I don’t remember the ride but I arrived. The tour guide, a blonde woman in her 50s — speaking perfect English with a thick Polish accent, languid in reciting the blisteringly-morbid data to a dozen tourists who wouldn’t dare utter a word.
I had read the books, watched the documentaries, ingested every frame of Schindler’s list, countless times. But there is something about a place.
As the helpless prisoners arrived, young children, the elderly, and those with illnesses were separated. A guard would point to the left or the right. One direction meant to the “showers,” which pumped deadly Zyklon-B poison gas into the chambers.
I kept my mouth open for hours — a dropped jaw allowed me to cry and breathe, simultaneously, as my nose was plugged. There was something about the ground: the dirt, the cement, the grass, whether inside the gas chamber, along with one of the roads, in the disgusting barracks — “they walked in this ground.”
I should have remembered but I hadn’t — these camps had but one purpose: extermination. If you weren’t shot or gassed it was only so you could work…to keep the killing factory functioning.
The stories of torture, disease, filth, “surgeries” — you can google those if you’d like. I don’t have the stomach right now to repeat them.
A wave of anger — one that I had never felt before, and haven’t felt since — began to arise. The Final Solution — the command to exterminate — was announced on January 20, 1942. Why this anger? Because for nearly 20 years, millions sat silent. Christians. Pastors. Everyday citizens. Sat silent as Hitler attacked the free press, institutions of power, foreigners. Dark-skinned people (he ended up murdering millions of them) — all in the name of making German great.
But Bonhoeffer did. The Lutheran pastor was called “divisive” and “political” for standing against the hatred. He paid the ultimate price at Flossenburg.
The words of Elie Wiesel rang through my crazed mind:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
Estimates suggest that Nazis murdered 85% of the people sent to Auschwitz. Of the 1.3 million people sent to Auschwitz, 1.1 million died
“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Today is Holocaust Remembrance day — I will never forget, either. I hope none of us do.
Some things you can change. Some things you can’t.
You can pray.
You can act.
You can raise awareness.
But sometimes, surrender. Because you can only do so much.
The world is full of suffering. Insidious kinds of suffering. I wrote about suffering here.
Atheists use suffering as an argument against the existence of God.
Their logic goes like this:
If God exists, he must be good
If he is good, he would not allow needless suffering (like children being locked up in homes with their abusers)
The world is full of needless suffering
Therefore, God does not exist
Philosophers call this puzzle the Problem of Evil: Technically, The epistemic question posed by evil is whether the world contains undesirable states of affairs that provide the basis for an argument that makes it unreasonable to believe in the existence of God.
Some suffering is from natural evil — disease and disasters.
The other is due to human evil — things people do to others, bringing physical and emotional (or both) pain.
(As an aside, I’m reading The Book Thief for the first time.)
Humans can’t do anything to prevent natural evil; we can’t prevent earthquakes or tsunamis or tornadoes.
But human evil — physical abuse and rape and verbal abuse and greed — can be stopped.
People have choices. (Though I do hold to a libertarian view of free will, I still, often, find myself afraid that most of our actions are done without decision — we are in autopilot more than we want to believe.)
Even so, human evil is prevalent. (You and I have played our own parts in it.)
When my children were young, one of our prayers before bedtime was the Serenity Prayer. We’d pray it after the Our Father, Glory Be, then Anglican prayer of repentance. Anyway, it’s not really Christian, but it’s a good one: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Acceptance and surrender are the same thing.
The good news is that human evil can be curbed through education, intervention, legal sanction, attending 12-Step meetings.
But even then, you can only do so much. Evil still happens.