When I was a little girl who went to St. John’s Cathedral Sunday School in Albuquerque, I remember hearing someone say that Jesus loved babies and had said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Even now I find that word in its alternative meaning, beautiful yet terrible.
Circa three or four I had made a cross out of pine as a Sunday School project. It was a dark time in our family. My mother had a nervous breakdown, as ambiguous shatterings were characterized then. My father had no insurance for psychiatric care for her and devastated, he had her committed by the State of New Mexico.
A day came when my little brother and I were playing with a box of ceramic animals at my aunt’s house; I could hear my mother and aunts alternately wailing and yelling; everyone was drinking, typical for an alcoholic family.
I looked out the window and I saw my mother being carried out on a stretcher and put into a waiting ambulance. I know now that she was driven away to the state mental hospital and given many shock treatments, that she was a guinea pig for anti-psychotics.
I remember stilling the chaos roiling inside me and that I focused on distracting my brother. That night when we went home,having momentarily sobered up after my aunts threw him into a cold shower, our father started hitting the bottle again.
I was about six or seven years old. How could I have known that trudging from one household task to the next was my next to best instinct. I made my brother a sandwich and I covered my father with a blanket. I went into the coat closet, behind the slickers and winter dry cleaning, where I had made an altar with an upside down cardboard box, a crocheted doily, and my wooden cross. I prayed for my family–a prayer that might have simply been, please help us.
Many years later, both parents gone, several of my own soberings up under my own belt, I am thinking of the cross and the simplicity with which in that crisis, it wasn’t so bad to turn to the God who had given me permission to approach him/it, to come unto something I could sense yet not see.
I have been trying to find my way back to that God for sometime now, having distanced myself from my own capacity and need for faith. Last night, I gave in and gave up. I can’t kneel anymore, but I sat on the edge of the bed, weeping at the images of wailing toddlers on the television, and I prayed for them.
This crisis has triggered my own loss of my mother and of losing children to one termination and three miscarriages. I have been a lifelong nurturer of tiny and helpless things and what is happening on the border has been an emotional Armageddon.
I just caught a glimpse of the vice president, whom I’m not fond of, feeling that he is a Trump sycophant with the rest of them, wavering back against the velvet drapes of the Oval Office in perpetual vacuity, a half-visible yet omnipresent figure like a castrati angel at Trump’s shoulder. He looked drawn, exhausted. He said, “I would suggest that we all pray.”
I believe that the Good and Beautiful about our country, her valor and integrity, have been flushed down the toilet by Herr Drumpf, especially now today and the Supreme Court’s upholding of Trump’s right to control who comes into the country. Hatred, the desire to do him bodily harm, have run through me like electricity..
Perhaps I need my anger, I thought. After all, we are entertaining, crazily, a class-action lawsuit calling for his impeachment for criminal abuse of power for his racist moves including the most recent, in which we hear that he has cut off federal funding for pro bono immigration lawyers attempting to help the children. This, coupled with the stasis in Congress, was too much for frazzled me, and I caved again.
Perhaps we each need a castrati angel at our shoulders, a wooden cross in a closet, a comforting bower of overcoats that smell like they whose coats they were. We most assuredly need each other, each other’s kindness and love, the soft touch of our animals, even to step for a minute out into the summer day and let ourselves out of the cage of our grief.
All of our hearts have become caged birds as we see terribly distraught babies in agony, put there by an arrogant bastard of a man who is drunk on power and has decided that illegal immigrants are so reprehensible he needs to punish them. We still have no idea where the infants are. Trump’s tweets about asylum seekers as breeders have the most ominous possible ring. Things would be easier if we had a gutter drunk in the Oval.
A few years ago in fact, I shut my heart to my faith. I threw out two brass crucifixes, right into the dumpster. How can there be a God anywhere, when this sort of thing has happened, when there can be so many awful things and now, a monster like this man.
I remember seeing a film clip of Nazi lieutenants lining up Jews and one by one, executing them, that they were positioned to fall into a mass grave. I remember one of them pulling himself up out of the grave, pleading with his perpetrator, “Finish me.” He was accommodated.
Where was God? Where is God?
I have written this past week a number of posts to exorcise my own anguish. We are brothers and sisters in trauma, perhaps all asking the same question. The unrequited mother in me is utterly devastated. The inner child in me whose mother disappeared into the depths of a sprawling adobe mental hospital, the tiny me who knew profound desolation and sorrow, who has combated lifelong depression, has been in anguish, reliving everything.
We are so worried about the babies we now know to be interned in facilities we cannot enter, we forget to take care of ourselves. We only know that we must keep on.
I have not been as emptied and distraught and grief-stricken since I lost a mare and her foal, a maternal and beautiful presence in my life I tried to save.
So much suffering makes us want to fall into an open grave. In moments I have felt drawn toward making a noose to hook over the bathroom door. I must be honest. I must reveal these things.
I think, from those early days of being motherless, I know that the trauma of losing the bond with your mother, having it severed like a tendon with a razor blade, triggers a grief storm, that anguish seems infinite.
But we must think of this: surely at other times in human history, when mother and child cave dwellers were attacked by saber-tooth tigers and the child lived, scooped up by a trudging relative or passer-by, if she was lucky; weeping and exhaustion and terror brought her sleep, numbness; even a small body overtaken by the will to survive somehow comes to its own rescue. Terrible grief is cathartic, even for a small child. We are able to come through the most terrifyingly difficult things.
If you had told me I would take the advice of the VP and offer up these babies and my broken self, my husband’s broken self, to amorphous and unknowable “God,” that I would humble myself to pray, admitting my powerlessness–something nearly impossible for the family hero– I wouldn’t have believed it. Every warrior needs to set down her sword for a time, to have the strength and heart to keep on.
I wish you, fellow sojourner, comfort, small prayers, a sliver of faith–more than a mustard seed’s worth of resolve to keep on.
copyright June 2018 Jenne’ R. Andrews
Jenne’ Andrews is a retired professor, poet, blogger, essayist and fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts. Her latest collection, In the Dominion of the Afflicted, is due out from Salmon Poetry, Ireland, in 2019.