Into the Arms of Brokenness

Posted: 16 January 2013 in Everything Else...

So here’s what I’m thinking…

I talked to a psychiatrist who deals with prison suicides and he said that most of those who kill themselves “inside” have long sentences, get “Dear John” letters, or otherwise see no way out and so they… find a way out. And he said that those on the edge are… well…out there on the edge and it is not really clear what we can do for/with them. When I say “out on the edge”, that is exactly what I mean. We were talking about those who live on the edge of town in ditches and draws and fields away from regular human contact (like the guy who died under a freeway underpass this week in a nearby town—they can’t find his next of kin, that is the edge for sure). Edges, borderlands and frontiers are where things bend and creak and where the rules don’t apply and the whole apparatus may come tumbling down. And we have folks living out there. Various pathologies lead them down the path to the edge and then meth and drink and combinations of bad things seal the deal and there they are. We don’t want them in our parks (in the center of things) and so we help the whole process along by pushing them out (Well it’s not “we” exactly is it? We get the cops to do the dirty work while we sip warm drinks at home with soft music playing in the background). Anyway, my point is, they are out there and meth or malt liquor or other things most of us don’t have direct experience with clinch it for them and… there is no salvation for this kind. There is no redemption (even though we tell ourselves that we believe in all that shit and that we are basically forgiving people) because this kind, well, they have disappointed us SO. MANY. TIMES. And not just disappointed us. Oh no. After we dropped a buck on them or fixed their bike tire or listened to their ramblings and we felt pretty good about ourselves, they came back the next day and asked for more cash or something and when we said “No” they said “Fuck you” and that was that. We were not disappointed. We were dumbfounded and angry and felt justified in walking away and saying “good luck” and thinking “Jesus, what do these guys want from us?” And so to the edge we gratefully send them and rarely do we wonder what they are really up to out there. I mean, who can blame us? This is not about guilt. If they don’t want “help” then who are we to insist? And the psychiatrist says that these cases are not easy. Actually, that is not what he said. What he said was “What can be done for these folks? Realistically” Stack so many deficits on top of deficits and the calculation becomes pretty clear—the balance is negative all the way down. After all, personality disorders dominate and there is no “drug” for that. There is only the hard work of being abused even as you try the “directly observed therapy” of dispensing advice to “keep going to counseling” (except that there really isn’t any counseling, is there?), but they can’t commit to that because they have this thing called a personality disorder. And vicious circle does not begin to describe the kind of spirals that people find themselves in and they move further out to the border lands until we don’t see them anymore and we hear (but never confirm) that they believe that thorns are embedded in their flesh, or that they are invincible (just before they step in front of the train), or that there are lizard beings on the edge of the atmosphere waiting to take over the world (don’t laugh, please, try not to laugh). I mean… who is going to go in among the tombstones and find the “demoniac”—naked and prone to tear at his own flesh—and lay a hand on that body (imagine the pathogens on that skin) and make him human again. Who is going to do that? Who is going to flee into the arms of that embrace?

And so… what are we going to say? There is nothing we can do? Do we release them to the universe and return to our homes and await the inevitable notice in the paper of their demise? The psychiatrist says “take small actions” but we are all about big solutions and ten year plans and bold proclamations about ending it all. But it doesn’t work that way dammit. You don’t bring an aimless horde back from the precincts at the frontier by just saying so and making a plan. You have to go out there and walk and experience the tombs. Rub your hands up against the granite and allow your fingers to trace the names carved into its surface. You have to touch the chains. You have to feel the hot breath of an argument too close for comfort. You have to see the rotten teeth and the shattered skin. You have to listen to the lies and the dissimulation. Can I be honest? Brutally honest? I don’t want to go out there. Don’t make me go out there.

So that’s what I’m thinking.

    • robbdavis says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read this Brian. I know it is intense. I am going to try to dial things back in the future. This one has been sitting in my guts for a pretty long time and it just kind of gushed out on my keyboard last night (after reading Ellul’s “Hope in the Time of Abandonment”). I continue to struggle with the stark realities of this kind of exclusion.

  1. Robb, I have to agree with Brian, very intense. I wouldn’t dial things back, it is too late for that . Intense is what is needed.

  2. Cindy Burger says:

    Spot on Robb! No one could have said it better and it is better that it is expressed than kept silent. Thank you for your authentic and passionate spirit. Keep up the good work!

  3. Jane Swan says:

    It seems easier to be present with compassion without flinching, when trying to “fix” someone isn’t part of my agenda. Thanks for your thoughtful posting(s) Robb. Jane

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