Thursday, February 9, 2017

What should be

When I was a fourth grader at Campfield Elementary School, getting C’s and D’s and failing math, and being cute, passive and clueless, my mother sat down with my teacher, Mrs. Clark, one afternoon. I remember that I had my big winter coat on as I waited in the classroom for their meeting to begin. My teacher used that pretext – that I was wearing a coat indoors – to advise me to wait outside, not hear their words. That’s how easy it was to push me around in those days. I remember a result, maybe the result, of the meeting was their agreement that I was a “late bloomer.” I do know that nothing noticeable, ever, came of that settled wisdom: No remedial help, no counseling, no special attention at home or in that class or any later classes in elementary school. That slogan relieved them of all effort, apparently. Was this some complacency common to the 1950’s? Or my parent and teacher colluding in easy, neurotic neglect?

Whatever the case, they were right as rain: I was a late bloomer. So much so that I didn’t become a human being until I was in my early forties.

That is when I finally became capable of empathy, of caring about another person, of being interested in things in the world rather than being lost in myself. That is when I stopped being a surfacey congenial botch incapable of making, keeping or being a friend.

Thank you, mother and teacher. I have never forgotten your wisdom.

Parents and other adults can’t see inside a child’s psyche. Less often do they try. Maybe even less often would they have ever thought of “a child’s psyche.” More often adults assume the young boy or girl is in the same world as they. What’s not understood is that many times the child is not ready to join the world. He’s locked in anxiety and dissociation. She may be temporally out-of-sync with her age, not too immature to know the words the other children speak, but too immature to live them, feel them. He, along with countless others like him at any given time, is invisible, lost, on a phantom ship to a sadder world of his own creation.

There could be many labels. Late bloomer. Oppositional, defiant. Lazy. Daydreamer. ADHD. A follower. Bully. Exceptional. LD. Abuse victim. Child of divorce. Shy. Foster child. The DSM listing of disorders. Or no label, no thought about him. All these responses are sirens of ignorance. There is only one good answer, not to happen in our lifetime: Every adult should be a psychological therapist, natural and ready to ask a child his or her fantasies, strange feelings, thoughts, fears, needs. Every adult should see the world not as a machine that has to keep running, but as a place of meaning, where time only passes after things are made right. A concert hall is full of people listening to a symphony or piano piece. They are deep in the moment where there’s really no time controlling the music, hurrying it on, because the music is its own time. But we don’t listen to a child in that absorbed, timeless way: He is not his own time. He has to fit into the flow of the day, of the world he never made.*

That is where we go wrong, have gone wrong for millennia and will go wrong for millennia. Failing to listen to the young person’s self is like ripping the grand piano off the stage the very second the pianist sits down to play. Time passes, and it is empty of everything.

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* A.E. Housman’s poem --

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.