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Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Child Too Dumb Not To Ask

Shrinkwrapped writes the preamble.

This is a story of restoration and redemption. It is ongoing and improbable; it violates all the rules of reality as I know them, and yet it did happen and is happening. I will tell you what I know of it and you will have to seek explanations elsewhere or dismiss me as an absolute liar.

I believe in God as an absolute reality and the only absolute reality, as I suppose this story will make clear. It also explains why I am a Christian - I believe in the power of the cross because I have called upon it. While I am a Christian, I believe that since God is the absolute reality, all true religions approach His reality, and that God's mercy and guidance is directly accessible to each human being.

I know a couple now in their late twenties. They are what I would call good people who try to do the best they can. Please keep that in your mind as you read the rest of this story, because you might start thinking badly of them both, which would be wrong. Both of them hold jobs and work hard. They are also intelligent people with a lot of character and drive, although not a lot of formal education. Neither one of them trusts churches, and both of them have told me that they consider most churches to be hypocritical.

They married young and had a child quite quickly. Both of them are children of divorce and seem to share the unsettled sense of insecurity that divorce often brings. I suppose they met each other and became each other's security. They really loved each other when they married and they really love each other now. It is a true marriage.

She smoked a lot of pot in high school and did a few other drugs as well, during the time when her home life got really chaotic. She might have a couple of drinks a year now, but nothing more than that. He had real problems with both alcohol and drugs starting when he was a teenager. It finally became so bad that he was in and out of several drug treatment programs and in the end went to prison for six months. He told me once that after that he decided he would do whatever he had to do never to find himself in prison again. I suppose that was really true. There are some things I can't bring myself to tell you about this story, but I can tell you that he was truly desperate and dangerous.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. To make a long story relatively short, he fell off the wagon after they had been married a few years and started drinking again. This happened a few years ago, and as often happens with addicts, what started out as a weekend diversion escalated until it was every day after work. Part of the problem was that he was working for a business run and owned by a man who drinks like a fish. It's not something a recovering addict can afford to be around for very long. Eventually he started using drugs occasionally as well.

She suffered through hell. They were not well-off, but they had bought a home and were relatively comfortable. The problems started after they bought the home, really. He could not deal with the responsibility and the pressure.

And their financial situation got rapidly worse. The money that goes on drugs and beer cuts into any household budget. He wasn't really being a father any more either; his own child shrank from him. And then, as his frustration and rage grew, he became bitter and abusive. The lying, the broken promises, the fear, the drunken rages, the blaming of other people - anyone who has ever watched an addict descend to the depths knows the story. Anyone who has never seen this can't imagine it, but I can assure you that it is terrible.

And then there were the worries. He said he wasn't driving drunk, but addicts are incapable of being responsible. She was worried about her child. She was terribly angry with him. She felt abandoned. She was frantic about money, about him, about his health, about what would happen. She still cared about him, but she no longer trusted him at all. She didn't really trust him to take care of her little girl. She, a woman in her mid twenties, became genuinely physically ill from the stress. The medical bills didn't help the situation. I know all this because they were both coming to me and telling me their sides of the story.

At the beginning of the main action in this story I had recovered to the point that I was capable of doing quite complex cognitive tasks. I was able to speak somewhat. For example, if someone asked me "Is X in this place?", I could answer yes or no if I knew for certain that it was or wasn't. On a good day, if I knew for certain that X was in another place, I could answer with "X is there." But if I didn't know where X was, I couldn't speak at all. Somewhat after the main action in this story, I had reached the point at which I could hold a pretty normal conversation on one topic, but one topic only. For example, a bank president working on his disaster recovery plan (the auditors were arriving the next week) called me desperately one Friday with a series of very complicated questions about how loans were calculated. I was able to give him the answers and recommend a strategy of which he had not thought. He was extremely happy and astonished, thanked me profusely, and told me that if he could ever do anything for me to let him know. Then he asked my name - and I couldn't answer. I had to find my business card and read my name off of it. Brain damage is a very bizarre thing.

I don't know why they were both telling me about what was happening in their lives. This happens often to me. Sometimes people I have never even met before walk right up and tell me the most horrific things. I have speculated that perhaps since I am slow in conversation I appear to be a better listener, but it's still happening.

But anyway, they both kept telling me what was going on. Everyone who knew them was desperate for them. The situation was not stable and was getting very dangerous. I suggested to her that they go to counseling. She told me that he would never go, and that he maintained that it was everyone else's fault and not his own. That was true. See Shrinkwrapped. As things get more and more desperate, it gets harder and harder for an individual to acknowledge what she or he is doing. The burden is too big for the person to assume.

Naturally, I prayed for help. What could a person who could not express an uncertainty answer to these two people? And who could turn and walk away from these pleas for help? They weren't telling me these things for self-aggrandizement or their own pleasure. They were in terrible trouble and they were both suffering deeply. The child was suffering the most. You could see the wariness and confusion in her eyes.

I prayed for understanding, but the reply was not helpful. It's difficult for me to explain what happens occasionally when someone comes to me and the voice answers, but many times it's as if I get told the story of their life. In this case, it came like watching a movie.

When his mother divorced, she moved away. When he was about eight, he and his mother were living alone. He, as this eight year-old, felt an instinctive male sort of responsibility toward his mother. He became emotionally the "man of the house". Then she got involved with a man and he was deposed. He did not understand it, but realized in some way that his mother no longer needed him. That relationship broke up, and the same pattern redeveloped over several years. When he was a teenager, his mother met a man and married him. He became a secondary figure yet again.

What the voice told me was that he had learned on an instinctual level that he could not win as a man - that he would always be deposed in a relationship with a woman. He wasn't good enough. He wasn't man enough. Nothing of this was conscious.at all. It was a deep-rooted thing that he had imbibed at a time before he was a fully conscious adult. He couldn't fight it. He desperately needed psychological counseling, but he wouldn't do it, because first he would have had to admit that he was behaving badly. He couldn't do that because he had betrayed himself so deeply that admitting it would produce utter self-hatred.

When they met, he recognized the same insecurity in her. She loved him greatly, and admired him. She trusted him. The combination of her need for him and her belief in him gave him enough confidence to marry her and believe he could be the successful man of the household. The first pregnancy strained that belief, but he managed to haul through it. The purchase of the house was the final straw; he was too insecure to handle the pressure, and the downward spiral began.

And in prayer I was told that this situation could only be turned around if she could once again express her need for him (which was deep) and her trust in him. But this was an impossible task for her. How could she express trust when he was utterly unreliable, and not even capable of taking care of himself? How, when month by month for years things had been getting worse. When the bills piled up, when he spent all his salary on drink, when his own child was scared of him when he came home? She couldn't. She insisted to me that she didn't love him any more, even though she did. She told me a number of times that she couldn't feel the same way about him.

The situation kept getting worse and worse. It got really dangerous. I am not going to tell you how dangerous, but it was really dangerous. I prayed for guidance. I even considered going to the police, but first I prayed. I was told that any course I could think of would end very badly. I offered her money for counseling, but he would not go. I offered her money for a divorce, but she could not do it. I offered her everything I could think of, but she could not see an out. And I couldn't either. Save the child and the man was lost forever. It was an impossible situation.

Then, in the middle of all this, she got pregnant. Because of her stress-induced health problems, the pregnancy was risky. And of course the additional pressure produced an absolute implosion. I cannot bring myself to write of what happened, but the deathspiral had literally begun.

One Sunday a few months before she was due I could not stand it any more. I went into the bedroom and laid down to pray (if you are recovering from paralysis and have only partial control over your mobility, you learn quickly to lie down to pray!), and I demanded. I suppose I was so desperate because I really knew (even though at the time I wasn't aware of this) that they were both asking me to cut the knot they couldn't. I was going to be forced to go to the police, and it would end with his suicide. And I would have to do this, because if it is a choice between the innocent child and the essentially innocent man, you must pick the child. But it wasn't right. It wasn't just. They had not been given a fair shot at it.

I asked That Which Is for help for them. I admitted to him that neither one of them would ask for themselves, but I demanded the help regardless. I asked Him what was the purpose of the crucifixion - what was the good of all the suffering - if not to extend help to people such as these. Was it just a savage joke? Yes, people have free will. Yes, I know the rules are that they have to ask. But I cried to him in anguish that it wasn't their fault that they didn't know to ask. They had never encountered grace, and if they didn't know to ask for it, it was because nothing they saw or had encountered had ever signified to them that it was real. I demanded, in absolute anguish. I reminded That Which Is of what had been shown to me in prayer - that the seeming villain in this story was also a helpless victim of a long chain of cause and effect. Neither one of them truly desired any harm to anyone, much less each other. They did not know they had an option, and they were both, in their own ways, doing absolutely the best they knew. They didn't have true free will because they didn't have true knowledge. (I am bawling like a fool while writing this. Poor Rescue Dog has come over twice to ask what's wrong.)

That Which Is answered in great anger. Believe me, if it had happened to you you would believe for the rest of your life that God exists. He responded like thunder and wrath "DO YOU TAKE ABSOLUTE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEM?" I was terrified.

I did something I don't think I had ever done before. I walked away from the conversation. I got up off the bed and came to the living room. I was absolutely certain that if I answered "Yes" that I would be absolutely bound to give anything that I had to remedy the situation and do absolutely anything I could physically do in order to remedy it. At the time I was still pretty disabled, and although I was working sometimes, I was working for free to get my hand back in and prove that I could work. I don't have medical insurance - I am uninsurable. Any money I had was largely reserved for my own medical care. And I have responsibilities of my own, and I thought of those. Did I have the right to become even more of a burden upon others? Chief No-Nag was and is dependent upon me in some ways. He has lived a very difficult life. Did I have the right to say that they were more important than he? This is the hardest thing in the world for a woman to do - to acknowledge that others who are not hers have a right to existence as valid as those who are hers.

I stood in the living room for maybe twenty minutes, trembling a bit and staring toward the bedroom. It came to me slowly that just as this moment was desperate, all the succeeding moments would be desperate. If I ever came upon a car crash and those two children were in it, I would have to try to get them out even if the car was burining. And so would Chief No-Nag. And this was just as lethal. We had both had our shots at life, but those children were caught in desperate circumstances completely beyond their control and our duty to them was absolute.

So I went back into the bedroom, lay down and answered "Yes". And That Which Is replied "FINE. IT'S DONE! AND NO MORE OF THIS FROM YOU!"

I was extremely intimidated, and that is a vast understatement. After a few minutes I got up and went to scrub the bathroom. It's a horrible bathroom. It's a man's idea of a good bathroom. It's an ocean of tile and grout that becomes moldy in a minute in this climate, and at that time it was extremely painful for me to scrub it. I guess I had some vague idea that lightning would not strike me before the bathroom was clean, at least. That Which Is was really angry with me.

After about half an hour I was driven back to the bedroom and I told That Which Is that I wasn't ever going to mention it again, but please to let me know what it was that I was to do. I didn't get an answer and I went back to the bathroom. I don't think I was able to stand up straight for two weeks.

Things went on with no change for several months, although the owner of the business at which this woman worked decided abruptly to pay her salary while she was out. That relieved some of her financial desperation. I had been saving money for her, so that was a big relief to me. I did not spend any more time or worry on the situation, because I did believe that it was done and that the last word had been said by the final authority.

Suddenly, after the child was born, everything changed. No one who experienced it could figure out what had happened. She was completely at ease with him; he was completely at ease with her. A few weeks after the child had been born she told me with absolute assurance that she had her husband back, and I stared in astonishment, because she believed it, and she wouldn't have believed it before the change. All the bitterness, distrust, insecurity, hard words, desperation and pain had just vanished. Neither one of them seemed conscious of how radical the change in them was, but no one else could understand it. If anything, they seemed puzzled about their circumstances but completely confident in each other. Without a word to anyone, he quit his job. He got a new one, and he completely stopped what he was doing. No drugs, no drink, he came home at night. He stopped going around with his friends and the drinking members of his family completely. There was not a word of explanation.

About 10 months later, he was away on a business trip and slipped and had a few drinks with other workers. He told her about it and he didn't continue. Later he decided to move away completely. The last time I saw him was when they were moving. He had his daughter with him. His hand was in hers, and she was sort of leaning against his leg and partly hiding behind it, as any child would in a group of strangers and a confusing situation. This child who had been afraid of her own father had him back. I felt confident that they would make it, and they have. Because - I end where I started - they are good people who do not desire any harm to anyone, much less each other and their children.

All I can say, now and forever, is ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou to That Which Is. I know a miracle of grace when I see one and this was one. Grace exists. Divine justice exists. I don't doubt for a minute that purpose of the cross was to make this a possibility.

Shrinkwrapped touches on the reality that the conception of a universal God implies that that there are universal standards. In other words, the concept of G_d can be considered a personalization of the concept that an unchangeable reality exists and that it makes uniform demands upon us. We must conform ourselves to reality rather than expecting reality to conform to us. That is the grounding of all sanity. It's also the basis of science. The Jewish realization that reality has a moral order which cannot be defied is indeed the beginning of modern history, although of course since this is a reality it is accessible to every human being.

But the amazing reality that is that Reality, itself, turns a benign gaze upon us and wishes to help us. That is a reality which my mind cannot quite grasp - but it is a reality. That the Absolute should have decided to make common cause with us is mercy and love beyond my understanding.

The Codocil:
I originally sat down to write about this last spring. I was very conflicted about writing this story, because I did not know if I had the right to tell this story. The two who spoke to me surely did so because they trusted that I would not talk of them. So I originally got up from writing with the vague purpose of going into the bedroom, lying down and asking That Which Is if I should hit the "Publish Post" button. But I didn't go directly there. Instead I thought that I should do some housework, which is always waiting.

And, while I was doodling around the living room picking up stuff in preparation for vacuuming, That Which Is interrupted me and showed me what it was that was done. It has shocked me into silence all this while.

It's difficult and really impossible to describe physical concepts in words. I suppose you'll have to take it on faith, but That Which Is showed me long ago that our perception of time is a secondary result of cause and effect. In other words, the physics of our universe are not quite as we would think them. If you could reverse effect, you could reverse time - but in doing so you would destroy the inner integrity of the universe and destroy its physical reality. Time is more the way that anything that interacts consciously with the universe perceives cause and effect than a reality. It is NOT A PRIMARY constituent of the universe, but cause and effect is. Because our physical selves are rooted within the web of cause and effect, we are subject to time. That Which Is is not subject to cause or effect, and thus is not subject to time.

That Which Is had taken me at my word in my request. I told That Which Is that they had not knowingly chosen to act badly; that their fundamental stance toward each other was loving and benign. They were acting as they did because they perceived no choices and were trapped in a chain of cause and effect that they did not understand and could not transcend. That was true. I asked That Which Is to give them real free will by grace, even though they did not ask for it.

That Which Is took the chain of cause and effect, beginning at the start of their marriage and ending with the physical birth of their second child, and compressed it. Everything that had happened was still a reality, but to them, it had JUST happened. You understand, they knew everything they had done, but they hadn't had time to build up the reactions to it. She knew everything that had happened; every harsh word, every accusation, every bad deed, every bad check, every broken promise, every lie and every mean moment. However the psychic suffering as a response to all of this had not had time to develop. He knew what had happened and what he had done. But he had not had time to build up the insecurity, the self-distrust and the defensive reconstruction of reality. Another way to put this is that the events of years had all happened yesterday, and that the love and confidence that existed at the beginning of their marriage was also yesterday.

Imagine a tube of events built out of every action and reaction to each other. That Which Is collapsed the tube, so that the bitterness, distrust and confusion would have had to develop all over again. Because they truly were good people, they chose another path. They knew what they had done; it no longer made sense to them, so they proceeded to act differently.

What terrified me so is that That Which Is, instead of impinging upon their consciousnesses, to create an anomaly in the structure of the universe just for their sakes. The respectfulness of all this is utterly non-human. If I could have chosen for them, I would have chosen to impress upon their minds the fact that That Which Is did exist, and that they could seek help. That's not what was done. We humans are terribly arrogant; That Which Is respects us more than we respect ourselves or each other.

Free will exists, and aren't most of our complaints to That Which Is a rebellion against the fact that we have free will? We want God to make us good; he demands that we act responsibly by our own choice.

Some time ago I replied to a thread at Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's about Mango's view of religion:
Real religion is about changing the equation of life. Real religion is about the moment when you reach the end of what you can do as a good human being, and need to do yet more, and reach out to the infinite for help and get it. Real faith is not a matter of belief but of action. As I commented before on Mango's original post, there will come a time in both of your lives when you are faced with only bad choices that will hurt some one else no matter what you do. Religion is about enlarging that equation beyond what is humanly possible in order to get a better outcome. All true religions are about that.

You are phrasing things very carefully and very politely as "needs" in order to recognize other people's ways of life without having to come out and admit that you regard this as a type of insanity that is not expressed in harmful ways. But you ought to at least rationally concede that there is a possibility that the reason billions of people follow some form of faith is not to meet their own needs, but the needs of others.
This is the purpose of the crucifixion and resurrection. Cause and Effect, those awful arbiters of human existence,can be abrogated to offer individuals, SHOULD THEY SO CHOOSE, to break the existential chains of stupid and harmful behavior. Thousands of years ago, That Which Is made the choice to become a part of cause and effect to some extent (which we cannot fathom or describe), and in doing so, created a set of options that did not exist for human beings before.

We do, indeed, worship an awesome God.

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