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Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

tears of sorrow

tears of grief

tears roll daily

no relief

lame distractions

cheapened hope

castaway dreams

frayed rope

perfect storm

of guillotines

natty to rags

ball gowns to jeans

for the better

was the goal

end result

darkened soul

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Baby sea stars like uniformity…they know when their world has succombed to a rip tide.

Sea stars in other oceans benefit from the storms in this ocean, because it assures restoration of calm. Blessings to those sea stars! 

But when the sea stars in storms perceive their mama to be going through grief and storms, the babies know to brace themselves, and act (or act out) accordingly, as though yet another disruption of semblance of normalcy has occurred. 

God help those babies, sedate them till it’s over. Help them pretend another life to protect them from harsh reality. Give them another personality to survive the atrocities.

Oh, what tangled tides we weave…!

Baby, wear those white tights! Wear white always. Cling to the innocence! 


The storm may be upon you and totally not evident (storms are like that, they gather and hover over their prey, giving a taste of sun and then rain and hail all over them in a sudden darkened downpour and vanish like it was your fault for believing all along!)

But keep cheering…keep hoping…storms pass and are cowardly, they retreat and do not maintain intensity. 

Keep the faith, sweet little sea star! Believe those strong storms can save the day! Because if they can’t, God will. God will through His will.

Rest in retired peace, dear sweet ana. God bless You, white virginal garb and all. You gave Your all!

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Reblogged from October, 2011…because what’s old is new again:

I suppose it wasn’t really there after all. I must have been daydreaming. When you’re hanging at the beach, some things just kind of blur together, like the pod of dolphins the other day at one point clearly being a pod of dolphins, gradually fooling the eyes into trying to decipher what was bottlenose and what was fin and what was tall wave. The playful animals somehow melded into being waves. Eventually when the excitement wanes and you start questioning your own senses and sensibility, you learn to quit looking, and refocus anew on what is, on what was, to begin with.

I thought I saw a ship, of great proportions, traversing the horizon. It had a bright color that caught my eye, contrasting from the sea, and maintained a steady path, as long as I dared to watch.

While it caught my gaze, I imagined where it came from, how long it had stayed in port, and where it now headed, what it carried. The Sunday newspaper keeps a public record of such data, but it’s been a month of Sundays since I read a Sunday paper.

But the ship was real as long as I looked at it.

I was driving, though, and could only afford intermittent glances. I was driving fast, windows down, music loud, hair flying.

I know it was there. But then, I glanced again, and it was not. Simply slipped out of my vision, out of my reality.

It reminded me of the man I used to see come home on what I calculated must be his lunch hour, as I ran the last hill on my runs. His house was one of my reality checks – I used it to remind myself of my goal, since it was at the peak of the knoll, the hardest and steepest hill of the three I conquer on my usual 2.5 run.

Once upon a time in the season of jasmine, I marveled at the tall southern pines which graced his front yard, with something that looked like clematis climbing up the trunks of each tree. They were so fragrant, I came to look forward to springtime runs, just to get to that last, steep incline.

 

Each labored inhalation was rewarded. His front porch was typically Southern, a wraparound with ample rocking chairs and detail in the woodwork, beckoning one to stop for a glass of sweet tea (slice of lemon) in the fragrance of the climbing flowers. The trees, and the clinging flowers, disappeared up into the sky-blue like some Jack-in-the-Beanstalk fairy tale.

How I would have loved to stop!

But my course would have been ruined had I done so – I was compelled to finish what I began, compulsively dedicated to completing my circuit, and his house was only one stop on my way to my destination. How sad…and it always seemed…no, seems (I still go by) so inviting.

Through the spring and part of the summer, I saw him come home. He would be parked in the side driveway, sometimes standing on the porch, sometimes inside, sometimes conversing with his landscapers. Sometimes just standing there, yakking on his phone, or pausing to watch me and wave.

And I always kept going.

Although we saw each other nearly daily, he was a stranger, and I to him. He was at the end of my run, at the top of the steepest hill, and I could not, would not stop, no, never. Never meant to be. He and his coveted possessions were well out of my league. I would not be interested in such.

I had to keep running, keep my pace, knowing the end was near and soon I would have rest. But in that rest I often thought of how nice it would have been to stop my run short and crash on that ample front porch and get acquainted with the wealthy neighbor. He didn’t know me, not really. And I didn’t know him. No, we were Worlds Apart, on two different courses, two different schedules, two different paths. He may have thought he knew me; he probably imagined he knew me, but he would have been wrong. Someone like that and those Things could not have understood or known joy from someone like me and my things.

And, like the ship that I’m not sure ever really existed, he also ceased to exist after my weeks of illness which prevented me from my daily runs. I have gingerly, carefully resumed and gone back, as I sit at the lapping water here, but he no longer comes home for lunch. And I have not seen a ship like it on the horizon since, either.

Both are gone; I am alone, and left wondering if they ever really existed, or if they were figments of my imagination, like so many other things.

I suppose I was a figment, too…not quite real, not quite tangible. Just sort of, out there. Interesting to imagine, but not really existent.

There is safety in not really being real, not able to be figured out, comprehended, perceived fully. Perhaps it is best if figments remain figments, visions as visions, dreams as dreams. That way, things of intrigue remain as we wish for them to be thought of, and we do not run the risk of disappointment, should the harshness of reality not live up to our dreams.

Our dreams…our delusions…our mirages serve us well, to provide the comfort of distracted vision, and of hope and curiosity, without the pain of what is, what must be, no matter how satisfying what must be, is.

Both the ship and the man were elusive and surreal as they passed before what I thought was my reality, bringing interest and reason to look while they lingered in the periphery of my reality, ever just so out of reach and causing me to question my sanity, yet serving a purpose by challenging myself to keep looking and to keep running all at the same time.

Oh, why O why, didn’t I stop long enough to verify the existence of the ship? and the man? Was I afraid they’d be real? Or that I would have to change to accommodate their reality? Was it better that they came and went from what I thought was my vision, that they remained a part of the Unsure?

How bittersweet, never to know for sure. I could never pursue either, and must stay on my circuit.

Damn, today’s run was totally to mentally detox. The news at high noon (delivered in the best room with the best catered food which I didn’t eat) was supposed to be good, which I couldn’t swallow, either. It was good to everyone but me. My crestfallenness did not go unnoticed, and I know they saw me tear out of the parking lot on my run after the meeting with more vigor than usual Upon my return, I was swamped with Higher Visitors and calls from all angles, feeling me out, no one daring to ask. The Secret is not theirs to uncover, they knew. And I was helpless, speechless, unable to explain. Only someone like me could be living such a dual life in so many dimensions.

But the run was hard and fast, and the man wasn’t there…again. I guess I missed too many days, so it was…just…a run. And I returned to face reality, my dreams and thoughts and feelings sequestered to the depths of my inner being, where they are better kept behind the game face.

But nothing can erase the ship on the horizon. I know it was there. I know it seemed like it wasn’t at one point, but I can still see it, I can still picture it crossing my path when I had time to pause my gaze. It was big and bright and happy, and added perspective to the horizon. The fact idea that it was there gave enough impetus to relish the rest of the surroundings, even after it disappeared.

Even if it wasn’t real, it was…just for a moment…it really was. And if I willed it to be so for the sake of my sanity, is there anything wrong with that?

The fumes of belief fuel faith.

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Swarming starlings like to congregate just inland from my beach, frequenting the harvested cotton and peanut fields. They are easily spooked by passing cars and en mass, rise like a black curtain – a Hitchcock-like shadow of birds:

The birds darken our skies every November. But today, happy spring shadows bring blossoms of new life and colorful promise, yielding fresh hope and energy!


Thank You, dear God, for bright, new life springing from darkness …for the hope You provide that carries us out of the shadows of loneliness and near-death, and rocketing us forth into a fresh cycle of light, connection, hope and renewal. 

Thank You for being on each and every walk with me – and for my bloggy buddies, too – through every season, storm, shadow and silver lining. 

God, You rock!!

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The path to Christmas at our house seemed a lot like the one for which the day itself celebrates.

This year has been a long, hard journey…only to get to the end to find no room at the inn, in many ways.

The year has been a story of disabilities, disasters and way too many losses….but also one of perseverance, sharpening and victories, often disguised as hardships. I am highly confident that 2017 will be a year of rebuilding and grace.

So, there weren’t as many gifts under the tree this year, and many of them would have blended in with the latest Fruit of the Loom commercial….which may sound bleak for American children in this day and age – at least at first glance.

But in our culture of entitlement, I think it was just what the children needed to learn some valuable character lessons. 

Less yields more appreciation and a deeper sense of valuing “Stuff.” Less is just what was needed to drive home some salient points we parents otherwise try to teach our children with varying degrees of success. 

I can safely say it is much harder to teach some of these lessons unless a child experiences the sting of disappointment, of going without. A little humility yields great things!

There were lessons this morning in climbing out of a pit, of garnering one’s creativity and ingenuity to generate solutions to get where you want to be, to realizing your dreams. To being the one to make your own dreams come true instead of relying upon others and the world to make it happen FOR you. 

Actually, kind of like the very premises our country was founded upon!

Instead of a spirit of downtrodden weakness, a prevailing spirit of hope, faith and love.

And it didn’t come in the form of an expensive gift, it was not proud, it did not boast. There were no clanging cymbals.

My friends, God was right when He said the greatest of these is LOVE. This gift sat in at the back of the tree in a little silver, unmarked box, having gone mostly unnoticed until this morning.

The very youngest child patiently waited until all the gifts had been opened and he quietly padded over to his mother, the one in the room whose name was not on any of the gifts (because it’s all about the kids, right?) and he handed her the plain  tin box and eagerly waited for her to open it. 

His light blue eyes danced with anticipation as she carefully opened it and joyously received the greatest gift of all:


And Merry Christmas with love to you all! 

May God bless you richly with His love…but don’t look for it at the 5 star resort in the top-floor suite. It can be found in a quiet valley of solitude, where things are simple and lowly, sweet and holy.

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I love this week’s Photo Challenge which is all about taking something and running with it – about going many steps beyond your wildest dreams.

Never believe that the impossible isn’t possible or that a dark and gloomy prognosis means the end of the track.

From a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, 8 months old…told IF he lived, he would be in a vegetative state and die by age 4…

  
…to Special Olympics, 2015 – Kissing a pretty girl fifteen years later makes it well worth coming out of a coma and surviving!

 Believe in the extraordinary – faith, hope and love are the greatest of gifts.

Thanks, God, for second, third and fourth chances. And tenth and seventy-seventh chances. 

You know, God, sometimes I think that Your lessons about faith, hope and love are as much about our aspirations as they are a reminder of Your unwavering faith, hope and love for us. It IS a two-way street, isn’t it? 

That when our ordinary faith, hope and love stray, You – our Rock – never lose those three things for us, and it is Your extraordinary faith in us, Your hope in our return and Your eterrnal love for us draws us back and is what causes such rejoicing among the angels when we return.

Many happy and extraordinary returns!

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Updating the Playlist

Yesterday, mother, bless her dementia-ridden heart, wept about two lost friends. They weren’t really lost – they were there all along. In fact both of them had written her just days ago. But she couldn’t remember, and had hopelessly misplaced their letters.

The grief of the perception that they had abandoned her was all too real, perpetuating many rationalizations to try to make sense of these dear ones choosing to leave her life. They can’t handle the reality of my illness. Fair-weather friends. They must be busy with their better-than-mine life. Some people get scared and don’t know what to say.

Anything but looking inward and/or right in front of her nose…She had the answer all along, but it was just shy of her grasp.

Interestingly, she repeatedly rejected efforts to correct her perception; nothing could deter her from her determination to grieve about friendships lost that weren’t, really.

Perhaps she was aware at some level of her condition robbing her of her friendships and, still not wishing to embrace her demise, pawned it off on them instead so she could engage in this displaced grief – to grieve without having to own her part in not being able to maintain the friendships, as she gradually slips away.

So all I could do was validate her misguided reality and go along with it, agreeing that people can be cruel, mmm-hmming that a disability surely will expose who true friends are and aren’t, and reminding her that like children and their playmates, people change and grow and move on.

She concluded that while the pain of “losing” these friends was real, she took solace in knowing she now has some wonderfully interesting, new friends who enrich her life in different ways.

As such, our “play”-list necessarily evolves and changes.

Later this week a girl suffered the loss of the friendship of a-much older man after a telling letter was intercepted. Sometimes good therapy involves shaking up and opening Pandora’s Box, letting the chips explode all over the place and letting them fall, so they can be stacked up and organized in the light of day. So a white-knuckled, box-shaking, out-in-the-open meeting was held.

This meeting was followed that evening by a stormy call she prematurely ended with her angry father who was trying to explain to her why the relationship was inappropriate; he’d crossed a line, should have known better, blahbeddy-yakkedy-blahX3. Trying to reach out to her in a relative way, she would have to delete that song from her playlist, he’d said.

She told me yesterday that after sleeping on it, she had started to feel grateful that everything had come to a head. But the grief of losing her friend had left a big, dark, black hole in the center of her being. “He was the only one who really understood me, the only one I could ever talk to that openly,” she cried.

She didn’t feel ready to delete that song from her playlist…and yet it was made clear at the meeting, it would have to be. No, it already had. Though she’d searched the archives and knew the song had been there not long ago, it was no longer there to be played. He had been dropped from her play-list; she knew it was time to acknowledge the update and move on.

And then she incorporated her father’s wisdom regarding the relationship, arriving at the same conclusion: the loss is real, but real, too, is the future with new people and places, and the comfort and hopeful anticipation that brings.

Like good friends and good music, both people and playlists are fluid, ever-changing.

My birthday is coming up and each year one of my gifts is an iTunes gift card. I only keep songs on my iPod that propel me on my runs. Some of them wear thin after several months and give way to newer, must-have songs that spin me around. Yet I always keep a small handful of songs on there that allow me to pay homage to the unspoken depths of my heart. The key, I’ve found, is keeping it on “shuffle;” this way I can be assured that I will never spend too much time wallowing in those depths and can discover new energy in the latest additions.

God, thank You for updating and shuffling our play-lists as we go through our lives; for forcing us to play new songs and to carve out new depths in our hearts with new experiences as You move us on.

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Thank you, dear readers, for your thoughts and prayers for the little ones I serve, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

~~ssm

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Dear                            ,

I hope you know that even though you just came to (this lockup hospital) Santa always knows where you are, so you don’t have worry that I didn’t know where to find you this Christmas! Santa comes to (this hospital), too, and I know all my boys and girls, and especially YOU!

I’ve been told that you’ve come through some very, very hard times in your life recently, and that it is terribly difficult for you to talk to others about those times. I want you to know that besides Christmas presents, I am going to give you a different type of present, a present that doesn’t come in a box or in wrapping. That present is called COURAGE, and it is something I know you already have plenty of. But I am giving you MORE, because you are very dear to me and you didn’t deserve to have the things happen to you that happened. Those things, dear one, were NOT your fault. (Remember that naughty people, especially grown-ups who are supposed to know better, get lumps of coal and a lifetime of shame for things like that).

Please know that as you use the courage I give you, time will help heal your pain. And I want you to know how very proud I am of how strong you’ve had to be, and how strong you will be as you learn to trust grown-ups again. That is not an easy thing to do. In the meantime, please don’t hurt yourself or hurt others – you are such a beautiful child, and I want you to feel good about yourself and about your life. You have a very bright future.

Thank you for believing in me, because I believe in YOU, too.

Merry Christmas with Love,

Santa

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Dear                             ,

Thank you for writing to me with your Christmas list. I always love to hear from the boys and girls I care so much about, and you are one of them!

I will try to get you as many of the things on your list as you listed. Even though you won’t be able to be home with your family this Christmas, I know where to find you at (this hospital). Santa doesn’t need keys! Listen for the clatter of my reindeer on the roof.

Since you asked me for some things, I’d like to ask you for something. I would like you to work on not saying naughty things when you get angry – try not to curse, not to make threats to hurt other people or your family, and to try to be respectful. Remember, the people you talk to are people I love and care for, too, and I like to see people happy. You are a smart boy, and I know you will be able to make good choices, even though things aren’t perfect.

Enjoy your presents, and have a very, Merry Christmas!

Love,

Santa

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Dear                          ,

What up, bro’? Thank you for writing me such a good letter! I will try to bring you as many things as I can from your list. I like how your writing has improved, and that you are able to talk respectfully to other people about what you’re feeling inside, more than before. That is what makes things better.

Did you have a nice birthday? I was so excited that you had so much fun and got to go on a pass and all that jazz. I overheard you asking me to bring you a Dad for Christmas, and I am working on that, although it won’t be THIS Christmas – hopefully soon, though. I want you to know that even though your family can’t be together this Christmas, that I know of another family who is waiting for YOU to join them. They will wait for you to finish working on your treatment goals, so keep trying to do your best. Everything will work out just fine.

And someday, I hope you decide to become a professional athlete – I don’t know anyone else your size who can shoot a hoop from across the gym each and every time like you do. You’re a pretty amazing guy. And now that you’re eight, you’ll be able to do even more!

Have a very, Merry Christmas and enjoy all your presents!

Love,

Santa

p.s. – Don’t try to fool the Tooth Fairy any more – she reports directly to ME. But your therapist told me that everything’s cool now, so we’re good, dude. Jam on.

****************************************************

Dear                          ,

I got your letter that you wrote to me and I want you to know how much it meant to me. I will try to bring you as many things on your list as I can. My elves are working overtime to get everything just right.

I know how difficult it must be not only to be so far away from home, but to have to wait so long for the right family for you. I am so proud of how patient you are and how much hope you continue to have even though it feels like it’s taking forever. I see how hard you are working on your treatment goals, and I know someday you will join a new family who is waiting for the right child – that’s YOU! In the meantime, I want you to have fun this Christmas.

When you are sad, please remember that I am thinking of you and that so many people are working to get you home. Don’t do things to hurt yourself (no more tying things around your neck!) or to hurt others – this is very important, because I love all my children very dearly, and I want you to feel better, to feel happy. Remember that God and I care for you very much and will make sure that you stay safe this Christmas. We will wipe your tears away with our love. Never give up, never lose hope – stay strong and keep facing forward to your bright future. Keep believing!

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas, with love,

Santa

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Most y’all know I’m surrounded by various and sundry bodies of water, so the challenge of finding a unique reflection to share was even more of a challenge. Rather than evoke a widespread, involuntary yawning response by posting another water-related picture, I found a different sort of reflection I wanted to share with you.

This photo is a reflection of my eighty-eight year old mother, who was diagnosed last year with mixed dementia. She conked her coconut on the money-machine of a CTA bus in Chicago a couple of years ago, after an errant pedestrian darted in front of the bus and the bus driver stopped suddenly, propelling my about-to-deboard-mother, forward toward the front of the bus.

She remembers the riders going, “Ooooooooh,” as she hit. Then, as if once wasn’t enough, the bus lurched a second time, launching my mother yet again into the Tower of Tokens, prompting a twice-as-loud “”Ohnoooooo!!” from the passenger peanut gallery.

The tearful driver, seeing his job flash before his eyes, apologized like all get-out, but my stubbornly independent mother insisted she was fine and got off the bus and valiantly crossed six lanes of traffic and two loading lanes to get to her uppity condo down the street from where Oprah lives.

Two hours later she sat at home afraid to get up as something slowly passed through her forehead, like a clot, afraid she’d kill herself if she moved, realizing something was terribly wrong. The clot passed, but minutes melded into hours and hours to days, and before long, her prefrontal cortex defied her, and suddenly it wasn’t so funny anymore when Grandma couldn’t find her glasses when they were right there atop her head.

The “mixed” part of the diagnosis undoubtedly comes from the fact that she was a writer, and had to write everything – compulsively. Writers beware, if you do NOT get it out, it will overtake your brain – you MUST write! Else it clogs your neural arteries, mark my word. And hers. She put a lot of stuff out there, published and unpublished, but if the every-square-inch-covered envelopes and scratch papers I’m having to sort through in her storage are any testimony, please, friends, just WRITE! Put it out there! Don’t let it take over your brain.

Mom began to lose track of bills, the credit card fell out of the purse God-knows-where, medication became a blur whether or not it was taken and ultimately she began to wither because it simply became too much trouble to get to the store to buy groceries – in typical Scarlett O’Hara fashion, even meals became something “I’ll worry about tomorrow…”

As the illness began to suffocate her sense of independence, she ran away from her diagnosis and decided to settle here with the rest of the elderly snowbirds who frequent this climate, if for no other reason than to buy herself a fraction of time before various authorities were about to declare her officially incompetent.

Her plan worked, she still signs her own checks, and even though she needs a tad of assistance discerning whether she’s coming or going on any given day, she still knows that a day with her toes in the sand sipping a cool iced tea in a 76 degree December day is better than any rat race she was running from in the icy city from which she fled.

She is also learning to appreciate SEC winners in collegiate football (ahem!), Jimmy Buffetisms and my personal favorite, How To Drive With The Windows Down and the Music Very Up.

A practitioner and believer in art therapy, I set about one day recently by trying to connect with her through paintbrush and canvas. We did an exercise in collaborative creation – she made a stroke, I made a stroke, turn-taking until we both felt it was finished. The rule is, the paintbrush can only touch the canvas once, be it swoop, sweep or dot, then it’s the other person’s turn. When finished, each stands back, admires, and offers their interpretation. This was what the canvas reflected of her mind:

Reflections of Dementia

I asked her to go first in the interpretation. I was unable to follow her with my own, speechless, I was.

I had splotched the grassy patch at the left because I love green, and when I see green, I can’t resist orange or pink, and I didn’t have orange on the palette, so I mixed red and white to get pink and dabbed when it was my turn. I still can’t say what I was thinking; her interpretation overshadowed any cause for pause on my part.

She said, “I screwed up the circle at the top and the more I blobbed, the worse it got and the more it began to look like an eye. And the more it began to look like an eye, I realized I had painted my face…but I only have half a face left because the dementia has robbed me of the rest. I only have half my head left. The rest is slipping, flying, dragging me into the grave, the green grassy spot below. And you planted flowers…”

We wept and hugged.

Some of my best memories of my mother, as she slowly departs in the cruelest of ways, have been captured in the reflections of her departure.

God, thank You for making us rich in the face of cognitive poverty. Truly, You elevate the lowest, strengthen the weakest and bring new life to the dying. Thank You for reflecting Yourself in our trials.

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In a land far away from our minds stands a lone angel tree today, seen by few, known by fewer. This tree is different from the rest.

You know of the others. Right now in stores across the United States stand hundreds of “angel trees,” decorated with carefully disguised identities of needy children in the community. These are children who through no fault of their own are in situations which render them financially less fortunate than other children on Christmas day. These children may live with their families or perhaps are foster children, but they still have the freedom to live with a family, attend school, and, although challenged, have a fairly typical daily routine in the daily world.

Allow me to introduce you to a similar, but rarely-seen angel tree.

This tree also has the names of carefully disguised identities of needy children, but these children are apart from the community. These children are the emotionally less fortunate who, through no fault of their own, have been subjected to and somehow survived unconscionable circumstances which have scarred their souls so badly, that they are unable to function in society as we know it. These children cannot live in a home, neither with family of origin nor foster home. These children cannot attend school due to their disintegrated hearts.

These children are locked away in an institution, both for their safety and for the safety of the community, or because they are the most emotionally fragile of children. They simply cannot handle life as we know it. They are there to mend their hearts and souls, and remain there until they are fit for society. This may take days or weeks for those in acute care; months, or even years in the long-term residential facilities…all of which are eternities, in a child’s eyes.

There they spend their days and nights, eating and sleeping, playing and fighting, wondering how they got there, and contemplating what they need to do to get out. There they try their hardest to get through each day with the shadows of their past following and haunting them, trying to do what schoolwork they can, trying to get along with others, with varying levels of success.

Some try their hardest because they have hope. Others do not try because they have given up hope, and need encouragement from one moment to the next. Still others try their hardest to show others their very worst, because if they can be disliked or violent enough, they can reject others before others have yet another chance to reject them…at least it is one thing in life they can control.

Their angel tree sits quietly in the corner of the small, empty lobby, the only unlocked room in the building. Other than the receptionist, it is only seen by the few still connected to these children who are able to visit: the state worker who must ask the child to choose between a voucher for clothing or a voucher for toys and who will be home with their family on Christmas; the ashamed, distant relative who is reluctant to be involved but wants to make a good show, the occasional lost driver who took the wrong turn down the end of the long road; the tireless staff and nurses doctors. Oh, and the UPS guy and mail carrier, neither of whom bring things addressed to specific children living there, except on rare occasions.

The requests for needs for these children seem somewhat unusual. The angels on this tree bear wishes for things like socks, because their roommate flushed their last good pair down the toilet during another one of his nightly rages, with enough bone-rattling shrieking to create a new nightmare for another child down the hall on the unit, unable to sleep…and not a shred of memory of the crisis, come sunup.

Like playing cards, since many of the games on the market, electronic or otherwise, further cause them to be unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, and may trigger violent flashbacks. Or reinforce their tendency to want to solve problems with disconnected sarcasm and indifferent violence.

Like soft, stuffed animals or dolls, since anything battery-operated requires batteries – and anyone who’s been behind those locked doors long enough knows that if you slam a battery in the door near the hinges just right, it will expose a very sharp object that can be found in the core of the battery, which can then be used as a weapon to hurt someone. Or, for the self-harmers, to cut on themselves and draw blood, and wind up wearing scrubs and on 24/7 observation for days as a result. It is unfathomable to think how a young child might learn such behavior, but there it is.

Hygiene products are also popular, since the hospital-issued products are not exactly kid-friendly, and it is much more fun by far to brush your teeth with sparkly bubble gum toothpaste, like most other children enjoy on a daily basis. A pretty ribbon for her hair. An emery board, since nail clippers are not allowed on the premises, and long nails can be used to gauge eyes in a sneak attack from behind. A SpongeBob blanket for a bed instead of the typical ho-hum hospital sheets. Warm Cinderella footie jammies. Or a visit from a volunteer big brother/big sister or mentor, an objective other who will play a game with them and listen to their story…a story most can’t bear to hear, a story which defies common sense and human rationality.

Food item requests are never found on this angel tree; some children are on strict diets due to side effects of medications. And besides, the child who roamed the streets for his next meal has been known to wheel deals with other children: “I’ll give you the coupon I earned for extra game room time, if you give me your snack.” Snacks are then discovered hoarded under mattresses, up in ceiling tiles or in the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom which the adults all assumed were locked and childproof.

Some children ask for earmuffs to block out the incessant noise, which may come from either side of their skull at any given moment.

How did they get there, anyway? It may be because their parents sold them for sex in exchange for drugs. Or left them for long periods of time to fend for themselves. Or perhaps they locked them in closets or entertainment cabinets for their convenience. Or molested them repeatedly over the course of years.

These are the children who don’t know where their parents are, and the parents are either dead from their misdeeds or are happily homeless, preferring drugs and alcohol over their child….or simply abandoned the child and left the state, never to be heard from again. Some children may know where their parents are, but their parents voluntarily turn them over to the state because they don’t want them anymore. These children may have been in 15 foster homes, with no stability or sense of permanency. These children may have been along for the ride and witnessed a drug deal gone bad, resulting in murder. Or witnessed murder in their very own living room. Or tried to murder their family during a psychotic episode.

The end result is a child who is unable to make sense out of the world, who relates to others as they have been related to, and who does not and may never know childhood, as it is supposed to be known.

These are the children we forget about because they are quietly locked away from the rest of us while they pick up the pieces of their bewildered, shattered lives. You will not see them in schools or on sports teams. You may spot them briefly at the store, at McDonald’s or on a playground closely monitored by staff, if they are deemed well enough to go out into public at the time and their medication and behavior are stable. If that is the case, you will likely not know it is them you are seeing, and it likely will not register in the moment you see them, just where it is they lay their head at night – a place where they must be to work out their raw feelings of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis…their fear, their disappointment, their confusion, their rage

The angels on their tree represent a completely different type of need – a need that is real but often goes unknown and unheard by most.

Still needing and wanting to believe in something despite their inability to trust mankind, the younger ones hold fast to their belief in Santa. No, there is no chimney in this place, but they are assured that Santa has keys to the joint, nonetheless. Their lives may have taken an unthinkable course, but their anticipation and hope in being loved and cared for like any other human is entitled to, is no different from yours or mine.

I urge readers (and writers) to locate the nearest children’s psychiatric hospital in your area (and they are there, somewhere…I cannot point you in the direction of the children I know due to privacy and confidentiality issues). Please consider dropping off a small gift  for one of these children who will wake up Christmas morning behind locked doors…on the inside looking out, never sure when they will be ready, if ever, to be the one on the outside looking in.

This gift needn’t be material…write them an anonymous letter and tell them how brave they are, how proud you are of them for enduring all they have. Tell these children that they can do it, that they are loved, admired and respected. That they are believed, that their feelings are real and important. Tell them that they matter. Color them a rainbow with your words, that they might be assured that their world will hopefully not flood like that again.

Such a small gesture has incredibly meaningful ramifications.

For what is small to us, is huge to them, bigger than we might ever guess…whether or not we remember about their angel tree now and in years to come. Like a standout, cherished childhood memory, they will remember, and it may just be the one memory of hope and love that will help heal them on their horrific journey. It may be the one thing they have, hold, hang on to and refer back to as the biggest spark of light that brought them through their darkness.

God, help us all help the sequestered and forgotten children of the world, the ones least seen in our communities – the ones who most need miracles and a reason to believe again.

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