Saturday, June 4, 2011

Family rights and wrongs

When an adult brother directs the way (away from home, to the street), is it wrong? When there is a violent matriarch at the head of a household, I find little blame for a sibling who perceives no other option but escape for his brothers and sisters.

An evening like any other. A mammoth game of 40-40 in the grounds of the rescue house, followed by a card game around the fireplace. In the midst of this, one of the boys on the sofa falls silent, arches his shoulders, grips his head in his hands and stares at the floor. No tears, no movement, no response.

Inconsolable for ten long minutes, I draw the evening to a close with an order to bed. A younger brother goes to side-hug his sibling in a rare and unreciprocated show of affection between two boys whose relationship, until this moment, has been one of constant provocation (a recent violent attack by another boy at the house was passively observed, when even a neutral bystander would have intervened).

When the others had left the room, I gently prise open his arms and lift him to his feet, whereupon he hugs me awkwardly. Carrying him to his room, he asks quietly if his brother can sleep in the same bed and then asks me to pray for him. Surely a memory of home, whatever that means. The family abode - we discover this week - is an abandoned structure accessed by a hole in a wall, where one bed is shared.

I listened this week to a radio programme about a newly-discovered group of people who have an extraordinary capacity to remember nearly everything that’s ever happened to them, however trivial. They’ve called it ‘superior autobiographical memory.’ As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking how frightful this might be. Something akin to the curse of eternal youth.

The novelist Sholem Asch once wrote that ‘[n]ot the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.’ I respectfully concur.

The reasons why children leave home are as varied as they are complex. But more often than not it is due - at the very least - to neglect. A neglect of love.

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