Wounds that make you think
A clearly intelligent and articulate young man appeared on Brass Tacks a few Sundays ago. In responding to the questions put to him by the moderator, he frequently added some perspectivethat showed him to be a thinker. If a few of his arguments were slightly flawed, then this is simply the case with the young who have not yet acquiredthe wisdom of long experience. But for the most part, here was an insightful young man with a capacityfor self-reflection.
This young man admitted to smoking marijuana and having been incarcerated on more than one occasion. He was an unemployed and permanent resident of the block. None of this was surprisingsince listeners had been told beforehand that this Sunday programme was designed for the disenfranchised, deviant and disenchanted youthfor the purpose of airing their views.
I was impressed by the youngster’s commandof the language and the ease he seemed to feelas a guest on the programme. There was one thingin particular, however, that struck me and has remained with me.
The young man said that on one occasion whileon his way to court, he recognized a police officerwho he claimed had beaten him some years agoduring an arrest. The young man had some wordsto say to him. Not, however, the angry accusationsthat one would expect.
On the contrary, this young man expressed theview that on arresting him some years ago, the police officer should have given him a worse beating thanhe had received. The police officer, he said, would have done him a great favour. The young man believed he would have mended his ways and returned to the straight and narrow path. His life would have been better today.
I am still trying to process the young man’s thinking, though he would appear to be in good company. We remember the words of the psalmist, David: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.”– Psalm 119:67.
We are also aware of the biblical injunctionthat one should not spoil the child by sparingthe rod.
The difference here, however, is that the afflictions to which the psalmist referred may well have beenthe result of continuous political warfare or, as some would argue, orchestrated by God Himself. In the second case, it is a reasonable expectation that those applying the rod would be the child’s parents.
So what would bring this young man to the point where he would welcome the idea of being severely beaten by an officer of the law as a means of setting him on the right path? Where were the other authority figures in his life whose responsibility it was to set him straight in the first place? Is the law the only restraining measure for some of our young men?
What we must not miss here is the message the young man was really seeking to get across. It wasnot so much the beating he craved. What he was crying out for was someone who would set boundaries for him; put constraints in place to help him make better sense of the art of living. He needed a firm guiding hand that would lead him away from chaos and along a meaningful and productive path.
What I also found interesting during the discussion was the way in which the young male participants referred to their mothers. It was their mothers who stood by them when they were in trouble. It was their mothers who were there for their sessions with the court. The too obvious question was: where weretheir fathers, the primary figures of male authority?
The fact is that when the block becomes a placeof refuge and provides the only sense of belonging, something is seriously wrong with the institutions of home and family. We boast that many of the men we know grew up without fathers and turned out to be solid citizens. So how have we gone so wrong three generations onwards?
There are some painful experiences that causeus to learn much-needed lessons; they make us think. But the wound of the absent father in a boy’s life seemingly keeps bleeding. It is there in his lowself-esteem, his rage, his drug abuse, the gunshot,the stab, the stain on the prison walls that eventually leaks into the entire society.
Thank God for those men who take seriously their responsibility as fathers.
Title taken from Return To Dennery: Rainby Derek Walcott.
• Esther Phillips is an educator, poet and editor of BIM: Arts For The 21st Century; email [email protected]