If I could lift a question up and hold high, it would be the one about breaking points. At what point does a child break? And, since breaks are sometimes brutal, what benefit comes of them? Couldn’t we sidestep them all together? For example:
What good came of a fight just a block from the school yard yesterday? Two girls, Kimberly and Wanda, fifth graders had clipped their nails and slicked their skin so that the other would not be able to grab on. They bolted through the back gate just after the bell and I found out later that they fought over what one said about the other one’s daddy. From the scratches and bruises, I knew they fought for keeps.
I called the cops and they came. But that didn’t unbreak what already got broken. Wayne, Kimberly’s father, sat with me, his daughter, and an officer. I told him the story. I knew him to be a good man who traveled often, fought, and punched to better the odds for his kid. He sat in silence for a minute. Then when he seemed to find strength to speak, he broke down in front of us, unable to finish his sentence. I looked at Kimberly, but she looked down.
Wanda sat in the outer office, next to her mom, Carolyn. I knew that Carolyn worked a double shift and had to leave one shift early in order to come to the school. I could see mother and daughter from my office door as I spoke to Kimberly and her father. They both looked straight ahead and said nothing to each other. Wanda reached for her mother’s hand, but mom pulled her hand away.
Everything breaks at some point. Breaks follow a familiar path. Hopes and dreams come first. Planning and goal setting come next. Clinging to a result comes third. Then, pressure builds. To save what we have fought for, we borrow against our own margin and cut still deeper into resources we can’t afford to spare.
From the outside, another child’s break can seem to be what needed to happen. Tsk, tsk, maybe she’ll learn her lesson now. As the inevitable snap draws near, helpful people pile on the tips and ideas, but once a break begins, helpful people go home and the cycle completes itself.
I have my own breaking point. How personal can I make this litany? My story doesn’t make me special. The breaking calls forth my braver heart and so far, I have survived.
So here I am, reading Pema Chodren. She writes about collapse as if it were a friend. She says: “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” So there is no end to the cycles, no point where falling apart ceases to be just around the bend. And arising from the ashes is the stronger self, cleaner, lighter, and less encumbered.
Have heart, I tell myself. Invite the break. Seek a kind of spine to assure myself that after repeated rescues, and frightened grasping, a coming together arrives to lift use up. Let the reprieve come and let the new life begin. Beauty comes forth by this means, as the break gives way to bounty that can, oh please, come with the new day.