See How It Feels (Again)

I like thinking this is worth a do-over.

It’s said, debate arose among Churchmen of Medieval Europe regarding the native language of man.  Greek or Latin?  When prayer, scripture, Plato and Aristotle failed to address their question, the learned Clergy devised a scheme which, a millennia later, became the hallmark of Science: an experiment.

Newborns were isolated never to hear human speech.  Anticipating what enlightened researchers would label “extraneous variables,” the infants were fed, diapered and clothed but otherwise experience the barest of human contact.   Hypothesis: Unsullied by hearing human speech, the subjects would reveal humankind’s native tongue.  The outcome was inconclusive.  The subjects never spoke.  Denied nurturing they died.

A millennia down the road, Bulgaria’s child welfare system deteriorated to conditions eerily reminiscent of this—I hope apocryphal—Dark Age experiment.  In 2007 BBC exposed “Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children.” Vacant-eyed infants peering through cribs bars, naked bodies nodding on cold plastic pots, legs hardly able to support skin-and-bone, emaciated orphans scraping  metal bowls, frantically competing for a fragment of potato.  The psychological impact of this horrendous experience was inescapable.  The Daily Mail’s Rosa Monckton reports,  despite being warehoused cheek-by-jowl, due to a “lack of interaction, children in Bulgarian institutions grow slowly mad.”

The tragedy exposed, organizations and individuals rushed to foster and adopt.  Documentaries recount the myriad physical and emotional challenges American families confronted in attempting to rescuing these profoundly damaged little people.  For me one scene stood out: an out-of-control boy throwing objects, breaking pictures and mirrors, punching holes in the wall.  When a desperate Mom attempted to placate him the seven-year-old punched her in the stomach, “See how it feels!”

For a long time this cryptic exclamation puzzled me.  Surely anticipating that rescuing a physically and emotionally stunted child could well upend her family’s life, this woman who jumping through bureaucratic hoops, assuming significant financial expense, overcoming myriad unforeseen obstacles, was thanked with a punch to the gut!  “See how it feels!”

See how what feels?  Lady with the big house, see how it feels to stare through crib bars for days on end.  Lady in the king-size bed with its sweet-smelling comforter and  half-a-dozen pillows, see how it feels to lie in a moldering nightshirt on a dank mattress day and night.  Lady with cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers stocked to feed an orphanage, see how it feels to experience constant gnawing hunger, to fight over a handful of spoiled beans.  Lady on her sterile white toilet in her porcelain and chrome bathroom, see how it feels to squat amid naked, emaciated, near-zombies swaying on cold plastic pots.  See how it feels to hurt lady!  Really to hurt.  See how it feels

It goes beyond Bulgarian orphans and caring moms.  “See how it feels” is the heart of so much human suffering.  When it hurts too much, we slug someone in the gut.

“See how it feels” is the taproot of abuse.  Through irrational thinking, we believe we can be rid of suffering by giving it to someone else.  Child abuse, spousal abuse, elder abuse, colleague abuse, employee abuse are attempts to, if not alleviate, at least have someone know our pain. Sick, tired, injured, insulted, frightened or just had a bad day, we come home, kick the dog, shout at the spouse, beat the kid.  Some walk into a kindergarten, church or synagogue with an AK47!  See how it feels to hurt, really to hurt!

“See how it feels” triggers violence, rebellion, revolution.  Feeling marginalized, abused, deprived we lash out at power.  See how it feels to be insulted, ignored, used!

“See how it feels” America!  When we crash airliners into your World Trade Center, see how it feels to have one of Earth’s the oldest cities, our home, bombed, demolished, leaving economic and cultural chaos behind.  As you grieve your three thousand, see how it feels to have tens-of-thousands of our innocents massacred in your unprovoked assault.   

In your grand cities with their skyscrapers, streets crowded with cars, sidewalks crowded with shoppers, homes with electric power, hot and cold water, heating and air conditioning, see how it feels to live in mud huts, tents and refugee camps, sometimes for generations.  As you cruise highways paved with asphalt from beneath our feet, see how it feels to walk in sandals down a rutted track.  In your Super Markets, shelves stocked with so much food more than a quarter goes to waste, see how it feels to be painfully hungry, to die from starvation!  See how it feels America.  See how it feels to be marginalized, exploited, humiliated.     

“See how it feels” has a corollary: Misery likes company.  The former attempts to alleviate my suffering by hurting you.  The latter finds vicarious relief knowing others suffer.  Fueled by the paparazzi, devoid of moral stricture, the “National Inquirer” and other tabloids capitalize on this.  At the checkout counter, with a laid-off spouse and three-year-old running a hundred-and-two degree temperature at home, about to charge another cart of groceries to a nearly maxed-out VISA, seeing “Hillary’s Breakdown,” “The Pope’s Love Child,” “Obama’s Porno Addiction,” “Tom Cruse Dying of Aids,” even the rich and famous suffer, offers fleeting respite.

In 1935, misery likes company found creative outlet when Bill W. and Bob S. expanded peer support from church, synagogue, Elks, Rotary and Masons to the suffering’s broader world.  Over ensuing decades their Alcoholics Anonymous model expanded to drug addiction, mental illness, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, suicide, suicide prevention, those impacted by suicide, murder and violent death, grief, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Parents of Murdered Children and more.

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