Thursday, October 27, 2011

The warmth of family

Today was chilly and rainy, with temperatures dropping and students huddling into their hoodies and under their umbrellas.  When it turns cold, I think of the emotions that the weather suggests -- and "cold" equates to "lonely."

There are good reasons for that association.  The best kind of warmth comes from other people -- from their body heat, their energy.  The warmest place to be in winter is a cozy home, and home is associated with family.

When we must endure cold, we sink into ourselves; we hold our arms close to our chests, hunch our shoulders to shorten our necks, fold our legs up and reduce our surface area as best we can.  It's the opposite of the openness of sociality, when we untangle our limbs, lean in toward another, exchange the spark of conversation, kindle smiles and laughter.

Large social institutions are often described as "cold." We mean that their processes aren't directed by human feeling but by routine, bureaucracy, inflexible rules.  They don't have hearts to be warmed by love or compassion, to be moved by a person's story or need.

How cold would it feel to be both alone and in the grip of one of those big institutions?  The children that CASA serves are in this situation.  They have been taken from their families; they are alone.  Sometimes they have siblings with them; sometimes they can't stay together in a single foster home, or don't want to because their chances of being adopted as a group are much slimmer than on their own.

They are subject to the grindingly slow pace, arcane rules, and rigid processes of the court.  For years their cases drag on, sometimes with an eventual resolution in view to work toward, often not.  Meanwhile they are files to be shuffled, appointments to be kept, problems to be disposed, complications to be dealt with.

It must be very cold there, away from your family, waiting for the justice system to decide where you are to be put.  Even in the hottest summer, you might shiver and curl up within yourself.  And when the weather matches the chill of that loneliness, that impersonal setting of the court, the cold must be compounded.

So the knitted and crocheted warmth of the scarves, hats, gloves, and blankets that my students are making for them seems triply apt.  They are not at risk of succumbing to the cold outside, although everybody can take comfort in warm clothes to wear.  But the cold inside -- the cold of separation, the cold of being a case file in an overworked lawyer's briefcase -- does put them at risk.

If there aren't enough people saying loud enough, often enough, and honestly enough that these kids matter, then they will freeze inside.  If there aren't enough people to demonstrate by actions that these kids are individuals and not cogs in the wheels of family court, then they will live the rest of their lives without seeing any reason why they should be held accountable, without any reason to believe they could decide for themselves about their future.  If there aren't enough people prying open these kids' arms and lifting their heads, they will hibernate, isolated, begging without words for a rescue they cannot imagine.

If you want to be one of those people, join us.  Follow our project on Facebook at; we'll tell you how you can help.

We want to share the warmth of yarn and fabric, ribbing and cables, ears and necks and hands covered.  But far more important is the other kind of warmth -- the care we can show with a scarf that's a teenage girl's favorite color, a hat with a seven-year-old boy's name stitched on the inside, a soft toy that a two-year-old can hug.  Made just for them, by people who want them to know they matter.  A gift of warmth in every way imaginable.

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