Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
We recently cleaned off a bookcase, one of the few pieces of furniture to predate our marriage, and set it outside on the porch to be recycled by some other sucker. Soon, we will replace the battered, faithful old thing, which will allow me to remove the books from my church office and consolidate them with the ones currently lining a wall at home.
The ins and outs get a bit complicated, but the sum is that this leaves me with a little less storage than before, so I've been picking through my old volumes, winnowing them down to fit the space available. It is a task I dread. Some days I think I would rather lose my fingers than my books. But some of these things have been moving around with me since college or before, and I cannot imagine a circumstance that would compel me to read most of them again, short of being locked in the basement for two weeks with nothing else to do. Even so, most of them are readily available online. Assuming my hypothetical basement had internet access, then, I could replace most of them with little trouble. I suppose the cellar would have to have a mail slot as well, which makes it something less than a prison, but you get the point.
One of the books I harvested was the script for Carol Reed's 1949 film The Third Man, written by Graham Greene. It has long been a favorite of mine, with Orson Welles at the height of his talent playing Harry Lime, a charming scoundrel trying to hustle a living in the ruins of post-war Vienna. Second banana goes to Joseph Cotten as Rollo Martins, nicknamed "Holly," a childhood friend who eventually betrays Harry. Alida Valli is Lime's girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, for whom Martins falls, hard.
It's worth seeing, if you haven't. It is a masterpiece of film noir, filled with hair-raising set pieces, including one on an enormous Ferris wheel, in which Harry pontificates about morality and the shape of Western civilization—all while threatening to throw his friend off the ride:
"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly."
At the end, after Harry has been trapped and killed in the Viennese sewers, Holly and a British Army officer attend his burial: to mourn, and to make sure he's dead. In the last frames, Anna strolls past. Holly reaches out, tries to say something to her, but she keeps walking without even turning her head. Thus the hero of the film (such as he is) is robbed, as someone once said, of even the illusion that the "girl" cared for him.
I know how he feels. Our daughter was back in town this past Monday. She returned from Frederic, Wisconsin, where she had been a patient at a residential treatment center for the month of February. There, in a sunny hillside clearing in Wisconsin's great north woods, they assessed her functioning on every scale they could think of, from educational to physical to psychiatric. This resulted in 39 pages of reports and recommendations, none of which involved her staying in their facility. They felt that Abigail would do better in a group home where she could receive certain kinds of therapy.
This displeased me a great deal, because we are reasonably confident that our daughter will not cooperate with treatment outside of a hospital. But the rules say that children are to be placed in the least restrictive setting possible. She will have to fail in a group home before she can be sent on to the next level. This is as it should be, yet like so many other aspects of the child welfare system, it seems entirely calculated to drive parents up a wall. In that respect, it works well.
Abigail returned to Washington County but not to our house. She is too unstable and too frightened of being in a family to be here with us. Our son William is terrified that she might carry out one of her constant threats to kill herself here, or that she might start screaming, which to a seven-year-old is just as frightening a possibility. We, for our part, are too beaten down and too angry to have it in us to put up with another one of Abigail's campaigns to be removed from the home.
On Monday, we met with some county workers who placed her in the county youth shelter, where she will live until she can be sent to a group home. Where that will be we don't know. Monroe, perhaps, Whitewater, La Crosse, a few other places.
The process for releasing a child to the state parallels an arrest in some ways. Abigail was "taken into custody" by a social worker who read her rights, including the right to remain silent and to be advised by a court-appointed attorney. We had to fill out detailed paperwork explaining why she could not remain at home, and what the plans for her were. Within 24 hours of being taken into custody, she was entitled to have a hearing in which a judge would give a conditional go-ahead to her placement or turn her loose. Following that, the district attorney had 72 hours to fill out a longer motion requesting that she remain in custody. Another hearing will take place in two weeks.
I was required to attend the first hearing on Tuesday at the Washington County Courthouse. If you've never been, it's quite lovely. From the outside it's ugly, boxy and institutional, but the inside is freshly and tastefully redone. The third floor, where the family courts are located, features impressive views of the fields and trees of east-central Washington County. Even the bailiffs are friendly as you pass through the metal detectors.
As it happens, they were some of the only friendly faces there. My daughter stared at the floor until I spoke to her. Her lawyer—a nervous, expectant woman who walked into the building behind me—looked at Abigail. When I asked for her card after the hearing, she was polite, but never made eye contact. She knew she would probably never see me again. The district attorney, nominally on my side for the purposes of this hearing, would have happily stepped over my lifeless body on her way to court. Were it not for the social worker, I wouldn't have known when it was time to go into the court.
The judge at least was warm in a paternalistic way, teasing the lawyers about what a paragraph in the legal code said, even as he reached to look it up himself. For the record, Wisconsin Code 48.13(4) states that:
The court has exclusive original jurisdiction over a child alleged to be in need of protection or services which can be ordered by the court...Whose parent or guardian signs the petition requesting jurisdiction under this subsection and is unable or needs assistance to care for or provide necessary special treatment or care for the child.
The judge asked me if I agreed that our home was not an appropriate place for Abigail to live.
"Yes, your honor," I said. "We feel that we can no longer provide a safe environment for Abigail. She needs treatment."
He thanked me and made the preliminary order. We'll see him again on St. Patrick's Day. As the court session broke up, I told Abigail that we would talk to her later in the week. "Okay," she said from far away, as though she had never met me. I rode the elevator down to the first floor and walked outside into the mild but breezy afternoon with her lawyer. The guards nodded as we passed their metal detectors. In the parking lot, the social worker and Abigail drove past, on their way to the youth shelter across the street. The worker honked and waved. Abigail looked straight ahead.
Reprinted with permission from the author's blog, A Pastor's Notebook.