Thursday, April 8, 2010


So the movie lingers. It haunts. And it swells my heart... too far... as they preached in church a while back, "you have to break your heart to open it." And mine is broken by Mihai, by Ana, by Marian, the subjects of Children Underground.

And I must add that a film so raw, so voyeuristic, made me think, "Good lord. I know a number of folks who need to watch this. They need to let it break their heart right open!" And I also thought of Dreen, and how she needs to not watch it. Her heart is the epitome of "on her sleeve" and she knows the great pain of the world, she sees you and feels your sorrow, and she's better off without the underground children of 2001 in her life.

But whether you watch it or not, whether you really can stand to break your heart open right now or not (and I understand either way!), let me share with you something so poignant from the film it defies logic and defines spirit. While these children live in packs, scrounge for food, beg for money, huff drugs and sleep on sidewalks and cardboard boxes every day, there are some social services in the city. A few shelters (the only one in the capital city has ten beds, for about 20,000 children on the streets). A little food. There is a drop-in day school. There is a daytime clinic offering a warm bath, medicine, a haircut, a hot lunch, someone to listen to you for a bit.

The social worker shows up one day in the train station, for those whose turn it is to go visit the clinic. They cheer her arrival, but what do they do when she stands still? They kiss her. They hug her. They move to be in contact with her. They run dirty hands over her face, they lay lice-filled heads on her shoulder, and they move in a wolf pack just to be touched by someone who isn't there to hurt them. And she stays open to them, she holds their bruised and bloodied hands, she runs her fingers through their hair, and when they ask, "Will the lice be all gone?" she takes the razor and says, "They'll be less."

I have a very old-Yankee-type attitude toward touch, and come from a cultural and familial background that is rather sparing with physical affection. But since I can't? won't? shouldn't? go give a hug to the beggar sorting through recycling outside my door, or to the muttering homeless woman at the MAX stop, I must remember how much we all need touch. We all need a warm hand on our shoulder, a body to snuggle close to on the couch. We can do this for each other, non-sexually, and just out of simple caring. These children illustrated for me the human equivalent of Harry Harlow's heartbreaking food-or-love experiment. We must have food, of course... though some of the underground children choose drugs over food, as the high makes them fully forget their hunger... but we must, must, must have love.


  1. yep, i'm gonna have to watch this movie.

    on touch: one of the most heart-breaking things i've ever read was in a dear friend's writings, a non sequitur at the bottom of a page of ranting about something or other. he said "no one has touched me in four days" and i was floored by that statement, the simplicity of it, and by how easily it can happen in our often touch-phobic culture.

    i'm conceptually a fan of personal space, but some of my favorite people have, early in the relationship, been respectfully "invasive" with touch, be it a hug or a hand on my back or something, and i recognize that the easy intimacy there has made me feel much closer to them than if touching not been introduced. i now make an effort to touch my friends who may need it too.

  2. sounds like a very tough one to watch...children on their own,
    Yes, we all NEED touch; I pay to have some one listen to me (counselor) and pay to be touched (massage), both so essential to healing.
    Your description of the event in the movie is very moving.