My fascination with these children, teenagers, and young men and women has only grown as the time has passed. Perhaps not knowing the personal histories that are yet to be written only intensifies their mystique. It is certainly the case that as I find myself starting to settle in and feel like this place is pretty normal, having grown accustomed to the armed guards and the razor wire (which exist not to keep the children in but the hellish insanity out), accustomed to the fact that I will have rivulets of sweat running down my back at every meal, accustomed to the faces and names that seem all the more strange because so many are just Anglo names pronounced by a Hispanic tongue—it is then that the facade of normality is shattered. Shattered, because I remember that in every single case, without exception, each resident falls into one of two categories. On the one hand, each has some traumatic memory of a personal tragedy, anything from a sudden death to the slow decay of abuse or neglect—that has irrevocably altered the course of lives by destroying a family. On the other hand, for a good many of these children, there’s simply no memory of a (regular) family at all.
It is their bodies that display this terrible uniqueness. One day, I noticed that there were just too many scars on that little girl’s face to be the consequence of clumsiness. Another, I was informed that a certain young man’s lopsided gestures are the result of a broken arm in his youth that was never properly set.
The emotions that follow are almost never anger or pity at those who were responsible. Rather, this startling act of recollection ignites a fiery jealousy—not towards the children, but towards their caregivers and confidants, who in the natural and spontaneous growth of trust, have been admitted into this secret realm. It is then that each child, from least to greatest, infant to universitario, shimmers with mysteriousness. And even as I ask Who made them so?, the words of thanksgiving are ready on my lips. Gratitude for each one, each boy, each girl, whose unique capacity to manifest the glory of God to the world has not been lost to degradation and poverty and slavery. Yet, each light casts a shadow—and my prayer ends with a plea for those who have not found a place such as this one, whose corner is still too dark to be discovered—or who prefer the safety of a painful self-reliance to the blinding light of love.