Children Before the Ravaging

Children Before the Ravaging June 8, 2012

Even if you only saw the trailers for the 2005 film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, you might recall the images of a young girl walking down the sidewalk, haunted by passersby who seem innocent enough until they draw close, when their faces are transmogrified into those of demons.

Those trailers scared the crap out of me.

Maybe they struck some close-held fear of insanity or possession: for years as a child I suffered from nightly dreams of the same thing, along with the occasional daytime vision. Or maybe I’m just a big fraidy cat. Either way, without the reliable promise of a steady bed partner for at least a month following, there was no way I was going to watch that movie in its entirety. (Please don’t tell the talented director, Scott Derrickson, who will be teaching at the Glen West Workshop later this summer.)

What has me thinking about this movie I’ve been too afraid to watch, is that lately I’ve been experiencing its opposite.

Just a few days ago, to give you an example of what I mean, I was sitting in a tedious meeting about a tedious project that has gone sideways in a half dozen bad directions, all of them traceable to the uncrossable chasm between technology whisperers and the rest of us. There is coding involved, and compatibility issues, and HTML 5 (the latest Lady Gaga of the website world, I’m learning, until it becomes—only after we’ve all invested thousands in her, mind you—another Britney Spears). There are half-witted technology salesmen and technology specialists and interpreters for the specialists, because while their native language is English, they have a way of rendering it alien.

It’s all just peachy. These kinds of projects put me in mind of a truth from H.L. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

I’m an impatient person. I get called into a meeting like this is when it’s really off the rails. I barely have the skill to turn on my phone, I have no problem making vendors exceedingly uncomfortable, and I’m not really going to contribute any good ideas. My purpose is to force the would-be aliens to explain—very slowly and simply, lest I beat them to bloody pulps with their own spindly arms—exactly how they are going to fix the problem, and how much it will cost.

So I’m sitting in this meeting and there is a spindly-armed tech guy with a permanent half-sneer fixed to his face and as he holds forth I am imagining a world in which it is legal to punch someone in the stomach when he really, really deserves it.

Suddenly I see this man as the boy he might have been. I see his tentative fingers exploring a toy, or perhaps his first computer. I see his eyes shying away from older, bigger boys. I see him excited that his father is finally home, or maybe wondering when his father will come home, or if his father will ever come home.

I try to imagine what must have transpired over twenty years, to make that imagined boy into this present man, only I can’t, any more than he can know my walk, or either of us can know yours.

All this made me think of my own children and their insecurities and the gentle places in them that might easily become subdued or coarsened as they fall in with tribes of children who carry their own hurts, their own broken places, each lashing out or holding back, each teaching those around him to follow suit.

I imagined my gentle Eli as a technology expert, sitting in a meeting where he fronts confidence, where he speaks computerese because it’s his language of safety. I imagined my talkative, nerdy Caleb talking on and on and on in that way he has, only as an adult. I imagined some jerk like me quietly judging and disliking the men he thinks my sons are.

I ended up praying, as I sat there with my mean little judgments, that my children encounter more grace than I am accustomed to giving. And now there are these visions all the time, unbidden. People I used to delight in secretly disdaining, I can’t help but imagining them as children.

C.S. Lewis wrote that every one of us is in the process of becoming either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendor. I don’t yet have the spiritual maturity to envision this in people. But these other visions, I can’t stop them, and something tells me I shouldn’t try. Maybe this new way of seeing is some small step of my own away from the direction of immortal horror. Perhaps it’s born of this deep-abiding worry for my own sons, who are growing so very fast now, so much faster than I expected.

Everywhere there are children before the world’s ravaging, if we’ll only have eyes to see them. Everywhere children, all of us children, even the worst of us. Maybe this is how God sees us, how God loves us in spite of us. Maybe this is how God wants us to see each other–children before the ravaging.

Tony Woodlief lives outside Wichita, Kansas, and is the author of a spiritual memoir, Somewhere More Holy. His essays on faith and parenting have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, and WORLD Magazine. His short stories, two of which have been nominated for Pushcart prizes, have been published in Image and Ruminate. His website

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  • As usual, awesome work, good sir. Wonderful food for thought, and well-written. My only lingering question: Did you ever get around to seeing “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? 🙂

  • Thanks Chad. The answer is no — the commercials scared hell out of me, which is probably a fair indication I haven’t the right stuff to watch the film itself.

  • agh

    You sound a lot like me. I admire this, as I”ve admired everything you’ve written.

  • Connie Lutz

    I know what you mean/are experiencing. A while ago I was tasked to co-conduct a series of sessions across my org where we asked ppl to share what was really happening in their divisions… some ppl actually shared their perceptions. Then my co-worker and I would brief the leadership – often delivering tough assessments of them and their performance as their subordinates saw it. In one case one of the leaders took it very personally and went on the defensive in a verbally attacking sort of way. I did not take it personally and I was not threatened by him but I did think about him and his reaction. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit gave me insight that he had been subjected to a bully of a father. I was not surprised a week or 2 later when in a meeting with him he jokingly made a remark about how “authoritarian” his father was. Such confirmation to me is a call for us to pray as is your reaction. It’s like you can “see” the little person they were – not their walk since then ’til now – but enough to pray for them. It does not make them easier to deal with, I don’t think, at least not for me yet! 🙂 It’s so much easier to disdain them than it is to “see” and pray for them. Thanks be to God, I too am a work in progress, His child on my own journey of growth… Thanks for sharing so honestly! God bless.

  • All my life I have taken care of the elderly and as I went into their rooms all I would look for were their pictures when they were young and beautiful human beings.Then I thought of all the things they had to give up to be where they were at deaths door and so frail as little children but more as the infants with very little energy and easily tired. The child in me never wanted to grow up for the fear of getting into one of those beds and looking at a youth that is taking care of me,I could almost see them wishing they were me and not where they were,old and lost in a different world unknown to them any more. When I went home I would cry and look at my children and see how wonderful they were and their skins were so lovely and smooth no wrinkles. But as we get older we try not to think of this and go on feeling young and energized until the day we get sick or a gray hair and we wonder where that child went we knew so well and the fun we had all the time how different the world is beginning to look now to me and how I want to be back into the skins I was in as a child carefree and happy without worries or cares until the world takes us and molds us into either a immortal horror or some everlasting splendor:) Still through all of life I stay a child and have been able to skip the part of excepting age as a difference because it is not my soul that inherits death it is only my physical body and when that day comes and it will I will be the new creature I always wanted to be but only completed by the creator himself:)All in all we do tend to judge others way to quick before we have walked in their shoes,and lived their lives Only God can pass judgement final judgement that is why we must remain children al the time so we will not be held accountable at the end believe and receive eternal life as the child who you really are he has not died he is playing hiding while part of him is seeking and the game goes on:)

  • Pat Pope

    This reminds me of a co-worker in his late 50s that is quite a blowhard. He talks loud and often says politically-incorrect things, often just to get a laugh. He’s rather obnoxious and I’ve often thought of him as a child who hasn’t grown up that much–loud and striving for attention. Now I don’t know if that’s really true in his case, but that’s what he reminds me of–the little kid trying to get attention and being obnoxious in the process. It’s interesting how much childhood can sometimes follow us far into adulthood.

  • That’s high praise indeed, coming from you AG. Thanks.

  • Thank you for this powerful writing! I believe this ability to see the child in others is key to being more compassionate human beings. I think God sees with mercy and grace the whole picture of a person from the child to the adult and what a kinder world it would be if we could be as forgiving.

  • Karen

    Tony: One of my favorite ever epigraphs, “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once” graces the inside of Harper Lee’s classic novel. Those words of Charles Lamb give me pause when I have dreamed of violence toward my own colleagues. When I stop to consider the ravaging, and see the face of children, I hesitate, and lives are spared. Thank you for this essay.

  • MJ

    So true! Thats why it does really take the Holy Spirit to give us that insight or word of knowledge about someone else…like He says…be compassionate with once another, tenderhearted and courteous..even when we think they don’t deserve it. Enjoyed the article. Thanks MJ