How could a pebble become your best friend? I found out while listening to an interview on NPR about a recently closed state reform school in Florida. Dozier’s School for Boys was for juvenile delinquents, and the school was notorious for beating, torturing, and even murdering its young inmates. I was struck by something that one of the former victims of this American nightmare said on the radio. It was central to the theme of consciousness.
One of the former victims—he was released a half century ago—told what happened to him at the Dozier School for Boys. On the third day after his arrival the authorities sent him to what was know as the “White House.” It was actually a space reserved for physically torturing and abusing the kids. You could be sent to the White House for any reason or no reason.
Our narrator on NPR hadn’t done anything. He had no idea what was happening to him. Mercilessly and sadistically he was beaten with a leather strap by his reformers. And they kept it up. He broke down as he spoke, I could hear the pain in his voice. That was his introduction to this state reform school that stayed open for about a century. They are still digging up corpses of boys that were murdered at this Floridian state institution.
There was something else he wanted to say. Fifty years later, he recalled, feeling helpless and brutally treated as he was being beaten, for some reason, as the strap came down on him, he fixed his attention on a particular pebble on the ground. By holding his attention on that pebble, he found he was able to endure the blows they were gleefully inflicting on him. He struggled to keep his mind elsewhere. They kept beating him and he kept his attention riveted on that pebble. When they let him go, he picked up the pebble, and put it in his pocket. He has kept that pebble for half a century, he said; it had profound meaning for him.
He didn’t elaborate. To my mind, the pebble was a symbol of his own spirit, the power within himself he didn’t know he had, and that he learned could serve him in the future. It is a skill we can gain through practice. Meditation, for example. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we have it--the power to direct and hold our consciousness on a single point. This ability to concentrate implies the power to transcend even the most stressful times.
So the question is, what is your pebble? Your point of contact with your inner resource? The human skills you need to sail through the maelstroms of conscious life?
Great post, Mike. I recall a story you once told in class about a Viet Nam POW (?) who, in response to the beatings meted out by his captors, would sometimes have sudden Out-of-body experiences that would bring great relief from his pain.
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