Prior to a long flight home last week I picked up Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I quickly became engrossed in its mysterious, multi-layered plot and obsessed with one of the book’s main characters, Lisbeth Salander.
Lisbeth grew up as a Swedish ward of the State and now wore the look of a pale, anorexic young woman complete with numerous piercings and tattoos, including a dragon tattoo draped over her left shoulder blade. Her natural red hair was dyed raven black. Possessed with a very short fuse she was plagued with low self-esteem and an inability to trust.
What drew me in was that she was simultaneously both ruthless and vulnerable. Lisbeth was also brilliant, blessed with an innate ability to discover patterns that we ordinary mortals miss. I found myself both repulsed and cheering for her, want to both understand and help heal her.
Upon reflection, I realized that one reason I was so attracted to her is that this is not the first time I have met a girl like Lisbeth. Lisbeth is a variation of so many of the abused children that LSS cares for daily in its three children’s residential treatment centers. Children like 15-year-old Mary, who came to us for healing with a tattoo inked across her back, “Daddy’s Whore.” A girl, who during her first 15 years had never met an adult male who did not take advantage of her. A girl, when you dig a little deeper, you realize possesses innate, untapped intelligence and a hidden desire to both love and be loved.
Lisbeth also reminded me of Kevin, a seven-year-old who has witnessed and personally experienced more violence and aggression than you or I could even imagine. He is street-smart beyond his years but has no knowledge of manners or etiquette and does not know the meaning of the word “trust.” To the outsider he appears to be a dangerous, angry child.
For those of us who know these childrens’ pasts, we realize that we are not unlike Lisbeth’s kind-hearted boss, Dragan Armansky. We recognize that the Marys, Kevins, and Lisbeths of our world are simply hurting children of God in need of our love and care.
As the story unfolds, the girl with the dragon tattoo was able to overcome her horrific past and love and add value to those around her. Similarly, because of the help, healing, and hope provided to children like Mary and Kevin by our amazing staff and volunteers, they too have begun the healing process. We heal them with love; establishing boundaries; education via our unique charter schools, created especially to serve children who have experienced such a past; therapeutic and physical care; and, of course, spiritual care. In return, they are beginning to learn how to love back.
You and I have the opportunity to care for the girls and boys with the dragon tattoos that come into our own lives. We can personally get involved in the life of such a child or support the efforts of organizations like LSS. As you and I live out our lives of significance, we are reminded of the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 82:4: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Dr. Kurt Senske is chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South and author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance (forthcoming, November, 2010).