A couple of weeks ago, I was attempting to navigate the dark and dangerous waters of life. Reaching out to a couple of friends who love me, I was surprised by the terrific outpouring of love and care that I received in response to my requests for help. I wish I was half the friend that my friends are to me - I'm a lucky, lucky girl. Thank you.
It takes a strong person to say, "I'll help you, whatever it takes"; "I'll do as much as I possibly can to see you through this"; "I love you and I'm always here"; "I said Mass for you this morning;"; "I prayed that you would be surrounded by Love and light" and then actually follow through. It takes an entirely different strength and love commitment to be able to get involved. To listen, to help, to make an effort to understand, to offer time - not just listening but doing the hard work of change.
Getting involved is hard work. It puts relationships in conflict. Sometimes it even puts your physical well being (or that of someone else) at risk. As we get deeper, it gets harder and harder to recognize the truth in the murk. Our own motivations and even our character may be called into question. Most people will decide that its just easier not to get involved in other people's problems.
I just kept thinking about this while reading this week's news about sexual abuse in Ireland's Catholic community. Like most people, I am deeply troubled by this widespread phenomena - pervasive not just in the Catholic Church but in schools, youth centers, neighborhoods and families throughout the secular world. I read through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and though it establishes some important guidelines for parishes to follow, the Charter also depends heavily on the willingness of adults to GET INVOLVED.
I'm thinking of a story a friend told me about her childhood. She grew up in a family without much money, and went to school with the weight of "being different" on her shoulders. School was a misery. She told me that one day, in class, she went up to the teacher and begged him to make the kids stop throwing things in her hair. He was "like a stone" to her tears. You can't tell your class to respect other students? Really? How much harder will it be, then, for adults in situations where accusations of sexual abuse have been brought forward but the evidence may be in question?
We are asking people to place their community, church, and family relationships in conflict. Perhaps their jobs. Regardless of the outcome, the belief and trust in the parish will be deeply wounded. I would guess that unless the abuse is visible, egregious, horrific, most people will decide to ignore their suspicions, handle it privately, look the other way.
The problem is that abusers are skilled in the art of subtlety. That way they can always claim you've misinterpreted their actions and leave you wondering if you actually did just that. A few years ago at a Superbowl party, I noticed that one of the adults was following a 12 year old from room to room. I asked her about it and she told me that "he keeps trying to talk to me." And she's a good kid, so she was polite to him. You know what? A normal adult male might start a brief conversation with a 12 year old at a Superbowl party. Follow her from room-to-room and insist on it? When there are seventy other adults there? I don't think so. But he claimed he was just being "nice." We had a conversation about how she never needs to be polite to someone who makes her uncomfortable - that people who make you uncomfortable aren't being polite. And she sat next to me, right next to me, the rest of the evening. I bet she doesn't even remember it, but I sure do.
As a child performer, I remember an adult male playing games with four of us girls in the green room backstage. He wanted us to crawl on our hands and knees under his legs so he could spank us. Yeah. But at the time? We didn't really get it. We were nine. Another grownup grabbed us, yelled at him, and for the duration of that show's run, we played backgammon, right by her side every moment we weren't on stage. I remember that this guy was ostracized by the rest of the group, and it must have been bad for it to register in my nine year old brain. But I probably never mentioned it to my parents and neither did the lady.
If we agree that how we treat children matters, then what we're doing (as a society) doesn't work. We are hurting children, and we are damaging ourselves when we choose not to defend them.
Watch this brief video of Nicole, an abuse survivor who has been unable to swallow since she was a teenager. She feeds herself through a tube inserted in her stomach. It's a small town. She still runs into her abuser around town and he smiles at her as if nothing ever happened. But the thing she seems unable to forgive is that her father, a police man, just "kept it quiet" instead of pressing charges.
It happens all the time. Tell me a story about a time you needed help and someone who should have cared didn't want to "get involved." What did you need that wasn't offered? What other thoughts do you have after reading this post? Use a pseudonym! Your email is never published.
[steps off soapbox.]