Note: As I quoted Rod Stewart’s line in his song, “Mandolin Wind,” in another context: “Oh, the snow fell without a break….Through the coldest winter in almost fourteen years…” Having a school kid at home, when school is cancelled on even the rumors of snow, has made this the winter from hell for me. Sadly, the blog took a four month hit as a result. But I’m back now. Maybe even bigger and better?
God and I do not agree on the way He has created the world. I realize He wins, and I lose…. but I believe what I believe anyway. Were it I who created the world, I’d have at least allowed the dead to come back – say, once a year – just to pick up the conversation, in the light of all the experience I’d have had since they died. Sadly, God doesn’t work that way. I plan on discussing that with Him, among all the other things on my list, when I die.
But if He did, I would bring Aunt Rita and Msgr. Huntington back in a flash. The two people whose conversations and witness gave me more ability to think and put it together than I’ve ever received from anyone else on the face of this earth. There are times when I miss each of them almost to the point of pain. This blog, as I’ve said before (repeatedly, I know) is in honor of each of them.
Aunt Rita, unwittingly I think, once gave me one of the most powerful lessons of my life. She told me that when she was a kid – during the depression – she was poor. But, she said, that she never knew that. She thought that the way she lived was normal. Our whole family lived as she did; all the neighbors lived as she did; and there was no TV to show anyone anything else. It takes – I learned and never forgot – contrast to recognize where one’s experience fits in the scheme of things.
Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in conversation with a boy, now fourteen, who was given up by his adoptive parents, when he was ten. His behavior was out-of-hand. It’s a story one sees too often when working at an adoption agency, as a new family is sought for these kids.
This particular boy, call him Joey, over the course of time has been slowly revealing stories about what happened in the house. Things he didn’t like; things that hurt his heart. They were done to him in response to his behavior, which he recognized as “bad,” so he accepted that he deserved them. Pretty typical thinking for a kid.
Two of his stories are enough, I think, to reveal the truth of what he was in the midst of.
The first happened at some Christmas when he was not yet ten. While all the other kids in the family had a normal Christmas, he received only coal as a present. That was it. He told me that he cried and cried and cried and finally his adoptive mom called Santa and Santa delivered presents the next day.
Now, threatening one’s kids or getting threatened with getting coal in their Christmas stocking is a common experience for those who celebrate Christmas. It’s implied even in the Christmas standard: “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” Why else start with “You better watch out; you better not cry; better not pout; I’m telling you why….” But in all my 63 years, I have never known anyone who really did it, except perhaps, and only as a joke, wrapping a piece of charcoal and putting it – with all the other presents – in a stocking. You can’t even find it in the movies or the cartoons, as I remember. It’s a threat no one EVER acts on.
The second was when Joey revealed that there were family photos on the walls in the house. But his adoptive mother would take paper and cover over the images of him. What???? And doing that to your child? Who was less than ten? In front of his siblings? And whomever walked through the door?
My grandmother, and separately my great-aunt on the other side of the family, used to cut out from their family pictures the photos of some relative they were on the outs with. I had no idea what that was supposed to do, except express their anger at the cut-out person, and I always found it funny. But that was not this.
In both situations that happened to Joey, it was done in front of the other kids and relatives (humiliation) and it was done by his mother (I don’t even have a word for that.)
What Joey did not know until he revealed these stories, is that this woman was not only wrong – she was wrong to the point of evil. Where her thinking came from I don’t care. What she did to her son was evil. She did it, she told him, because of his behavior. He saw the behavior, he accepted the logic, and he blamed himself. He has been, in his head and for his whole life, a bad person.
But this posting isn’t just about that. It’s also about Joey’s father. The man didn’t participate in any of this – this wasn’t some version of “Bonnie and Clyde” or one of those torturing couples one sees on “Criminal Minds.” No, he was worse. He stood by and allowed his wife to do what she did to a boy who, after all, was his son. He went along with her soul-stealing behavior. Aunt Rita would say, that he did that because it was easier. Yep, the true mark of a wimp.
All this left Joey no out; no way to measure how depersonalizing his mother’s behavior was. Mom did it; dad, by his silence, allowed it. Joey, in his normal human drive for health and wholeness, had no choice but to act out in order to stand up to this torture of being depersonalized by one’s own parents (after, and on top of, his infant experience of being given up by his birth parents). But the acting out was labeled “bad”, he believed that was so, and that made him convinced that he was a bad person.
Which brings us to today. For a fourteen year old to grasp the concept that his being bad was good; that being bad saved your sanity and your soul from this soul-thief of a mother, is very difficult. But in the end it is what will free him from the horror of his history.
My experience was very different than Joey’s. I saw both Aunt Rita and Chris Huntington stand up to wrongness wherever they witnessed it. I saw it. They gave me what Joey’s father did not give him: not only perspective and hope, but through their witness, they gave me myself. Joey’s mother was a sick woman to my eyes. But his father did much worse by Joey.
Wimps always do. Without the wimps, the evil-doers don’t get very far. And I suspect that hell is less filled with the evil-doers, than it is with the wimps.
In the end, Joey is a very lucky boy to have learned at his age what he’s learned about how soul thieves and their enablers work. I suspect God has great things in store for this boy. And that is lucky for us.