Friday, January 14, 2011

Being an Instrument of Peace

These days are sad ones for our country, with the shooting of Democratic Representative, Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona as well as the shooting of the little girl Christina Greem, who was born on 9/11. These shootings were an act of a man, Jared Lee Loughner, who appears to have suffered from emotional trauma meted out by a verbally abusive father. Jared may be schizophrenic too. Maybe his stimuli were all internal, and he was not influenced by angry rhetoric from Republican or Democratic politicians and pundits....or maybe he was influenced. My opinion is that probably an emotional violent father coupled with possible biochemical disturbances in Loughner's brain made him more vulnerable to influence from violent rhetoric and more likely to commit the insane act of violence when most of the rest of us know the rhetoric is intended to incite political action and not actual violence.

That said, now what do we do to help our country heal?

President Obama gave a moving speech the other night at the memorial to the dead in Arizona, especially his words about Christina Green, the little girl born on 9/11 who was a member of student council and aspired to follow in Gabrielle Giffords footsteps, "I want America to be as good as she imagined it..."

Don't we all?

The Arizona memorial was one that brought together Republicans and Democrats -- Republican senators John McCain and John Kyl attended as did retired Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Conner.

I listened to Jon Stewart on the internet this morning. He played clips from Fox News criticizing the memorial in Arizona. The Fox news pundits criticized and criticized and criticized.

It gets tiresome to hear all that criticism. The brain shuts down, and I was reminded why I don't subscribe to cable television.

And then I think about my area of interest -- abuse in the Catholic Church.

Yesterday, I had Facebook message exchanges with two different people -- both people wounded by abuse. One woman was abused by a nun. She was older and frail and unable to travel. She felt alone. I referred her to someone I knew abused by a nun. She told me she had tried contacting that person without success. She was afraid to tell her story alone, because she was afraid of what the Church might do to her. She said she felt like ending her life because she felt so alone and uncared for. She lives afar away so I cannot go to her.

Catholics cringe when they hear criticism of their Church like this. They hurt, but the abuse survivors hurt much more. How can we bring healing to this issue? How can we care for people such as this nun abuse survivor who feels so alone that she wants to end her life? How can we address the fears of Catholics who feel wounded by criticism? They know in their hearts the abuse happened, but they don't know what to do so they shut down and do nothing -- which perpetuates the problem.

Later yesterday, I heard from another Facebook friend, Jaques. I only met the nun abuse survivor yesterday. Jacques I remember from First Grade. I remember him swinging on the Monkey Bars much more ably than me. We went to school together all the way through high school. High school was a terrible time in my life when no one asked me to date or dance.

Everyone said high school is the best time in your life. I hated it. I didn't have the money for nice clothes. I had way too many pimples. I was the class brainiac which never makes you popular. I went to a dance at the urging of my friends when I was a Freshman. As usual, nobody asked me to dance. So I asked someone. I asked Jacques. He was middling in popularity so I thought he was a safe bet, but he turned me down.

It hurt, and I never went voluntarily to another dance (however I was involuntarily taken to a dance two years later). My relationship skills were poor, and I suffered from low self esteem and depression. In the years that followed I made several half hearted suicide attempts. I had a secret. Two teenaged boys had taken me into a basement when I was 4 years old and they sexually abused me. On top of that my mother had been sexually abused as a child and through out my childhood struggled with disabling depression and alcoholism.

From the prism of my mind, I interpreted Jacques declining to dance with me as confirmation of my unworthiness as a person.

But Jacques had a secret too.

He is gay.

But in high school he dared not tell anyone, at least not anyone I knew of.

When we reconnected last year through Facebook, he told me about the rejection and labeling and discrimination he suffered all of his life for being gay. And then, in 1994, he was with his male friend in Greenwich Village...holding hands.....when they were attacked and beaten by three young men wielding golf clubs. Jacques escaped permanent damage, but his friend suffered the loss of hearing in one ear and later struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism until his death a few years ago. Jacques struggled with a different kind of damage. He was filled with anger and fear that he would be attacked again for being gay..... because some people view gays as evil or filthy so it is acceptable to discriminate against gays and lesbians, it is acceptable to attack gays and lesbians and wound them or kill them. And, for some reason, other people do not identify these actions as hate crimes because they think, "People make the choice to be gay.'

Looking back on the high school dance and the way I felt and the way Jacques felt -- neither one of us chose what we felt. I did not choose to be abused, and Jacques did not choose to be attracted to boys instead of girls. In our small town, both experiences had be kept private because everyone knew everything, and there was no tolerance for people on the fringes.

Jacques left our home town and worked his way up through Greenpeace and then as an artist and art studio owner in New York. Now he can tell people from our hometown that he is gay, and he is respected because he is the most successful person from our high school graduating class if not from the whole school.

Still, for many years, Jacques, struggled with darkness in his soul -- pain and anger that so many people do not consider attacks on gays and lesbians to be hate crimes. He was able to move forward towards healing when President Obama signed a bill in 2009 making it a federal offense to attack someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Knowing he had more access for justice helped Jaques heal the wounds of his psyche.

Sounds familiar. One of the deepest wounds clergy abuse survivors feel is the lack of access to justice because of laws limiting statutes of limitations on criminal and civil prosecutions for abuse.

In our e-mail exchange yesterday I told Jacques that he can use his success as an artist and art studio owner as a platform to do much good as Oprah has used to her television show.

Jacques liked that. He wrote back, knowingly or unknowingly quoting the words of St. Francis.

"Thanks for the words of inspiration...," he wrote, "I choose to be happy...where there is darkness let me bring light.."

Jacques words inspired me in turn.

I thought about where our country is now, with all the conflict and anger between left and right. And I thought about the relationship between survivors and other Catholics. The church takes tentative steps that often appear either clueless or for show and not genuine. And survivors remained silent in the church or outside the church, angry at the lack of genuine progress, and the person in the pew has either left the church out of frustration or he or she remains in the church, confused and uncertain. We all wait for justice and healing, not knowing what to do.

The answer for Church and society is the same. We need to heed the words of St. Francis in his Prayer of Peace. Some people, such as Gaby Giffords or Christiana Green and a great many survivors of abuse, are dead or so wounded they can't do anything. The rest of us must carry forward and live the words of St. Francis.....

Lord, make me an instrument of Your Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

(c) 2011 Virginia Pickles Jones

Please donate:

No comments:

Post a Comment