“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It’s probably a good thing I’ve been too busy to post anything this week. I’ve struggled over today’s post and it’s been on my mind since last weekend. It’s hard to write and even harder to put it out there on social media and in the blogosphere. You see, as much as I enjoy writing of God’s infinite love, grace, and mercy, there are times when I fall far short in extending the same to others. This is one of those times. Please allow me to explain.
Margaret and I each had grown children when we wed nearly six years ago. Our daughter, who has come out as transgender and changed her name to Gael, moved in with us a couple of years ago so it would be financially easier to complete her college. I only mention her identification as Gael, so you’ll know who I’m talking about. I’m still new to speaking and writing of our kid in the third person, but that’s the accepted means by which to refer to transgender individuals and what they have requested of family and friends. Moreover, I’m not sharing anything that Gael hasn’t already made public their self.
Perhaps because our children were young adults when we married, blending families went a bit smoother for us. Margaret and I have no ‘step’ children, just our kids and grandkids, and we love them to death. So, when Gael asked about moving home to finish school there was no thought of saying no. I’ve become closer to them as a result.
Margaret has been open about Gael having been sexual assaulted by their uncle when they were twelve years old. What I didn’t know until the last couple of years is how deeply that affected them. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land after sexual assault accusations probably triggered Gael’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) last weekend. As a result, we had an emotionally volatile weekend. I saw, and see daily, the lingering results of emotional pain caused by perpetrators such as their Uncle Phill. Although he, and people like Mr. Kavanaugh, go on about their lives without a care in the world, victims like Gael and their families live with the consequences of such heinous acts for a lifetime.
Needless to say, I’m angry: so much so that I want to lash out in revenge. I have a special place in my heart for women and children, but especially when it’s my kid. I wasn’t part of the family when it happened, but I am now and I see their lingering pain regularly. I see the tears and pain of remembrance. They, like all survivors, bear the scars of their trauma daily. Their uncle, like so many abusers, has never shown remorse and prefers to sweep it under the rug, ignoring the harm he has caused. Unfortunately, that happens in families and society as a whole. Part of me wants to make sure he pays a consequence, and quite frankly, I’d like to ‘kick his ass’, but that isn’t the answer. My first thoughts about anything like this are usually wrong…
It’s not my place to act as judge, jury, and executioner. God has freely granted me grace and mercy, not justice. I’m so glad I didn’t get what I deserved. So, who am I, having been lifted from the depths of addiction and self-centeredness, to withhold grace and mercy from others? That isn’t how my life works today. Revenge and ill-will only lead to resentment and bitterness, neither of which are appealing to me.
That being said, an acknowledgement of the wrong would allow some healing to take place, and that is what Margaret and I want for our kid. I’ve learned the importance of taking responsibility for my actions, acknowledging the harm done to someone else, and being willing to go to any lengths to make it right. Such an admission made it possible to receive the love, grace, and mercy waiting for me. I have no illusions that it’s not the case for men like their Uncle Phill or Brett Kavanaugh. Ironically, much can be forgiven when the crime is acknowledged. That’s when the healing begins…
So, what am I to do? Three things come to mind. First, I will love my kid through this and, though I wasn’t able to protect them then, I will do my best to protect them now. That means keeping my kid away from their perpetrator even if he shares DNA. That, too, has lasting consequences for others far beyond my kid or their uncle. They affect family get-togethers and holidays. Even when forgiveness is involved, it doesn’t mean forgetting. I will not allow my kid to be victimized over and over, placing them in the same room as their assailant and acting as though it’s all in the past so it’s okay re-traumatizes them.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, I can pray and seek God’s guidance through this whole mess. I truly believe in Jesus’ teaching. When he said that there is a better way than “an eye for an eye”, I believe him. I trust that his is a radically different view of the world than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s uncommon sense that leads me to live and love better, to be a better human being, and to be there for my kids, especially Gael.
Finally, I need to listen. I need to put aside preconceived notions about someone and listen to survivors of sexual trauma. I need to be empathetic and be there. Trevor Noah said that,
“People struggle to understand that two things can be contradictory and true at the same time. You could know somebody as a great person, and they could also be doing something that you don’t know about that makes them someone who you wouldn’t recognize. With Bill Cosby, people were like ‘that’s not the Cosby I know,’ and yeah, it’s not the Cosby you know. Unfortunately, it’s the Cosby somebody else knows.”
Just because somebody puts on a good guy image doesn’t exempt them from scrutiny when accusations are made. The past year and the emergence of the #metoo movement reminds me that ignoring the issue of sexual assault and harassment is to sanction it. To sanction it is to be a part of the problem. Like Dad used to say, “Son, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution…”
Last weekend, Gael used social media to speak out against her perpetrator. The week before Christine Blasey Ford spoke to the world about her abuser. I applaud their courage and unwillingness to remain silent. Sexual assault, harassment, and, in Gael’s case, the assault of a child, is not a once and done crime. It has long lasting effects that plague survivors, their families, and society as a whole. Thank you Gael for speaking out and being an example. I can no longer be silent either. I hope you, gentle reader, won’t either.