Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week Sex/ I Mean Six... of sabbatical

I promised I would "check in" via this blog about my sabbatical activities. I have been on leave for six weeks, and I have too little of interest to report!

What am I doing? I am trying to live what I preach: Life one day at a time; practicing presence and awareness; valid and productive introspection; honoring and making space for creativity.

Since November 1st, I've taken part in a project called NaNoWriMo, a great opportunity to write enough words to constitute an entire novel in one month's time. I have a feeling the novel itself will not be anything earth-shattering. But the process has been well worth the time and effort.

I have learned a great deal about motivation, about how imagination works, about how important story is to forming our lives and our sensibilities. Like most, but not all, of my fiction, the novel is heavily, but not entirely, autobiographical. To write it, I have spent many hours attempting to evoke the sensory elements of a place far away, long ago, and indeed, altogether gone from the earth. It's a house I spent a part of each summer in as a child, a house set on the beach at the Jersey shore, a very old and in many ways magical house. In addition to memories that are based upon real events and characters that are modeled after some of the incredibly quirky real people I've known, there are invented characters, imagined events, and a good dose of introspection.

I think what motivated me to visit this particular place and time of life is that the really dreadful MTV series JERSEY SHORE captured the fascination of people from L.A. to Italy, and that those of us who actually grew up at or near the REAL Jersey shore know that it has absolutely nothing to do with a very special and very precious place and way of life. I don't want to romanticize it, either, so even though the place is magical, there is also a healthy dose of suffering, grief, and struggle.

Photos of Long Beach Island, Beach Haven
This photo of Long Beach Island is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Meanwhile, the backdrop to my writing and musing has been  a scandal that one would have to be far more isolated than I am to avoid -- the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse allegations. Like many people for whom this is an all-too-pertinent issue, including but not limited to fellow clergy and others in the helping professions, parents and grandparents of small children, and survivors of sex abuse, I was at first angry and indignant and self-righteous.

I happen to know a fantastic young couple who attended and dearly love Penn State. I read and considered what they had to say about their alma mater of just a few years ago. I waited until my own thoughts cleared and I could see what lay below the surface of my rage. Everyone condemns the abuse. That's a no-brainer. The controversy is over the actions of those who knew, but did not do, enough.

It is so easy to be critical and judgmental about this. Most people feel certain they would have said more, made sure it was stopped forever, and so on. Others, like David Brooks in this article,

called "Let's All Feel Superior," say that people are really good at "self-deception," and explain it as the Bystander effect, which at some level we are all capable of.

I really had to spend close to a week examining my own soul in this regard. I am not finished. There is a member of my own extended (step-relative) family who I know for a fact committed sexual abuse because I was one victim, and I know the others. I have told this person and many others. I can not do anything legally because this person was not an adult at the time (over 40 years ago). But I still worry that I have not done enough. Short of camping on his doorstep with a sign, how can I be sure that his own step-daughter is not a victim now? This keeps me up at night.

However, I think there are many of us who will not accept Brooks' assertions that we are all just feeling superior when we make judgments about others who ignore/minimize/allow abuse. Some of us don't just THINK we would do more, we have; indeed, we have done it at the risk of relationships, our own popularity, and in some cases our own safety.

In fact, I have reported suspected child abuse and endagerment  to authorities in four different states. I have told people who would rather not hear it when I know something they need to know. I have preached about my own victimization and named the person responsible from the pulpit. I have told almost everyone in the family who will listen (most have done nothing). I have reported my own family members, including my own adult children, to authorities when their behaviors (thank God, in the case of the son, it was addiction-related, NOT sex abuse of any kind) placed a small child in danger. None of these things have made me more loved, more appreciated, or more self-righteous. But they do give me the right to say, yes, there are people who can not live with themselves unless they do what they know is right.

By the way, in most of these cases... the so-called authorities did little or nothing, the family members called me a liar or worse, and my whistle-blowing made me look like a blowhard. I would, and will, do it again, in a heartbeat. So, after this first week of introspection, I say this: the life and safety of even ONE child trumps everything. Everything. Period.