Today I am here for my friend. I want to support him through his troubles. My friend was sexually abused as a young man by a Catholic priest. My friend (we’ll call him Robert) has finally quit running from the dysfunction of his life and he is bringing himself — and this priest — to accountability. As a result he is going through some dark nights of the spirit.
Robert and I have been close since we were in our mid teens. We met on our first day of Junior high. The school we attended was an old brick building with wood sash windows, narrow dim hallways, and equally narrow minds within its teaching faculty. It exuded age, rigidity, and conformity.
We first met in the yard outside the school. It was a field of weeds and dirt by the railway tracks. I was instantly drawn to the way Robert freely expressed his desire to be friends, and heaven knows we both needed a friend. I also sensed an edge in him; an edge that I felt within myself as well. It was comforting.
Looking back though, I see that a great deal of our friendship was based on our mutual desire to escape in each other’s company. We never really talked about what we might be escaping from. It was enough for us at the time that we could just be in that place of freedom that our friendship provided. Or was it enough?
We were there for each other, but we never spoke about why we might need to be. We each held secrets that were strong enough to keep us from divulging them, and sharing with each other on a deeper level. We were young and we felt the invincible force of youth. We didn’t see just how much we needed each other. We didn’t — or couldn’t — foresee that the secrets we kept would shape our lives. Neither did we know at the time that we could have helped each other experience better, more productive lives, if we had shared those secrets.
Now, over 40 years later, each in our own way, we both see that holding emotions inside is like trying to stop rushing water; It will find ways through and around any barriers we set up.
For Robert, this means that he cannot move forward without bringing the past into the light. As he looks back he sees failure, guilt, and pain, and as he looks forward, well, when you get to a certain age you tend to see the end — your death — in the distance. You then realize that you are not invincible, that time is limited, and that your spirit is calling upon you to respect and empower it.
Can you feel how important this is? All we really have is our perception of life based on our experiences and responses. Has it been a quality life? Have we been genuine and true to our nature? Have we lived by using our better qualities? If this is our last day on earth will we go out with no regrets?
Imagine what it might be like to realize that you have not actually lived your own life; that your existence has been largely directed by your unconscious response to painful and misunderstood events that were beyond your control. How would that feel?
The trouble with secrets
The trouble with dark secrets, is that holding them causes you to feel that they must be kept. Secrets of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest are especially tenacious because you become convinced that no one wants to hear about it. Your disclosure would trample on the faith of everyone around you — and so you bear the burden of truth alone. As a result, you isolate yourself from others and in turn, from your own potential. We are social creatures after all. When we feel alienated from our peers, how can we prosper?
So here we are, my friend and I, decades later dealing with our lives. Robert will continue in the painful and stressful process of legal proceedings and self-discovery, and I for my part will be there for him to offer my support as his friend.
Your trials are mine also
His struggle though, mirrors my own need to be free from the power of secrets. We all have them. Some not so dark, and some so deep and black that it seems they cannot be fathomed. I can only hope that either through a similar catharsis, or rather, by some grace I can make my own burdens lighter. Could it be that in helping my friend in whatever small way, that I will also help myself? I think so.
As the 17th century author John Donne said:
“and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”
We are, as John Donne also said, “all involved in mankind” and so everyone’s troubles, especially our friend’s and family’s, are also our own. Their troubles diminish us because in the end we are one. And as we help those we care about we help ourselves in even deeper ways.
So please be there for your friends and family. Do it because you love them, because it is the right thing to do, and because they and everyone else around you are an extension of you. In caring for and supporting them, you care for and support all of humanity, including yourself.
That is the pact you made with spirit when you first formed a friendship. Honor it, and we will all be the better for it.
Over to you now!