This past Saturday did not goes as planned but in the end it had a positive effect on me. We were to attend an event in DC on Saturday but with the furloughs the event had to be cancelled because it was to be held on the public grounds. We decided to make the best and enjoy the weather and to walk the city. We both attended college in DC and decided to take a tour of the campus and the neighborhood. I had not been there since my reunion in June. It is a Jesuit university. We walked around talking and laughing about the crazy things done as college students, professors and people. We walked into the quad and there stood the Catholic chapel that I found solace and peace in so many years ago. Long before the memories took over and nearly destroyed my life.
We sat on the bench outside, I was asked did I want to enter. I did not answer. The last time I had been in a church was at my Mom’s funeral almost one year ago—and that was an extremely difficult time—the place of the abuse. We were sitting there for quite some time. I had returned to the college several months ago for my reunion but I did not venture near the chapel. I guess I must have looked bewildered or looked lost because a Jesuit came over and asked if I was alright. I said yes. He asked what brought us here and we said we had attended here many years ago. He said the chapel was open to everyone. He asked if we were Catholic, yes she replied and I said not quite sure, I was but do not know. He said that was alright. I said I had conflicts with the church. He laughed and said many today have issues with the church because of the way the church reacts to social issues and how it handled the sexual abuse cases in the church. He said the church forgets there are human beings, with hearts and minds that live with these issues everyday of their lives. He was understanding and said there was no shame in being conflicted. We continued to talk and he did not ask for the cause of my conflict. Slowly I opened up about my conflict and fear of entering a church. He spoke and said what happened was more common and should not be tolerated nor should I feel ashamed or guilty. He said the Church needed to come out and accept responsibility for what was done. He said he has seen the damage this type of abuse has done to young people who have come to the universities he has worked.
He told us the chapel has been remodeled and was always welcomed to everyone of any faith. I realized I had lost faith but not a sense of the need to have a belief in a higher being, if that makes sense to anyone. I knew I needed faith to go forward but have been battling so many demons and the past. I had come to terms with the diocese when the abuse was validated at recent meetings. I knew the fear of a church still haunted me and facing a place was the next step in healing. I have to admit I sometimes get exhausted trying to imagine how many more steps must I walk before it is over?
We continued talking and slowly we entered the chapel. It had changed but no so much. It remained simple and not ornate. It was quiet and the sunlight shined through the stain glassed windows. We slowly walked around and I began to think of the days I would come to escape the stresses of the world or just to catch a glimpse of myself. I liked myself then and seemed to have the past under control. I had friends, enjoyed a wonderful social life, classes and a job I enjoyed. Everything was so simple. I knew I needed to recapture the simpler things in life. Something I have been contemplating for some time. I have talked to a special person about my dreams and goals for the future. An important component of achieving the life I desire requires me to fully accept the past and accept it is the past and not the present. But each step I take in facing obstacles the greater my sense of freedom becomes.
We left the chapel and we were invited to the Jesuit residence for tea. We went and it was a delightful hour. I forgot how verse in words the Jesuits are. He talked of the need for forgiveness because forgiveness leads to joy and love. He said humans first need to forgive themselves before they can forgive others. I said I have forgiven myself for what happened because it was not my fault. I also said I have forgiven the parish and diocese when the abuse was validated during my meetings with these groups. I have not forgiven the abuser. But he asked what would it take to forgive him? I was without words. He asked did I seek punishment or restitution. I knew I did not seek restitution above what I have received because the years lost could never be recovered. As for punishment, I spoke of the law and the statute of limitations. He then asked did I believe punishment was something I would not be able to achieve. I thought and finally said yes. He told me I have begun to forgive by accepting the limitations of punishment. He asked how my life was today. I said it was good and I was happy, a feeling that I had lost many years ago. He said I had begun to forgive and my feelings are my reward.
He asked were there others I needed to forgive and others to forgive me. I said this is quite complicated. I said others see no wrong or harm in what was done, so how can one forgive when the offender sees no wrong in their actions. He said it is not how they perceive their actions but how I perceive their actions that will determine if I need to forgive. He said only the offenders can look at their actions and decide if they need to ask for forgiveness for the acts. They can simply ask would they want someone to these acts unto them. I did not want to dwell on that period of my life. It created anxiety, fear and feelings of the boy being trapped in the cellar. I had psychological issues from blackout, flashbacks, fugues and dissociation. There was lost time and things I supposedly did that I do not have any memory. He reminded me I was experiencing the long term effects of trauma and these experiences do occur as a result of trauma. He told me I was trying to remain alive while others in trauma sadly take their lives or become lost to drugs and alcohol. He spoke of not knowing what happened during these times helped to protect me from the past and I should not be too hard on myself. I asked how do I forgive or ask for forgiveness for what may have happened without memory. He said I need to look to Arendt and Nietzche who believed forgiveness is an act that allows one to break the need for revenge because it is an act of memory that creates a new beginning. Without memory can one have forgiveness? Nietzche argues forgiveness is based on animal forgetfulness whereas Arendt links it to human memory and cannot be linked to Nietzche’s view of animal forgetfulness. He did not answer and left it to me to contemplate. I have not been able to fully grasp his thoughts. It has been many years since I read any of the works of the philosophers.
We talked about shame and how it effects ones’ life. Shame he said is emotional pain and for many shame is mitigated through self-medication. He said I should look to Isaiah’s prophesy in understanding how the acts inflicted complemented the shame I held to unravel my life. He said it was not the shame alone but how I hid it. He said once I understood his prophesy I would realize there may be others I needed to forgive and what I needed to do. He said Christ endured shame and mockery as he walked to the cross. How did he bear the shame? I had no clue who Isaiah was or his prophecies. He said I should explore and reflect. It was like he had given me homework after all these years. The next day I searched and now I believe I understand what he was saying and what I need to do. I guess if he had told me instead of having me read and reflect, the meaning would have been lost. This meeting may have awoken memories of a religion that surrounded me for so many years.
He welcomed me and said anytime I wanted to talk to contact him. He said all he can do is listen and try to understand. I liked his used of the word try—it acknowledges he can never truly understand the depth of the pain. As we were leaving he reminded us of Curia Personalis—care for the whole person, the mind, body and spirit.
The day left me with much to absorb and think about. I realize there is a consistent message I hear from my therapist, support groups and even the diocese about the abuse, healing and trauma. For those that study and work with trauma it seems so simple what we need to do, but the emotional and psychological damage the abuse leaves us with becomes our obstacles in healing. I believe the more I hear the same thing over and over, from people who make me feel safe, the closer I am to accepting my past and the abuse and allow me forgive others and allow others to forgive me.
It is ironic, members of the clergy and the church have been healing agents. The institution that was responsible for what happened have given support that is helping me to heal. Maybe one day I will return to the church, but that is just another one of the many steps I have to take in this arduous healing process.