I had a visit last week from a police officer from the Special Victims Unit of our local police department.
Her visit related to an investigation of historic charges of sexual abuse brought against a man eight years my senior with whom I had been briefly involved fifty years ago. She received my name from a victim who believed I might have been among a number of pre-adolescent/adolescent boys who had been “hurt” by this man in the 1960’s and ’70’s.
I have written in the past about this aspect of my childhood in my 2006 book The Way Of Courage, as well as in a piece written for the anniversary of the church community of which I was a part at that time, which can be viewed here: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2017/02/15/serving-at-the-altar-of-forgiveness-2/
In 2015 I reflected on this part of my experience as a youth at:
During our conversation I asked Detective Sergeant Ross if she had any idea why some people’s lives seemed to be so completely devastated by this kind of turmoil in their past, while others seemed to be able to survive relatively intact.
She might have replied to my question in a variety of ways. She could have said, “Oh it all depends on the home life.”
There is no doubt that strong healthy relationships at home during childhood contribute to a person’s future health. But there is also no question that people who struggle deeply often grew up in homes in which they were well-treated and genuinely loved. There is also no question that different people emerge from basically the same family with profoundly different responses to trauma. A deeply troubled life and a life that is stable and strong often emerge from the same family unit.
I came through the experiences of my childhood supported by the blessing of a strong, stable, albeit reserved and secretive, family. But I know that to make family the sole deciding factor in the outcome of my life, is too easy an answer.
The police officer might also have said, “Well, the one who came through intact made healthier choices than the one whose life was terribly disrupted by the difficult circumstances in his past.”
Personal choice is not the only answer. I made many destructive choices during my teenage and young adult years. I skated close to the edge of the abyss and could just as easily have tipped over if things had fallen out in a slightly different way. I know I was blessed with good fortune. I can take no real personal credit for the relative stability of my last fifty years.
I suppose it is unlikely, but it is possible, Detective Ross might have said, “Well the ones who survive the best are those who have a strong faith and a positive attitude.” This response really begs the question, why were some able to have a strong faith and a positive attitude while others were left with nothing but doubt and despair.
I came through my childhood with a deep and abiding faith. But, I doubt anyone would suggest that my life has been predominantly characterized by a perky positive sunshiny outlook. My nature has always been bent more towards Eyore than Tigger. How I ended up as a person of faith and, even more a person who would spend his entire adult life working in the church, remains to me a profound mystery. And that is where Sargent Ross went with her answer.
Instead of these simplistic responses she might have offered, Detective Sargent Ross replied to my question saying, “This is a great mystery. What is it that gives some victims resilience while for others it is almost impossible to recover?”
Resilience is indeed a deep “mystery.” There are no simple answers when it comes to understanding any human behaviour. Biology is a factor; family history and environment, personal choice, cultural context, and pure chance, all play a role in shaping the people we become and the journey that opens before us. None of us can untangle the complex factors that have contributed to our lives unfolding along the winding pathways they have followed.
But there are three things I have learned from my past experience which I will try to articulate in a future post.