My childhood wasn't the greatest. I’m not whining about it—things could have been a lot worse. I was luckier than most kids living in a dysfunctional family. I had folks in my life that showed me that things weren't supposed to be like that and that I could reasonably expect better. Still, as a child, a sense of dread pervaded my every waking moment. There was no such thing as peace in our home, only periods of relative calm. Bad things were going to happen. We didn't know when, or how, but it was a given that at some moment there would be a mushroom cloud of violence and pointless rage that would burst over our household like a nuclear bomb, the effects of which, like radiation, would be with us forever
So, how does a child cope with that horrific lack of peace and sanctuary, the two most important things after sustenance and shelter? I’ll tell you how they do it. Defenses are mobilized. Walls come up. It doesn't matter where the assault originates: sexual abuse, alcoholism, angry words, or violence— whatever. Little ones have limited resources available to them for defense. Often, retreat is the only option. They must find that small place within themselves that offers at least limited protection from the insanity that roils around them.
And that’s the real tragedy, isn't it? This time of natural wonder and endearing credulity, when Santa still readies his sleigh, is forever blackened with the reality of broken adults fighting their endless battles on the fields of their own shattered childhoods, with no thought whatsoever of the collateral damage they leave behind.
Who bears ultimate responsibility for that mindless destruction of innocence? Do we blame the alcoholic step father, himself beaten and locked in dark attics, or do we accuse the mother, belittled and abused, who’s definition of self forever revolved around the redemption of everyone but her? How many past lives must we examine? To what generation must we point our trembling finger to find the monstrous culprit who began this insanity?
In our search we will find no devil upon which we can lay this loathsome cross, because we have all been victimized. That isn't to say that everyone does not bear responsibility for their own actions, be it as perpetrator or blind witness, but the strength needed to hold them perpetually accountable is beyond our endurance and ultimately self destructive.
No, true deliverance from this particular evil lies not in assigning blame to someone else, but in removing it from ourselves, because that is where the true darkness lies—it always has. We did not ask for these injustices, but somehow we became the slaughtered lamb from which the sins of our fathers were bled in sacrifice as penance for their own lost innocence.
Regardless, it is we who must forgive, because it we who must be saved. Let others be responsible for their own salvation. As a child, your destiny was not yours to command. As an adult, your future is your own, to guide as you will.
Let it go. Let it be. Be free. It’s easier said than done, to be sure. The work is hard and the road is long. I’m 40 years into it. It’s only in the last 10 years that I have begun to realize that sense of inner peace I was denied as a child.
But it is sweet.