Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holy Innocents – Part I

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more." (Matthew 2:16-18)

My youngest foster-brother was born into hell. I remember him a tiny baby nursing, so sick at a few months old he could hardly breathe, stuffing marshmallows in his mouth as one of my foster sisters and I wheeled him down the street on his first birthday. And I remember my foster father spanking him at a few months later because he didn’t want to wear the red corduroy pants, the ugly marks left when his hands and legs were slapped because he reached for something fragile, or spilled his milk, or did not want to be changed, his horrible cries of pain.

By three, he delighted in hitting me with his large plastic train. When I hid behind the rocker, my foster father would pull it away so he could get to me: he was just a baby. He couldn’t hurt me. Why was I making such a fuss? His mother died when he was three and a half; he did not understand. Neither did he understand why it was wrong to chase me, towel in one hand a butcher’s knife in the other, so that he could make the “blood streamed banner” he sang about in the children’s choir. But then he also didn’t understand the beatings, the incessant flow of verbal abuse, the locks on the food cupboards and refrigerator, the neglect, or any of the other indignities and offenses that filled his life. He was just a baby, born into a house filled with furious rage and only I knew to weep for him when I wasn’t fleeing him. When he was seven or so, I told my foster siblings that I was afraid of what he would grow up to be if something wasn’t done about his father.

He was nine when I left and still very much a baby, teased by his siblings and foster siblings for being fat, for being stupid, for being a virgin. But his face had passed from the sweetness of babyhood to a permanent state of confusion and of something else, something scary. He doted on the fish in the pond and pulled salamanders from under it to dissect on the kitchen table while they were still alive. Package after package of salt disappeared and we discovered he was using it to melt snails. One afternoon, I came upon him trying to chop off my dog’s tail. He seemed to enjoy killing and maiming; the adults were amused by it. Later I learned that as he entered his teen years, he had become increasingly angry. At fifteen, the last child in that house, he stabbed his father over and over and over, continued stabbing him after he was dead.

Often, we want to demand that God intervene – just in this one instance. He should prevent, should somehow fix things so that children have an opportunity to grow up before being attacked by the horrors of this world. How can he possibly allow little children to be scandalized, to have their consciences offended, to suffer the sharp swords of Herod’s soldiers? But all that is only distraction from the real question: Why doesn’t God protect little children from us?

We are Herod. We are his soldiers. We hurt children, abuse them, kill them. We ignore their cries, their pleas for help, their needs. We may harangue God, may insist he is callous and hateful, but our tirades only serve to distract us from the crimes we commit against babies, against children, against little helpless people who cannot understand the hells we make for them.

Freedom is a terrible gift: We are free to choose to be made like God, free to try to be gods. When we try to be gods, we cut ourselves off from God and become diabolic, create parodies of hell, destroy those we should love and protect. And God does not undo our choices: if freedom is to be free, consequences must be real. When we choose to destroy, there will be victims and children make excellent ones: it is so easy to impose our will on them, so easy to destroy them.

Abusers do not admit that they are destroying children. They are teaching them, correcting them, giving children what they need, what they deserve, what they are asking for. Fond of quoting scripture, my foster father, a Southern Baptist minister, had often repeated, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

I was not surprised to hear that my foster brother had killed his father. He did what he was taught to do. And I do not know if at that moment, my fifteen year-old foster brother was free to choose or if his pain overwhelmed him and all he could do was lash out in an attempt to end it. But I do pray that he and my foster siblings and all victims of abuse will choose to depart from our training, will choose to seek healing. And I pray for my continued healing. We can set up our own hells but they will be no better and can be much worse than the hells others created for us. We can become Herod or we can be like St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother – destroy or love and protect ourselves and the children God brings into our lives. We could not choose then. Though it is painful and heartbreaking, we can now.


Jennifer F. said...

Wow. Thank you for this amazing post.

Anonymous said...

Lord, Lady, this must be so hard for you to write of.

I need to point to this.. for others who think they are spoiling the child by sparing the rod.

Anonymous said...

By NOT sparing the rod, God forgive my typos. On the other end of the spectrum, I know a wonderful man who thinks there is some reason to take a stick to his 2-year old. This guy really means well, he loves his kids more than anything on earth, and yes, there was only a token tap or two, but it sent my heart plummeting, as have always horrible words heard in other households, or hearing someone gasp on the phone that "Dad is taking his belt off..." My first husband was yelled at as a little fellow because he fell out of a tree he wasn't supposed to climb. Having broken his elbow was somehow secondary to the point..