Some folks think my blogs are too long. On the other hand, most of the time I have additional thoughts or information I want to share, but simply opt to give it a rest. After all, there’s nothing to say that I can’t pick up where I left off the next day. Certainly that is true concerning my blog from yesterday. I was dealing with the concept of “bad” and some folks just don’t get it. The line I shared was from C.S. Lewis: “No one knows how bad they are till they have tried very hard to be good”.
Across the years I haven’t personally met many people that I thought were the epitome of evil and void of any redeeming virtues. That’s not to say that some didn’t come close. I’ve met people I didn’t want to be around, but they weren’t folks that filled me with fear. Of course, I’d be hard pressed to be in a cheerleader position for folks that want to purposefully promote harm.
That being said, I remember a sermon by Joel Gregory where he used the illustration about observing a distraught mother sobbing over a fresh grave in Rose Hill Cemetery in Fort Worth. As it turned out, the fresh grave was that of Lee Harvey Oswald. I think we sometimes forget that even the perpetrators of the most horrendous acts of harm are people generally regarded as family and important to someone.
Of course there are exceptions. I know a preacher who always ritualized “Mother’s Day” at church services by asking who was the oldest mother, who was the youngest, who had the most children, etc. In an attempt to add a dimension of levity, he asked: “Is there a mother who wishes one of her children hadn’t been born?” No sooner had the question slipped through his lips than a mother stood and said: “Billy Ray has been nothing but trouble since the day he was born. I would have been better off without him.” Wow! I bet my friend changed his mother’s day ritual going forward.
On my flight from Boston to Austin last week, I started reading an electronic book with a captivating title. It was entitled “Not My Father’s Son”. The book is autobiographical and included the kinds of detail that only a child from a hard place could remember with amazing accuracy. It was heart wrenching. All of the kid’s life, he never got a break unless you want to include the broken spirit and the horror of living through humiliation and the flagrant physical and emotional abuse that surrounded almost every day life of his life.
Early in the book, the author described a scene where his father complained that he needed a haircut. Before the evening was over, the father dragged his eight-year-old son (I’m stating the age from memory – he may have been younger) to the barn and used sheep shears on his head. In the process, the eight-year-old lost chucks of hair and his face and neck were gouged multiple times by the shears. Like I said earlier, the amazing accuracy with which the writer shared his story made the experience real in the mind of the reader. It hurts my heart that it is possible for children to find themselves in such egregious circumstances.
The little boy was not a stranger to the concept of fear. His greatest fear was going home after school and page after page in the early part of the book, he highlights the horror he lived through. You wonder how a parent could repeatedly take such delight in placing their child in harms way? Why didn’t someone intervene? Why didn’t his mother intervene?
One day this week, I visited with a friend by phone. She had read my blog on six-degrees-of-separation and opted to share a personal story with me. In terms of background, she said that following her father’s death, her mother subsequently remarried. Her mother’s new husband proved to be emotionally abusive and consistently unkind. She said of him, “I have no idea why my mother chose to stay in the marriage. It was a horrible ordeal for her”.
At any rate, following a Christmas vacation period, my friend asked a co-worker about her holiday experience. The co-worker responded that the time with family had been an uncomfortable and emotionally exhausting experience. She described her father as being emotionally abusive and nothing was ever good enough for him. She was grateful when the holiday ended so she could go back to work.
My friend is a social worker at heart and she empathized by sharing that her mother’s husband was the same kind of guy. In the process of describing him, she mentioned his first name. The friend looked at her funny and asked: “What is his last name?” Unbeknownst to either of them before that moment, my friend’s step-father was the brother to the co-worker’s father.
That leads me to the question: “Does bad behavior get passed down from generation to generation through DNA or is it learned behavior through environmental conditioning?” Personally, I think it is a combination of the two, but whose really to say?
I worked with a lady once who often said of children whose choices were questionable: “It’s in their blood. They will never be any different. They will turn out just like their mother or dad.” We talk about breaking the generational cycle of child abuse and neglect, but if it is passed on through DNA is it really possible?
I figure with the gift of Grace it is possible for all things to become new. Every day is an opportunity to hit the reset button and choose to negotiate life differently. I’ve lived long enough that I’ve seen folks rise beyond their circumstances. Tomorrow doesn’t have to look like yesterday.
That seemingly brings us full circle back to where we started: “No one knows how bad they are till they have tried very hard to be good”.
All My Best!