When Our Leader Was Innocence


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September 10  

I watched my two youngest daughters, in their early teens at the time, being controlled by the horror of sexual abuse which had happened to their youngest brother. To complicate the tragic incident, their brother also has Down Syndrome; and the perpetrator was one of their closest and dearest friends. After the shock, horror, and eventual acknowledgement of the truth took hold of our family life, the unfolding of personal loss, trauma, and newfound inabilities took center stage.

As the mother, I was responsible to guide my daughters on their journey of grief and anger. I was also responsible to assist my young son, who experienced a trauma he did not have the capacity to understand or to transcend. Or so I thought. Is transcendence a product of an intellectual and willed decisions? Can it be guided and eventually reached without the intellect or the will? I did not know. I just knew I had to try.

My husband and I believed that the sexual abuse must not be “bigger” than we were; that it could not define our lives. Rather, that we must walk it out: in tears and Truth.

But this was not to be.

Our neighbors, and now former friends, morphed into that special world which holds prisoner those who deny and try to outsmart tragedy. We found ourselves in the unfortunate position of being the hostile liars, the people with an agenda of destroying their family—for reasons beyond any sense or sensibility.

Our neighborhood, which had been a close-knit group of large families, whose children had grown up swimming in the lake, putting plays on in the summer, playing soccer every night, was now an Ayn Rand wasteland. It certainly complicated my work with my children.

Instead of getting down to the business of healing, we had to confront horrible negativity and lies. The added drama of the neighborhood, the denial, on the part of the parents, that anything had happened, and the vocalizations that our son could not have known what happened anyway because he was “retarded,” created such a firewall between truth and hatred that I nearly was defeated in my fight for my children and their well-being.

I had to show my teenage girls that one could forgive and detach. And yet, the internal battle I was fighting, my own grief and anger, made the quest complicated. I was the mature one; I had the resources, the experience, the fight. But I also had moments of silent, consuming, fierce anger. They naturally knew the state of my soul. At some points they were confused as to whether I was with them or against them. I wanted them to be free from the noose of our neighbors’ lies and the actual fall out from sexual abuse, but I was not free myself. I spoke of forgiveness, not reconciliation, then found myself needing to forgive “seventy times seventy.”

And then there was my son. What a sweet soul. What a wonderful person. When he had disclosed to me, it was done quietly, gently. Afterwards, he just went on with his job of folding the laundry. He went on with his daily life. Here I was, watching, always watching, to see that he was truly okay. How could he be? But he seemed to be. I realized that if we, as a family, made the sexual abuse that which defined him, then he would become defined by it: by how we tip-toed around him or treated him, with tears in our eyes. No, I thought, we must all be “bigger” than the abuse, and we must show him we were moving on. He really was the impetus. He did not change his being. Perhaps he did not “will himself out of it,” perhaps he did not intellectualize transcendence, but at the end of the day, he had moved on. He did it.

He became our leader, our example. He gave the girls a reason to deal with their hurt and anger. He showed them that he was okay. He was himself. He was not “damaged goods.” We would all be who we were meant to be: as whole and alive as possible. He gave us purpose. And he became the meaning of the tragedy: no matter what life throws at us, we can be bigger than it . . . it must not define us. Instead, it becomes a part of our story, a chapter in our lives.

He led us to freedom.

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