Back to work today, still coated with the sparkling glitter of a family Christmas, I opened my e-mail and a friend had sent me an article he read about child abuse. His comments piqued my interest, “… a truly incredible story… his thoughts on courage towards the end of the article are inspiring.” I thought, maybe this will be a good blog post, let’s see. Within a nanosecond of reading Black and Blue, and the opening words, “My father used to beat the shit out of me,” that holiday glitter tarnished instantaneously and I nixed the idea of this as my first post-holiday blog entry.
So why just hours after returning to work from a holiday weekend am I writing about National Hockey League’s Patrick Sullivan’s account of his abusive childhood? Because unlike Norman Rockwell’s depictions of holidays forever memorialized in 2D with with abundant feasts, loving families, and magical wonder, many of our favorite holiday stories are indeed stories of transcendence from challenges, deprivation or even evil. The true glitter of our holiday season comes from light… a light that shines from within and radiates outward. For centuries religious traditions have glorified that light in their teaching:
- the star of Bethlehem, leading the wise men to a savior
- the sacred oil that miraculously burned for not one night but eight, providing hope in a time of darkness and persecution
- the light of the new moon signaling the start of Ramadan and a commitment to self sacrifice, purification and good acts, and
- a more recent addition, Kwanzaa, to celebrate the strengths, values and heritage of people for whom community was ripped apart due to slavery and for whom safety and equality are still a daily struggle.
Hollywood and Hallmark have managed to morph the resonant Halleluiahs into a more enjoyable Hootenanny, but like Rudolph’s blinking beacon the stories that resonate with us often explore the struggle between the darkness we all see daily and the possibility of light entering and transforming that darkness:
- Charlie Brown (struggling for acceptance)
- Rudolph (bullying and ostracism)
- Miracle on 34th Street (depression, suicide), and
- The Grinch (greed, jealously, vengeance).
So back to Patrick Sullivan and child abuse… and how in the world the story of a small child struggling desperately to be good enough, not to earn his father’s love, but rather good enough to be momentarily spared from a beating at the end of the day that connects to my post holiday glow and the work of Wellspring. Sullivan’s message is not for the people who are like his father- they’re too far gone. His message is for the parents sitting next to him in the bleachers, for the neighbors who worry about what they hear, for the family member who wishes things were different; his message is for you and for me, and for all of us who are standing in the parking lot and can’t find the courage to say something. He’s telling us it’s ok to make a sound. And if we do, we too may find that our small quivering voice will be joined by others resonating throughout Whoville with true light. I recently read a quote from a security consultant who formerly worked in law enforcement and the Secret Service, “You don’t rise to the occasion; you sink to your level of training.” he was talking about violent intruder situations, but I think his observation holds equally true as we’re watching our kid’s hockey practice. I imagine Sullivan at 5 years old wearing his first pair of hockey skates. Now I’d like to imagine how different his life would have been if someone- anyone- would have spoken up. Read his story, imagine what you wish someone would have done. And maybe when the chance presents itself you or I will be ready with a better response.
Wellspring provides prevention education to approximately 6,000 youth and adults each year. A core value in our prevention education is empowering bystanders to take action to intervene when they see a situation, but also to create social change to end relationship and sexual abuse. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can bring these no-cost, interactive programs to your youth group, faith organization, workplace or other group give us a call at 518-583-0280.