Sometimes life puts something in our way that gives us cause to re-evaluate how we look at things, or to re-examine our own thoughts and attitudes. Recently I was made to do all of that.
My friend (I will call her Ronnie) is a lovely lady, full of compassion for others and willing to help them whenever she can. She has raised a wonderful family, all now adults, and she and her partner have been happily married for decades. On the surface she is a very ‘normal’ woman. Some time ago, however, Ronnie told me of a secret that she had carried with her since her childhood. Having also carried a dark secret from a similar age I felt I was prepared for anything but that turned out not to be the case. The secret that she carried was that she was the victim of child sexual abuse, over many years into her early teens. Worse was the fact that the abuser was her own father, a man she had a right to expect she could trust. That was not the case.
In a very difficult conversation I learnt of the abuse she’d suffered and how long it had gone on. She also told me that initially she believed that her sister had avoided the same fate but that a few years back her sister had confided in her that the same had happened. Here then were two innocent lives shattered and scarred for life by the disgusting and depraved activities of their father.
After leaving home Ronnie was able to break away from the depraved clutches of her father and try to live a ‘normal’ life. Because she is such a strong person she was determined not to let those experiences affect the rest of her life. She moved away from her home town and married. She had a baby but then the marriage failed. There seemed to have been many reasons why it failed so perhaps her past was not a factor; perhaps.
A couple of years after that marriage failed Ronnie met the man she is now married to. He is a very different man to her first husband and the marriage seemed to go well. Her hidden past though, was having an effect. Although they seemingly had a normal intimate relationship, including more children, over time the spectre that is her past intruded to the point that all intimacy with her husband ceased. There is still deep love between them but it is almost platonic and is certainly no longer sensual or intimate. I suppose the fact that they are still together proves that the deep love does exist.
For Ronnie’s sake I feel deep disgust for her father, a feeling that borders on hatred, a word I very rarely use. This man, who she still regards as her father and for whom she has the love of a child for a parent, destroyed a precious part of her childhood and unduly influenced her relationships from then on. In her place I cannot conceive that I would still love him, let alone still have any contact with him.
A few days ago I was in Ronnie’s home when she and her sister, who was visiting, were doing some cooking. I was staggered to see her dining room table covered in small takeaway-style food containers into which had been placed servings of food. Dozens of them. They were for their parents, who are now in their mid 80s and no longer able to completely look after themselves. I was staggered that after everything he’d done to them as children both girls were still willing to go so far out of their way to help someone who, I have to admit, I would not have.
When I asked why so much effort for him (I can understand helping their mother) the reply was that he is old, in a lot of pain and can’t do a lot for himself. Inside I felt that karma was finally returning the investment he’d made. I hoped that things would get a lot worse for him but then I could see that his distress and pain was causing his daughters pain and anguish as well. At the time I couldn’t understand but I have had time to think about the situation and I can’t say that I am particularly proud of the conclusions I’ve come to.
There before me was a very solid lesson in humility and forgiveness; forgiveness in a form anyway. They feel that they can’t undo what was done to them and that it has already had too much impact on their lives. Even if their mother was not part of the equation I don’t believe that the sisters would abandon their father to his fate but, to my shame, I believe that I probably would. In my mind he deserves all he gets but they, the victims, don’t see it that way. They have compassion for him despite the hurt he caused. They have empathy for how he sees his life now, defined by pain, discomfort and virtual immobility. The have pledged to do what they can for as long as it’s needed. Personally, I hope that isn’t too long.
What does all that say about me? I was wronged by my mother as I was growing up but the abuse I suffered was only physical. She was the child of an abusive parent and became one herself. I fought hard to break that pattern and I believe I succeeded. Yet it took me many years to be able to offer any forgiveness to my mother. I could not accept that she didn’t believe that she’d done anything wrong. In his mind I think Ronnie’s father feels the same, that he did nothing wrong. I cannot, and do not want to, understand that.
Turning the other cheek is an easy concept but is it easy to do? How many of us have been wronged by others as we’ve moved through our transgender lives? How many have been rejected by family and friends? What relationships have broken down because we’ve tried to be the person we feel we need to be? Which members of our community are willing, or even able, to offer forgiveness to those who have caused us pain and heartache? More importantly, can we say that we were able to move on from that pain and make the most of our lives or did we let the burden of the past shape what became and not what could have been?
Two women with every justification in the world to be hateful and bitter have shown me that humility and forgiveness can be achieved. They don’t erase the past but they make it a lot easier to live with the aftermath. I am very humbled.