Somewhere long ago he was once a child.
His world was a child’s world where adults towered over the landscape in a wondrous sort of mute majesty and rarely slowed down to listen to children.
Somewhere long ago he was a blueprint of the man he might one day become. A youthful creature brimming with untested strengths and unexplored depths. But he was also small, needful and, most of all, vulnerable. He had to trust that the giants in his world would provide for his needs. That they would nourish and care for him, and keep him safe from harm.
Somewhere long ago he was once a child. And as a child he saw the world through an innocent’s eyes. So, when an adult in that world, a parish priest, rose up like a menacing shadow to darken his life, he could only fall back on his limited experience to understand what was happening.
And there was no understanding.
There was only a child lost in confusion and fear. A child deeply hurt and frightened. A child surrounded by people but engulfed by a sense of isolation. A child who felt guilty rather than victimized, as if by questioning the actions of a priest—a man as close to God as any mortal could come—he himself had done something wrong.
Somewhere long ago he was once a child and used a child’s logic to order his world. Thus, when he learned he could no longer trust adults to keep him safe, he did what he must to survive. He created boxes in his mind. Boxes to hold those things that frightened or angered or confused him. Boxes he could keep hidden. Hidden from the world, hidden from the priests, even hidden from himself.
In one box he placed his anger at his parents for not protecting him. In another he placed the memory of the innocence that had been taken from him. In yet another box, he placed his fear of intimacy, having seen what happens when you allow someone to come too close.
And in the largest box of all he placed himself, an eleven- year-old boy frozen in time. It was the only safe harbor the child would know.
Many years later the boy had grown into a man, and the boxes which had been buried in the darkness of his memory began to fall apart like broken dresser drawers. They would spill out their hazardous contents at the oddest moments. When he found himself standing outside a church. When he noticed how vulnerable his children seemed while asleep. When people who thought they knew him, told him how lucky he was to have the gifts he’d been given. Or whenever he felt threatened or frightened, like a little child hiding in a grownup’s body.
For many years those leaking boxes and their toxic seepage dominated the man’s life. They undermined his most intimate relationships, they kept him running from job to job, they sent him searching for relief in alcohol, drugs and an endless succession of mindless distractions. Worst of all, they unleashed on those he loved the pent-up fury of a rage that had been burning for most of his life.
Sitting there on the TV screen, somewhere on the other side of the continent, he talks to a reporter about his painful past and why, after all these years, he is finally confronting his demons and opening up his boxes. He is one of a number of men who are forcing the Catholic Church to face up to a pattern of almost bestial behavior by some of its priests. Forcing the church to acknowledge it had condoned crimes any civilized society would condemn as savage and depraved.
He is one of many such men who, like the lost boys of Neverland, never lived out their boyhoods but instead placed themselves, frozen in time, in their own inner boxes. And now the boxes are being open. The victims are telling their stories.
The healing has begun.
And the church, perhaps, is being dragged from its own peculiar set of closed and darkly hidden boxes.
But as he sits there at his kitchen table holding his five-year -old daughter in an unconscious protective embrace, I see more on the TV screen than the angry victim, the outraged reformer and the loving father.
I see the man whose blueprint—once tragically unrealized—was now coming to life. Resurrected after all those lost years. Hopefully to blossom, even with all the discovery and pain that still lay ahead.
For that blueprint, too, had been hidden inside a box.
Waiting for years in darkness.
Waiting to be uncovered and brought back to life.
Waiting for an eleven-year-old boy to whisper it was now safe to come out and play.
From “How To Train A Rock” by Paul Steven Stone, ©2009 Paul Steven Stone. It is somewhat sad and amazing to realize I had first written this essay in 2002 and yet today so much still remains to be uncovered, and the Catholic Church is still being dragged unwilliongly to a place of acceptance and grudging reform. It has been many years since public reporting on the church’s shameless culture of complicity and elitism. A culture that allowed hundreds of priests to prey like vampires upon thousands of helpless children across the vast expanse of decades and continents.
Somewhere long ago he was once a child.