You would think that telling a story to a bunch of listeners is safer than writing one down. When I was in New York a few years ago, I told a story about an exciting sex adventure with a lover who was 20 years younger than me. As the mother of 3 millennials there is no way I was going to have that story told anywhere other than a continent away from my children’s ears and nowhere that it could be found online. In Seattle I went on stage with a story about a dildo, and this time I even ventured to
Telling a story is safe because there is no real evidence other than other people’s version and interpretation of it. No matter what you tell, all that can be passed on are other peoples version of it, combined with my denial of ever saying anything remotely close to what I really did say.
So when the topic last week at Loose Lips was Forgiveness and/or Betrayal, I began to get stuck. -Forgiveness! The very cornerstone of who I am, I could take over the mic for the whole night and give a keynote speech on the topic. Again, it was being hosted by no other than my son Eddie. The day before the event he explained that he had chosen this topic as he wanted to see if people would come along not only with hilarious stories, drinking stories and fun anecdotes. Now was the test to see what kind of sad and deep stories might come up.
The way Loose Lips works is that there are always three or four planned story tellers and then, after a short break, the stage is open to members of the audience to come up and tell a story for about 5 minutes - a true and mostly unrehearsed story. The most exciting thing about the evening is that you just don't know what's coming. Exciting to the audience that is, and absolutely nerve wrecking for the host of the show not knowing just what is coming next.
So I was all gung ho with my forgiveness tales, and yet when he called me up I found that I couldn't bring myself to getting up and telling that one sad story, possibly one of the experiences that I see as a great milestone in my life, and I realised that actually, when it comes to the sad ending maybe it is easier to write about it than to take the wind out of a fun evening by sharing a therapeutic past experience with an audience that are waiting for a laugh.
So I told the story of the ex boyfriend who was a serial liar and how indignant he was at being ditched just for telling a few lies about two timing me. It managed to get a laugh and I followed it up with a short lecture on the topic of forgiveness. You see I have this theory that forgiveness is not really something that you decide to do or not do, it has to come. Well, to me it does.
For many years I could never find a reason to forgive the man who abused me as a child. ( In Ireland we use words like abuse and molestation to soften the blow of hearing about child rape.) And in Ireland, abuse was not a very uncommon thing when I was growing up. In fact, looking back today, on the abuse histories that have become public, I hardly make the grade – it wasn’t a priest or a person of authority, or better still a Rockstar or celebrity like say Jimmy Saville or Gary Glitter. I was a huge fan of Gary Glitter at the age of ten. If I was going to be abused, why the hell could it not have been him, I even had his poster on my bedroom wall. No, it was just a random uncle. Not even a blood relative, one that married in to the family. A boring chef who looked a bit like Elvis and made me feel like it was all my fault that he had become a paedophile. But that’s Irish guilt for you. We were reared on it.
Years later I decided to confront the bastard. I had just returned to Ireland after many years abroad and by now I had kids of my own. This guy was still on the loose and I wondered what my kids would think of me when they were older if they asked me ‘hey mom, what did you do about it when that uncle molested you?’ What if my answer was ‘nothing’? That thought drove me to the cops and then the whole thing was exposed. (Pardon the pun).
When the was confronted with it and not only vehemently denied it, but tried to claim that it must have been my father (who died when I was 14) who had abused me and that I was all confused now, what with the passing of time, I was even more sure that forgiveness did not belong anywhere in this story. He knew what he did, and it wasn’t as if I was out to get him, I had only wanted it acknowledged and to get an apology. I expected the typical Irish bigoted schmuck behaviour that I grew up with. That he'd say something like 'ah well, it was different in the 70s, and I was drunk and frustrated and blah blah I'm sorry luv...' I was expecting to listen to that and to name and shame him in public, or at least make sure that all of the family knew, and that would be it. Of course it didn't happen like that at all though. The plot only thickened. As soon as he denied everything and made me out to be a liar and tried to pin the guilt to a dead innocent man, he became the family hero. Of course, it was easier for them to believe him as it meant that they wouldn’t need to come to terms with having a paedophile in the family. The case was dropped and over the next few years two of my cousins approached me privately telling me that they had also been victims, yet neither of them wanted to make a statement or stand behind me, even though they knew the truth. One of them beratingly told me that she didn’t think it was a good idea to upset the harmony in the family. Harmony? Hello? Interestingly, another of these cousins is a therapist, which I found pretty scary, knowing that by not coming forward all they were doing were protecting a paedophile. Families are erm, so harmonious...
About then years later, in 2013 when Nelson Mandela died, there were a lot of tributes paid to him. Let's face it, this man was the crown prince of forgiveness, something that I couldn’t understand given that he had been so brutally tortured. Yet, he forgave the prison officers who had tortured him over many years. I remember reading somewhere that they would put him standing in front of a desk and slam the drawer of it closed on his testicles. What part of this is forgivable?
Then one day I heard someone on the radio quote something he had recounted about forgiveness. He said "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I know if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." So in other words he was saying that if you don’t forgive people, you will never be free. Damn it, the man was right. Here I was years and years later, still not free, while my rapist was probably out for a round of golf, or more likely a round of beers.
So that was it. If I wasn't able to forgive this person, I would never be free of what happened. I still didn't decide to forgive him though, not because I didn’t want to, I’d gotten that far, but because I just couldn’t.
Then one day it was as if it happened all by itself. Instead of feeling the way I imagined Jesus might have felt when he said things like ‘forgive them, for they know not what they do’, ( I imagined he would feel a bit like a very humble Rockstar) I realised that instead of feeling pain, grief and anger and all of the feelings you might expect to have from time to time when dwelling over a lost childhood, all that I felt now was sorry for this pathetic excuse of a human being. How awful it must be to come into this world and be nothing but a lying conniving paedophile who knows how to make choux pastry. And I felt thankful. Thankful that I was never sold into his behaviour and never believed that it was a good idea to protect a paedophile in order to play at happy families. A whole layer of pain slipped away, I was a caterpillar who turned into butterfly all of a sudden, and a whole new era began, one that he didn’t feature in.
When I recently read his death notice citing how he would be sadly missed by his nieces and nephews, etc., I thought about writing in the online condolence book that this niece will not sadly miss him due to what he did. I decided not to, I think it belongs to the whole forgiving thing. It was because whatever I write or think or do, it truly does not have a place with anyone else. There are people who cared for this person and believed his lies, there are others who knew his crime and protected him, and there is me, who knows what happened, me, who couldn’t tell this story out loud in public. Me, who knows that if I hadn’t forgiven him, he never would have died.