January 30, 2013 by lucieromarin
Most people have to make sense of their pasts in some way; for Catholic roadkill, this often means making sense of a past which seems to have been squandered on false hope. (Don’t worry – this doesn’t end with me writing about our True Hope Being in Heaven!!). Even if the thing-that-never-happened was something awful, (say, the Great Chastisement) the niceness of not being rained upon with fire is tinged with an awful lot of wondering what else you might have done in the years you spent preparing for it.
This isn’t just the experience of single people; think of religious who invest years in an order which chews them up and spits them out, or people who walk into ill-advised marriages for want of good pastoral care, or of the consecrated virgin in this post, discovering that despite being espoused to Christ, she was of no interest to the bishop whose job it was to mentor her.
What do you say to people whose questions can only be answered with something like, “Because I thought I’d be married by now,” or “Because I wasn’t allowed to,” or “Because I was preparing for the New Evangelisation/Restoration/Apocalypse”? Each time it happens, it makes it easier and easier to look back and think, “Why was I so naive? Why was I so easily led?” And this sometimes turns into, “Why was I so stupid? Did I look this stupid to everyone else?”
For me, an answer was found in Lalich and Tobias’ Take Back Your Life. Bear in mind that they deal with people recovering from cult-membership, people who have to look back and see that they sold everything, moved into a compound and offered their children to their leaders. They write: “People who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed or neurotic. Most cult-members are of above-average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable and perhaps a bit idealistic. In relatively few cases is there a history of a pre-existing mental disorder.” They argue that the situation needs to be understood in terms of the exploitation of the victim’s gifts rather than the absence of them. In other words, the reason that this happened was not because you were a useless shell of a person made by nature to be someone’s puppet, but because someone was able to come along at the right moment and exploit both your desire to make the world a better place and your capacity for commitment, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and hard work.
The solution is not to despise those gifts or to think of them as responsible for making you waste your life, but to be grateful that you have them at all, and to recognise that you’re still free to invest them in a group or a project which won’t use them against you. You’re like someone with a beautiful singing voice, who, through no fault of her own, ended up with a dodgy agent. That agent might have wasted ten years of your career on a b-grade circuit or trained you in some bad habits that aren’t easy to unlearn; even so, your voice is still beautiful, and it’s still yours.
I will admit that while thinking about this post I became disconsolate enough (you know, O the Wasted Years; I’m So Old etc etc) to need a jam doughnut. Then, as I sank my teeth into it and enjoyed the restorative power of deep-fried, sugar-encrusted dough, I suddenly thought about all the people in the world whose problems can’t be solved with a jam doughnut, and was forced to concede that maybe I don’t have it so bad.
Then I read the beginning of Seraphic’s latest post and thought that there were definitely worse ways to be raised than conservative.