Just a warning: this is not going to be a comfortable blog post, and I don't mean I'm going to talk about my kidney infection again. This is a serious post about some uncomfortable stuff.
I found out this weekend that a musician friend of mine has had a habit over the past few years of routinely having sex with women who are anywhere between 10 and 13 years younger than him. He's my age, 33. Some of these young women have been 16 and 17 years old, high school sophomores and juniors. He denies any wrongdoing, and was moved to tears on a couple of occasions with self-pity at the thought that anyone would consider him to have done wrong. Despite his protests of innocent intent, I did some research, and he's been shrewd enough to avoid going below the age of consent in the state that I know about, Pennsylvania. In Virginia, what he did would be statutory rape.
He's lived a lot of places and done a lot of travelling, so there's really no way of telling how many of these young girls he's taken advantage of, how many promises he made, how many may still hold a hope in their hearts that he'll come back. The stories I do know about lead me to believe there are a probably quite a lot of them out there. Of course, the way he conducts himself, and the way that young girls think, none of them has, or probably ever will, take him to court for what he's done. To do that would be to admit that they weren't "grown up" when they allowed him to seduce them, and a key part of his smack is praising absurdly young women for their maturity, beauty, and emotional depth. He also comes across as gentle, sensitive, the kind of guy who means every beautiful word he says. In other words, his routine is typical, and typically effective.
As I've been thinking about this over the past two days, swinging between intense rage at the injustice of it and my impotence to do anything to right it and intense sadness at realizing this person was my friend and is completely unrepentant of this behavior, I've been hit hard with a different point, and that's what this post is really about.
My friend doesn't seem to be a bad guy. He's crazy-talented, lots of people like him, and he is a master at turning things around so he looks like the victim. But the truth is that we are all pretty good at this in our own minds. It's a basic part of our nature that we justify ourselves to ourselves. We know our motives, see. We know what we meant to do, even if what we did was quite different. Even if it really hurt people in ways that cannot be reversed. Even if what we did preyed upon the weaknesses or ignorance or innocence of another person.
We don't all do this all of the time. Most of us have some level of filter on our actions, and we are occasionally aware that we are being assholes. Some pious folks like my Dad do far more than the average amount of self-examination, and are perhaps more aware of their sins than is really advisable on a day-to-day basis, but even Dad doesn't have a totally clear view of himself. Our self-justification mechanism is as old as the story of Eden. It's hard wired, and difficult to maneuver, even when things like parental love are in the mix.
So my recurrent thought today has been this: Holy shit is it important that we tell each other the truth. I literally have been having a sense of vertigo at the thought of how many lives could have helped if someone whom my friend really loved and trusted sat him down and gently told him that they loved him but he had to stop sleeping with minors... way back when he first started doing it. Or if just one of those parents had found out and taken him to court for what he did. If anyone, at any point, had screamed "STOP!!!" and MADE HIM STOP.
The implications for my own life are what really make my head spin. What patterns are present in my life right now or in the past, that all I needed was for someone I really trusted --who understood me and whom I was close to and respected-- to sit me down and say "I love you and you have to stop this". And then I remember all the times that people have, sometimes friends but most often my Mom and Dad. I haven't reacted well initially, but damn... what if they HADN'T?? and then I start to tear up out of gratitude.
Let me be clear: I have been the subject of Christian Witch Hunts, and I am not a fan. I'm also not a fan of "accountability partners", a concept I was introduced to in college and that will to this day cause me to foam at the mouth in rage at how ripe for abuse that whole concept was and how blithely and widely touted at Covenant. I don't think ANYONE should decide it's their job to call out the behavior of someone whom they haven't laughed with, cried with and probably gotten drunk with at least once. But if you are that kind of heart-friend, and someone you know is doing something that is hurting them or the people around them or you, you've gotta say something. Really. You have to. Because our ability to justify our own behavior is so very deep and so very poisonous, and it can literally wreck our lives, our relationships, and even our mental health as we become more and more distanced from the reality of the world as it sees us, wrapped in our bubble of self-pitying, self-righteous, self-justification.
I mourn for my friend. I mourn for every young girl he's hurt. I'd appreciate it if you'd join me in praying that he gets the wake-up call he needs and that he's never allowed to hurt another girl. But I also hope you hear me out about telling each other the truth. I'm always mindful of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and always very wary to call anybody out on their "sin". But what if she'd been caught beating her child to death? Attempting suicide? It'd be different then.
Love, sometimes, is rough rocks being slammed by waves as the wind howls... whether we like that or not.