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21st of October 2018

Moral Values



My #MeToo Moment - Crisis Magazine

If there is any positive outcome from the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing debacle, it is this: young people are now forewarned that their youth and immaturity will no longer be tolerated or excused—anything they say or do as a minor, even if isolated or out of temper with their moral character, can be used against them … for the rest of their lives.

When I was one of them, I was party to a #MeToo moment. It was not sexual, but it was an assault all the same. Decades later, it is the one thing that haunts me still.

“Sally”I was fifteen at the time, a drummer in a local rock band and a country band, which didn’t hurt my popularity with girls—one of whom, Sally, was my next door neighbor.

For some time, Sally had been harboring, what we called then, a “crush.” Although the feeling was not mutual, we were friends who would sometimes, as they say today, “hang out.”

There were times when Sally would lean in a little too close with a kittenish look that invited a response I was not ready to give. Each time, I hoped that my body language would get the message across. It didn’t. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to divulge my true feelings for fear that I might hurt hers—which makes my “unguarded moment” all the more incomprehensible, even frightening.

It happened on a warm spring day.

In the MuckMy cousin and I were in the bed of a Ford pickup standing knee-deep in a load of powdered manure. We had been tasked—actually, ordered, would not be too strong a word—to shovel the ambrosial offering into a neat pile by the garden.

As we took up our shovels, we looked at each other as an unspoken thought passed between us: What were our parental Ayatollahs thinking? This was spring, for heaven’s sake, the time when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of … anything but dry cow poop!

The Song of the Volga Boatmen came to mind. The dirge-like mood and cadence matched our enthusiasm to a tee. With that spark of inspiration, we began pitching and flinging in time with the languid tune.

This went on for several minutes, when—whether it was the weather, adolescent testosterone, or our morning pancakes—something energized us. All of a sudden, we accelerated the tempo.

Shovels began flinging and dung flying in an undeclared competition against whom or what? Who knows? It was like the scene in Cool Hand Luke (1967), when the chain gang suddenly starts slinging asphalt on a road at break-neck pace to “stick it to the man” by finishing before the end of the workday.

A mushrooming cloud of dung enveloped the truck and covered our sweat-drenched bodies. Oblivious to the degrading conditions we were creating, we continued our frenetic activity until I caught sight of something: a dark silhouette standing beyond the thick brown smog.

I stopped shoveling, prompting my cousin to do the same. As the filaments of manure began settling out of the air and onto our shirtless torsos, giving us that darken surf-boy look, I recognized the silhouette as Sally’s.

An Appalling ActShe stood at a safe distance from the truck until the air cleared, then approached. It was obvious that Sally was trying to impress. She had been freshly made-up with what appeared to be a new hairdo. I had just caught a whiff of perfume, when I heard, “Regis, throw it on her. Yeah, go ahead! C’mon on, do it! Do it!”

Was it my cousin? One of our darker angels? My imagination? To this day, I really don’t know. I only know that when I saw the shovelful of brown heading for Sally, it was like a nightmare, only it was one from which I wouldn’t awake to find that I hadn’t done what I‘d done, an act so appalling, shameful, and cruel that I couldn’t believe I did it, even as I watched it unfold before my very eyes.

Until that moment, I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of such a thing. Not only had I never done anything like it before (or since), I had a reputation among the girls as being “one of the nice” guys in school.

In the brief time it took for the muck to reach its target—a half second?—a dozen thoughts raced through my mind. There was disbelief at what was happening. There was the desire to undo it, to walk it back, or to reel it in, if possible, by some power of will or magic incantation. There was horror at how this would affect Sally. There was fear over what my parents would do, or what her parents would do, but more importantly, what this would do to our friendship. And perhaps, most importantly, there was fear of what this said about me, and to me.

Before the sun went down, I was, uh, disciplined in a number of ways, all deserved and appropriate. In addition to the corporal punishments, there were the apologies to my parents, Sally’s parents, and Sally, and the confession to my parish priest.

Sally and I resumed our friendship without ever mentioning that day again, which speaks volumes to her grace and mercy.

Two years later, she moved away with her family. A year after that, I entered college, one which, I was surprised to learn, was in a town near her home. We reconnected, saw each other three or four times during my college years, then lost touch.

Our Real NeedI often wonder what happened to Sally. With another girl in another time, my #MeToo moment could have had lifelong consequences for me, socially, publicly, and professionally. Personally, the thought that she might bear a lifelong scar from that day haunts me even now.

But more unsettling is the realization of something in me, and in all of us, which under the right conditions, can lead us to say or do things we would have never dreamt possible and swear could never happen. It’s a part of the human condition the apostle Paul personally knew and spoke plainly about:

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

It is the bad news of our condition that Paul also knew need not control us,

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you.

Or define us in the interim:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.

Or end badly:

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

For people like me who have shocked themselves by their own behavior, that is good news—very good news.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

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