Colonel Nathan Jessup was right.
You remember Colonel Jessup?
Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men?
You remember that climatic scene who Tom Cruise demands an answer and Nicholson screams back, “You can’t handle the truth!”
He was right.
I can’t handle the truth.
That fact has been driven home to me in the past week. On Monday, which is my day off, I went to a program at Kingston, our local community college to commemorate Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day is the time when Canadians are asked to remember a dark part of our history when thousands of Native children were removed from their families and placed in Residential Schools. Many of these schools were run by religious organizations, but the stories that have come from them are nothing short of horrendous. Many were victims of health experiments, deprived nutrition, abused. Those stores alone would make this terrible enough. But perhaps the most egregious part was the intention behind the schools—to remove the Indian from the children, to assimilate them into white Canadian society. It was cultural genocide, though many are now wondering if it was not also pure genocide.
Monday afternoon several women led us through part of that history. We heard songs that reminded us of the strength of women, honored those lost, just lamented what happened. We heard stories of trauma—from the sublime of a young native girl being told she could not be an Indian in a Columbus Day celebration, when she could wear authentic clothing which was a part of who she was, but rather had to play a white explorer; to the tragic as a young mother, eight days after giving birth, read portions of a book which described the horrors of the residential schools. “They washed us with hard brushes as if they were trying to remove our skin.”
I sat there hurting, in pain, and filled with anger! How could such a thing take place? This was not ‘ancient history’ but rather as recent as the 1960’s when the infamous 60’s Scoop occurred. I expressed my feelings, my rage, to one of the women with whom I have become acquainted, who is helping me learn this part of our history, who is the most calm and peaceful presence I think I have ever encountered. She just reminded me that to move beyond we have to tell the stories. We have to hear the stories.
I don’t want to hear them!
I don’t want to hear them anymore than I have wanted to hear the stories that have filtered north from countless women who are telling their #MeToo stories. After years of living with the abuse, the fear, the shame, the guilt—none of which they deserved—many are coming forth to tell their stories. Some of them are friends of mine, friends of our daughters, people I know. Others are just nameless stories, but as I read and hear I am filled with all the feelings—anger, hurt, remorse, fear, shame, guilt.
That last one—guilt comes with just being male. A white male. As these stories have come out I have found myself delving back into my past and asking, “Did I?” I never raped anyone. I never held my hand over anyone’s mouth. But did I do something so unintentional, so unknowing that I have caused someone these kinds of nightmares?
I have asked myself those questions, and I have wondered how many other white males have done the same. Is that the cause of this angry backlash from so many men? Are we terrified that maybe we….
As we talked Monday following the program, as I was counseled in my anger, my friend reminded me that the stories have to be told. They have to be heard. Only when both happen—stories told and stories heard—can we move to reconciliation.
This is hard! What I have heard and read from many of those who shared #INeverTold was the feeling that no one would believe them, that they would be further shamed, that they would be blamed, that they had to protect their parents. They didn’t tell.
The stories of the residential schools were some that were shoved into the dark closets of family history, and are just now beginning to being told. The stories of sexual assault and harassment locked away but never far away.
We all have those hard truths that we have sought to ignore.
Telling the story is painful.
Hearing the story is painful.
Confessing our part in the story—intentional or not—is painful.
The silence has been our prison.
But I remember someone saying, “The truth will set you free.”
If we are brave enough. If we can handle it!