“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Never have Lord Acton’s words resonated as much as while Paul and I were watching the terrific new film Spotlight. It’s a must-see, but it is a difficult see, especially if you were brought up Roman Catholic, and especially-especially if you were brought up Roman Catholic in the Diocese of Boston.
We stopped off at the Flying Saucer afterwards and talked about it. There is so much that is infuriating in the story and we were both angry about it, though Paul’s reaction was more visceral; Boston is his natal town, he grew up in the Roman Catholic church, diocese of Boston. How many of his childhood friends might be, unbeknownst to him, victims of a systemically sick institution?
Since I didn’t grow up in Boston, in the intervening days I’ve tried to put my finger on exactly why the film has struck such a deep chord within me. For Paul, it was the abuse + cover-up + a continuation of how the Irish were treated by English invaders for centuries. Shouldn’t I be relieved that at last the boil was lanced and the abuse uncovered, exposed to the light of day where healing can occur?
And I am glad that though it took decades to reveal it has come out at last, but this morning Pink Floyd’s On the Turning Away filtered through my brain and I realized it was that, the turning away, that has me still roiling internally.
For decades, or perhaps (as I fear) centuries, people in positions of power or at least helpfulness, people who thought of themselves as just and righteous, turned away from that which they knew to be wrong. Because it was ugly. Because it was icky. Because they were just one little person, and what, really, can one little person do?
I grew up in a house where uncomfortable truths were not acknowledged, where what the neighbors might say was of gravest concern, and where too much truth could be met with a backhand to the face. But my mother gave birth to a contrary rebel, a child equal parts diplomacy and frustrated, unfiltered truth-telling. I have always found it hard to look the other way.
There is so much in the news that is upsetting: mad men shooting up womens’ healthcare clinics; Syria; ISIS; global warming; poverty; desperate refugees; hopelessness. If one dwells too long on any one of these one might lose heart. It’s all enough send one running to pull the covers over one’s head, and so we distract ourselves with Kardashians while ignoring the coming storm. But there is a sickness that takes hold when one does not acknowledge the wrongness of things, it takes root and grows funky, unproductive leaves and in the end it’s been my experience there is always a reckoning, even if it takes centuries to occur. Sometimes I wonder if this is what was meant by the “sins of the father being visited upon the sons.”
I fear for my country, the freest country in the world populated by citizens who don’t get out and vote, who, polls indicate, believe women should make their own healthcare decisions, LGBT people should have equal rights under the law, our educational system needs a complete overhaul, and that we need a reasonable approach to guns in our country. I fear because we’ve turned away and let the lunatics loose to run the asylum, rather than actually looking at the ugliness those very lunatics represent. What can one little person do in the face of all of it?
We do what we can. Perhaps I am overly simplistic, but I honestly believe that to save the collective soul, we each must do what we can, in real terms, right where we are. We can’t turn away with the excuse we are only one. I may be only one, but I am one, a child of God, with gifts to give, though they be small. And I mustn’t give in to the temptation of turning away because what I offer isn’t perfect or large. That’s the easy way, and it leads nowhere good.
We stand and fight the good fight. When we see wrong happening, we face it. We call it out. We vote. We don’t look at anyone as beyond or above the law, or reckoning. And if enough of us practice this in our daily lives, just think what we might accomplish – we might, eventually and with hard work, create a world in which we had no more need – or desire – for the turning away.