A quiet and unassuming man about my age came in to my office the other day.
He stuttered and mumbled as if he was nervous. He fixed his gaze on my desk as he spoke and it seemed that the sooner he finished the task in hand, the better.
However, the work I was to do for him would take maybe an hour, and so after a while he began to relax, and he started to talk, more slowly and thoughtful now, and he was making eye contact.
As I was writing, he began to tell me about himself, about work he had done for the parish over a period on more than four decades, but now his limbs were wracked with pain, so stiff in the mornings that it took an hour or more to gain any degree of mobility, so to cut grass and trim hedges was impossible.
He thought he might retire. He owned a little farm, not much land, but with his pains and aches, that would have to go to, he mused.
‘When I was born, my mother wasn’t well’, he told me. ‘And then my brother came along a year later. She couldn’t cope, so I was sent to live with an aunt. She was a good person, but I must have been too much bother for her, so after a short time I went to live with my grandmother.’
He went on to explain that there was a bit more moving around, and while he wasn’t abused ... ‘I was talking to a farmer the other day,’ he reflected, ‘who told me that when a female lamb is born, if its mother won’t or can’t feed her, and when she grows up and becomes a mother, she will also refuse to feed her offspring. It seems the lack of bonding between mother and child has life-long ramifications.’
And then it seemed that a light went on. ‘I wonder if that is at the back of all my troubles?’ he asked.
What were his troubles? A life filled with insecurity, unable to maintain relationships, and now as he approaches his twilight years he suffers from anxiety and depression.
I think we’ve all seen in recent years how much pain is caused by childhood abuse, be it sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect. You see grown men in their sixties crying when a police inquiry brings what must have been an awful experience back to the surface.
A woman I know very well, now in her mid-fifties, grew up in a violent home. She wasn’t physically brutalised, but the family rows left her traumatised. As a little girl she would be found hiding under the table, waiting for the shouting to stop. And she still does that, not literally, but metaphorically. She is happily married and lives a settled life surrounded on all sides by love, but when there’s a family disagreement she remains unable to deal with conflict. She wants to hide under the table until it passes. Trouble is, it doesn’t pass, it just gets buried, unresolved, and causes needless tension.
Whether parents or grandparents, let’s do all we can to see that the children are safe, valued, and never ever brutalised. Jesus said: ‘He called a little child to him and said, ‘... if you cause one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.’