I can't remember if I was a junior or senior in high school when I signed up for an elective class with a popular, well-liked teacher. Everyone talked about how easy his class was, even fun. I was confident the first few days that I'd made a good choice. But it only took a couple of weeks for me to feel uncomfortable enough to ask my counselor to switch me to another class. The popular, well-liked teacher made several inappropriate comments that left me wanting to walk around with my arms crossed over my chest.
After the counselor talked with the teacher and enrolled me in another class, he apologized for making me feel uncomfortable. I've thought about him several times over the years and wondered if he'd made anyone else feel uncomfortable by his comments. As far as I know, I was the only one who ever requested to be removed from his class.
But for so many children, their similar stories aren't tied up as neatly as mine.
Last week the suburb where I currently live made national news. A retired, long-time, well-liked teacher was arrested for child molestation. He confessed to molesting at least 20 children during his time as a teacher. Since his retirement in 2009, he's worked as a substitute bus driver, driving my children's bus at least once. I didn't personally know him, but two of my children recognized him immediately.
As a parent, my protective instincts kicked in when I heard the news. I was and still am outraged and angry. There's just something about abusing the innocence of a child that seems worse than any other wrong in the world. I am thankful that the man is behind bars.
On the flip side, I've had time to think about that man. I wonder if he hated himself a little more every time he betrayed a child's trust. I wonder if he was relieved when the police arrested him, and he confessed. I wonder if for the first time in years he can trust himself because his access to fulfilling his sick desires is denied.
You see, while one part of me has a list of consequences I'd like this man to pay, another part of me identifies with the betrayal. While he betrayed children, which on every level is infintely worse than anything I can imagine, I am guilty of betraying the innocent. Most of us are. Sometimes it's in acceptable forms like white lies and gossip. Sometimes it's bigger and seems a little more unforgivable...
like stealing from someone to pay for a drug addiction,
or committing adultery,
or embezzling on a grand level, suddenly leaving employees without jobs or insurance or retirement.
But child molestation. That one is unforgivable and unredeemable. Right?
While I can't speak as one who's ever experienced it, or as a parent whose child has ever experienced it, I can speak from the perspective of one who has betrayed others. And if I were that man sitting in a prison cell, I'd be praying that someone would toss me a grain of hope. A spark of redemption. An ounce of forgiveness. A seedling of grace for stunned family members. Is it possible?
More than anything, I've wondered about the children. Will they ever fully recover? Will they find the healing process? Or will they live out the rest of their days in fear and shame? Will they ever recover their self worth? Will they hide, or will they have the courage to speak out and bring awareness to this epidemic?
My heart hurts for our small city, for everyone involved. There are so many whose lives are affected. There are so many who have decisions to make in the coming days. And while I don't have any answers, there's one word that keeps coming to my mind...whether I'm thinking of the betrayer or the betrayed. I hope our city seeks and finds healing.