I’m usually pretty mild-mannered, encouraging someone or another to calm down and see the other side of an issue. I’m an advocate for whoever doesn’t have a voice, something that makes all my kids nuts, because when they want to tattle the last thing they want to hear is why the offender may have acted in that way. I let most things slide off and haven’t been offended in a long, long time.
Today, however, it was a struggle to keep Mama Bear in line.
I’m blessed by a conversation with a friend the other day and the opportunity to share my theories about mental illness and spiritual integrity. To paraphrase one of his comments loosely, we lose the integrity of our soul when we are so possessed by an idea that we would force it on someone else. I’ve been thinking about that, and it was probably what saved me today from speaking when I should “keep these things and ponder them in my heart.”
Some years ago we rented a home from a man who had taken his family to the woods of Idaho. We laid out a lease-option agreement, verbally, in which he would trade our caring for the home as if it were ours (including any and all repairs) and we would agree on a purchase price in one year, with all of our investments going toward that purchase price. We enjoyed living there very much. However, in one year he withdrew the agreement as if it had never occurred (I’ve since learned something about those who advertise their faith as a business practice), as he had lost his home in Idaho and his family was penniless. For four months we spoke about the home and he waffled back and forth. They would rent a home a few doors down, he decided. Then he changed his mind and demanded that we leave immediately. They would be needing some cash, so he took our rent, then came back and tried to hand it back and demand we leave. In the midst of all this he wanted to come over and work in my garden. Uh, no.
Finally, he discovered that he could evict us merely by claiming that we had not paid our rent, and if I did not give proof within three days, the sheriff would bring everyone out of the house and lock the doors. So he chose the week that I would be gone for Girl’s Camp to present his falsified documents to the court. By the grace of God, the sheriff’s deputy served the 3-day notice the Saturday before I left for a week, and my children were not homeless while I was at Girl’s Camp, although I did have to miss the first half of a camp we’d been planning for 8 months to submit the necessary documents to the court. While we were moving out the next month to a house a couple of doors down, I received an email invitation from him to “hook up” at a singles dating site.
Still speechless about that one.
He then cheated on his wife, left her with five small children, harassed and terrorized her, and after a long and ugly divorce … he now lives two doors the other side of me. His oldest son is the same age as my youngest son and they’ve been friends, though that has been increasingly strained over time. All of my other kids have insisted that it’s not a good thing, because this boy is breathtakingly rude (as in calling him vile things when I’m not around) and my son just lets it roll off. Still, he has seemed to want to spend time with my son, and I’ve encouraged my son to be kind, and in return he has accompanied their family on several outings. Every one of those outings with this man have been colored by an incident that sets my teeth on edge, and they’ve stimulated quite a few conversations with my son. Still, for the sake of his son, I couldn’t withdraw our support and friendship, even as completely distasteful as I find this man.
Then the boys went on a campout with our scouts. After staying up all night, my son teased his friend by grabbing his sled and taking off down the hill. He’d gone about ten feet when he bailed off, because his friend had lit into him more viciously than usual, dropping F-bombs and calling him and me both names. My son shrugged it off with a “geez, dude, take your sled” and climbed the hill, passing his big brother and telling him what had happened. His brother was irritated and off he stomped to grab a young man by the front of his coat and give him a stern talking to. Out came the language again, and older son popped him in the mouth.
When they came home, this boy’s dear mother called to warn me that her ex-husband was on the rampage. I asked the boys what happened and was told the story while I just shook my head. “Why not just walk away,” I said tiredly. “Because we’re sick of the way he talks,” older son said firmly. However, after some discussion, older son decided to go apologize. He met the father and son coming from one of the young men leader’s homes and started his apology, but this man began telling him that he was a bully who had a history of targeting younger boys, and that if he did not manage his anger he would be abusive to his children (how ironic this is, I can’t begin to describe). My son turned on his heel and walked back to our car, and as he was pulling away this man literally chased the car.
Very soon he was at our home, inviting himself in, telling me I was the best Gospel Doctrine teacher in the history of teachers, and how deeply concerned he was about my son. On and on and on he talked, and it became clear that he was interested in dragging this out into a crucifixion of my son. I told him that I would talk with him in the presence of our bishop, and after reiterating this three times, he finally left my home. Later that evening people began calling me to tell me that he had been to their homes, interrogating the boys who had gone on the campout, telling each family that my son was out of control and needed to be stopped. In one case, he even entered a home in which the single father was not home and the boys didn’t know what to do to get him to leave. They were seriously unsettled, and when their father returned home, he was livid, and called me to tell me so.
During that evening I received a call from a man who identified himself as a sheriff’s deputy, but immediately began talking to me about the problems my son was facing. He asked me no questions, merely began detailing the consequences my son faced. I was speechless, knowing the law and the role of an officer in investigating, and immediately suspected that this was an impersonator. He wanted to speak to my son, and I allowed it, but when he began the same conversation with my son I asked for the phone back and demanded to know what the purpose of the call was.
He immediately backpedaled and said that he was investigating a crime, and I said, “then investigate.” He indicated that this man had called him, confirmed his intent not to press any charges, but out of the goodness of his character just wanted someone to talk to my son, there not being a father in the home and all. I asked him if he had completed his lecture to his own satisfaction, and he stumbled that that would be all. I immediately called the dispatcher and asked if there was an officer by that name. To my surprise, there was. Out there in Heber County is a sheriff’s officer who does not understand the law or his role as a law enforcement professional.
The following day we had an appointment with the bishop: my oldest son, me, this man, and his son. His son didn’t come and he was 15 minutes late himself, but my friend (the boy’s mother) did come. This man immediately launched into a long and wandering discussion of the need to ensure that people suffered consequences for their actions, and after a time I couldn’t take it anymore. I left the interview, and the bishop ended the discussion a short time thereafter since it was clear that this man merely intended to hold everyone hostage by their good intentions and just talk everyone to death. Before this man had arrived my son had offered his apology to the boy’s mother, the bishop had offered a review by an LDS counselor for my son, and the boy’s mother had accepted an offer for my boys to clear her driveway of ice as a service. Later that evening the boys met at her house, traded apologies, at chocolate together, and she indicated that this man would not be pressing charges.
The next day I was notified by the sheriff’s deputy that this man was pressing charges. I spoke with a friend who is a detective and he indicated that it was a case of “mutual combat” and is very common among boys. Usually the best thing is for the boys to work it out themselves, but when parents get involved it grows bigger and uglier than it needs to be. He also couldn’t understand the sheriff’s deputy’s strange behavior, but was most concerned with the visits this man made to all the families. Had it been a criminal investigation, it would have been witness tampering (a felony), and it was certainly not his job to investigate crime, it was theirs, he said indignantly. He offered to call the deputy and ask some questions. The deputy never returned his call.
So why was today a challenging day? My son had the last of three appointments with an LDS counselor, who did her duty but basically said that this was a bit pointless, and we attended an educational hearing for first offenders at the juvenile court. We left with two options: to either go to court and drag this whole situation out again, or to sign a plea in abeyance and pay a fine of $150 for my son’s privilege of keeping a clean record.
I’m remembering a man with no integrity who has spoken widely about the fact that he’s going to magnanimously let this drop, but who has done nothing of the sort.
I spent years dealing with a man who had no integrity, and people said later, “Aw, that’s too bad.” There was no one to stand up, no one to defend, but me. I was told to be charitable, long-suffering, and even when others understood, they still really didn’t want to see a nice woman angry, or resentful, or masculine. I defended my children from evil with my own bravado, because that was what I had.
Today I’m having a debate with myself. I remember the power of bravado. I can hold it in my hands, and it fits as nicely as a .357. I can hold my own against anyone, and I really don’t give a rat’s tailfeathers whether it’s feminine or not. I have little patience with people who challenge those who are challenged to behave according to Christian principles that are going to make them further vulnerable. But I also know that that kind of armor, while useful battling an aggressive enemy, is impervious to the spirit. To be so possessed by the spirit of protectiveness of my young ones that I can’t hear the small voice of their Father – that is sobering.
Is there more power in stillness, forgiveness, walking away, holding one’s tongue, and paying-the-fine-quietly-even-though-it’s-not-right? I don’t know. I’m not yet completely convinced that we permanently lay down sword-wielding bravado, whether or not we slice away the Roman guard’s ear. But I’m still figuring it out, me and Mama Bear, and I’ll remain relatively quiet until I do. Perhaps I may decide to forgive altogether. I may also end up on someone’s doorstep giving him a piece of my mind and the specific conditions under which I would someday wax his tailfeathers, but the likelihood of that is fading as the evening fades into night.
I think I’d rather possess my own soul than be right.
And this wonderful essay, posted in perfect time again by a friend, is helping. I’m going to read it again. Almost I’m convinced to let Mama Bear keep right on sleeping peacefully.