Ray and Janay Rice – their February Atlantic City altercation during which he knocked her unconscious and the ongoing reverberations in renewed focus on violence in the universe of human relationships and in that corporate sports-entertainment monopoly known as the National Football League – have kept me up at night, reducing my typical 5-6 hours of sleep to 3-4 (day by day, making it increasingly more difficult for this 62-year old to function with any semblance of sense). This morning, awaking at 3, I prayed, wrestling with both my angels and demons, asking myself: Why? This is what I discerned…
I’ve recited the tale, my tale so many times that I can reduce it to shorthand. Still, sometimes when I ruminate on it afresh, I feel like a voyeur surreptitiously standing on tiptoe at a window, looking in, spying on someone else’s saga in some largely risk-free attempt to catch some scant sight of behaviors, both good and not so, from which I, later retiring to reflect in solitude’s leisure, might learn something useful for my continued life’s journey. Yet whenever I attempt this out of body, out of psyche maneuver, I am undone every time, for the window always proves to be a mirror.
My father, a good man who loved his family, was possessed of an unstinting sense of responsibility, caring for my mother, my brother Wayne, and me beyond measure. He also was deeply embittered by many disappointments; chief of which, a lack of opportunity to fulfill dreams arising from his vast pool of talents. Daily, with alcohol, his drug of choice, he would spend evenings alone playing one-man Bridge (repeatedly dealing four hands, turning tricks, and processing the patterns) or, quite conversely (I used to consider it wholly ironic, but, for quite a while, no longer), reading the Bible; all in his solitary effort, I believe, to anesthetize his inner rage. Sometimes, when successful, our home was quiet. When not, when his volcanic temper erupted, it wasn’t. He could be physically abusive (though blessedly never to my mother as far as I know) and emotionally overbearing as he, in pledging to provide for Wayne and me “chances I never had”, sought, through our living present, to relive, to revive his distant, discouraging past. Generations before “do-over” and “boundary violation” were popular terms, my father, running roughshod over our native individuality, demanded that Wayne and I think and feel, speak and act as he deemed right. Wayne was cleverer than I, oft holding in clandestine reserve his views, and I, noisily rebellious. Nevertheless, each of us received more than a share of the wrath of my father’s belittling correction.
My mother, a good woman who loved her family, was the embodiment of the Christian grace of holiness as it was defined and preached, especially for women, during her formative years. Rarely a critical word and never a curse crossed her lips. Without fail, she practiced the adage of saying nothing about people or things or ideas unless her thought was kindly and her temper mild, which explained, as much as I could understand, why she oft sat in silence. Sadly, her reticence expressed itself in her quiescent obedience to my father’s rule of our home, never a happy place for me.
The summer of 1970, before entering college that fall, was the last time I lived year-round in the Abernathy household. From college to seminary and beyond, I, the prodigal son, would visit on fleet occasion, but never return to stay in the home that wasn’t home for me.
Through the years, through many means – among them, chiefly, the love and kindly counsel, support, and forbearance of my wife and daughter and friends, and prayer and therapy – I slowly have understood that in seeking to escape the abuse of my youth, I could not erase the wounds that mark my soul, which I, in oft unconscious, but no less self-righteous ways, inflicted on others. Those who know me best, that is, well, all too often have witnessed me at my worst. Not physically abusive, but – with a sharp sensitivity to slights (real or imagined), a fiery, quick-to-rile temper, a ready mind filled with deprecating words, and a rapier-tongue – emotionally punishing (in some perverse sense, succeeding and outdoing my father). Moreover, and as important, over the past 10 years, I progressively have discerned and deepened my practice of my theology and its immediate, active ethical expression in unconditional love (benevolence) and justice (fairness) for and toward all.
All this said, this is the truth, my truth. The Rices disturb my sleep because I (though here I speak symbolically, for I do not – and I dare never to – reduce always complex human beings to mere signs) am Ray Rice and I am Janay Rice. I have within me the power and propensity to abuse and the penchant, the proclivity to absolve the abuser; to claim responsibility for the abuse whilst doing little by conscious choice to do, to be otherwise. This, I think, is somewhat analogous to knowing that there are military munitions buried somewhere in my backyard, but rather than seek them out, at least (if not to remove or neutralize them) to know where they are and their potential triggers, I tiptoe about hoping not to set them off. It is time, far past time for me to do something else, to be someone else, that is, more fully my self. Wounded, yes. Always. As long as I have breath. But, in every waking moment, with every mindful, prayerful intention, not allowing (or trying not to allow) my woundedness to be the sole, even primary clarifying lens through which I look either through the windows of the souls of others or into the mirror of my own likeness.
One other thing…
I am a sports aficionado. In my youth, I played many. In mine older age, I’ve enjoyed being a spectator. I’ve also discerned that I like violence, whatever the arena, athletic or otherwise, less and less and less, verily, not at all…
So, I’m taking a self-imposed sabbatical from watching sports that involve the premeditated infliction, the practiced imposition of bodily pain and suffering. For how long? I don’t know. What I do know is that I need to concentrate, to spend more time and energy paying attention to those clashing, crashing parts within me, whose conflicts all too often have spilled out onto the streets of my daily living.