I forgot my bus pass today but the driver mercifully gave me a free ride to Fairhaven. My backpack bulged with a new ball of ocean blue yarn, and a pair of lightweight, sleek knitting needles. At about half the length, they don’t have the visual impact of my heavy, granny needles but my forearms are tired and I want to pick up my speed for the final stretch.
I met a tall man with a big head and glasses named Kevin and his sidekick Scott, a short blond viking with a goatee. They both work at a company on South Hill that encourages its employees to conduct their meetings on foot around the neighborhood. “You must be getting close!” Kevin said. Everyone has been asking me about my progress lately.
J. (the former grower of raspberries) hopped out of her truck and visited with me for a while, asking if I still conduct art tutorials. She said that Blaine is much quieter than Bellingham, and that it has allowed her to make her artwork without distractions.
S. came walking up the hill. She is the tiny retired psychology professor who always wears shorts and walks uphill to Western every day. I had always assumed she was some kind of type A workaholic–because what other retiree would go use the computer in the library everyday, pouring hours of her life into an academic paper?
“I’m writing my last chapter in a book of over 500 words…You know the Truth and Reconciliation work that they’ve done in Canada with the natives who were abused at the boarding schools? It’s like that…but it’s with the native people in Eastern Washington. It all began when I was a professor at WWU, and I was asked to give a presentation in Eastern Washington on Family Violence to the people from the reservation. My talk went into overtime because more and more people kept wanting to share. After my talk, people came up one by one and told me about the Jesuit priest who sexually abused them. I didn’t know what to do. I came back to Bellingham. I was distraught, I just couldn’t put it out of my mind. So I called a Jesuit friend and asked him what to do. And he told me to file a complaint. So I did, and I got testimony from the victims. They settled out of court.”
“I know that most Jesuits do good work in the community, it’s just a minority that make the rest of them look bad. Then they all get painted with the same brushstroke. But until the Jesuit Order comes forward and condemns these acts as wrong, they will all continue to bear the shame.”
I sat thinking, wow, she’s gutsy. I know this woman–she is a faithful Catholic who attends mass every day (after changing out of her shorts).
“Chris, it’s like this…If I punched you in the face and gave you a bloody nose, and then walked away and never did it again, there would still be a barrier between us. In order for that barrier to come down, I’d have to admit that I did something wrong, and say I was sorry. This is what’s happened to these people but on a much bigger scale. The priest who committed these horrific acts continues to deny it. He lives like a king–albeit under house arrest–at a nearby Catholic university were he gets all his meals, medical and dental care. I’ve talked to the victims–some of them have gone on to lead happy lives, but others are horribly wounded. I think about them and pray for them every day. I know them.”
I gazed into her eyes and saw the depth of her identification with these people who were not a statistic but her friends. I saw the fire of love and justice that drives her up that hill every day. I saw a warrior disguised as a 5 foot tall granny.