“ I struggled then, so I do not know to comprehend that not all love is good, nor all obedience holy” (Call the Midwife)
I tend to binge-watch movie genres and TV series on a popular video-on-demand media stream, complements of one of my daughters. My children being of the technology age are unwilling to settle for regular TV, even movie channels like HBO and Cinemax, the latest and greatest back in the day. My husband works second shift in aerospace so I am alone most evenings. When I get home from a long day at work motivation to work more isn’t on the agenda, especially during the winter months, so I watch the electronic babysitter. The TV works as a babysitter for us older folk, too, not just the little ones!
One of my favorites is the PBS series Call the Midwife, set in 1950’s England. A group of Catholic nuns and young nurses trained as midwives work East End London providing maternity care to the poorest of the poor. After binge-watching the first season, I have concluded birth control was one of the greatest additions to the twentieth century. Today, many young moms-to-be opt for natural childbirth, birth without trauma, and the like, but during the time of the series, there were no choices to be made, and women popped out children by the houseful. I have nothing against children, mind you, I would just prefer not to have them by the dozen. More power to the people who do!
Call the Midwife has all the elements of good cinema; drama, moments of levity, tragedy, triumph, you name it. I am not too far in, as yet, only the second season, but I am hooked. One of the episodes I watched this weekend was about a young couple with a child and another on the way, except behind closed doors the husband was abusive. Jenny, the midwife, suspected as much and got involved, events escalated, thus the opening statement of the blog.
I can admire elements of the Catholic faith. Their practice and belief in Catholic doctrine runs deep, and has for centuries. At the same time the Catholic church continued to grow, many other church flavors floundered and stuttered. And, of all the various flavors, the Catholics have, in my opinion, a fairly balanced view of the scriptures as their Bible states much of it is allegory. Organized religion as a whole is a corrupt, fear-based system, in my opinion.
Since Call the Midwife is set in a convent, naturally the bent of the series is Catholic, and the archaic belief marriage is forever, and the man is the head of the household and therefore may treat his family the way he sees fit, is upheld. Except, in the one sentence Jenny utters after visiting her patient and witnessing the actions of the woman’s abusive husband. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well for the abused young wife and mother. Her husband drugs the little ones with milk and alcohol and leaves with their mother each night to pimp her out. The apartment catches fire one evening, the children are rescued, and the parents convicted of child abuse. Was the young wife truly deserving of prison? In my opinion, most likely not. The mind of an abusive partner is warped at best. The very ones who loudly proclaim love for their families to the world, behind closed doors torment and twist the loyalties and love of others in their care.
No, not all love is good, nor obedience holy. As a society and as a people who profess Christianity, loyalty to a Higher Power, or God, we need to understand and embrace these words. Many times during the years I was married to an abuser I would pray, read the Bible, and ask God to search my heart and illuminate areas I needed to “fix” to become a better wife in His eyes in an effort to stop the abuse. Abusers make their victims believe the victims are to blame for the behavior of the abuser. Today, this all sounds absurd to me, far removed from the life I now lead, and yet, still close enough to understand the toll the whole of our abusive lives took on each of us.
Do I blame the Church and society for turning a blind eye, for believing women are to submit to their husbands, or the victims must have done something to prompt or deserve the abuse? No, I really don’t. I do believe Church teaching has warped the minds of adherents to supposedly God-breathed scriptures. Societal beliefs, in many ways, are Church-related holdovers, or perhaps a general lack of concern for fellow humans, or a little of both. I do, however, blame people. We are sentient beings, more than capable of intelligent thought apart from Church indoctrination, or the bandwagon effect. Humans are quick to take the easy road even when their innermost thoughts and beliefs may be to the contrary, and in this way the archaic beliefs man is the king of his castle, women are to obey their men, children are to be seen and not heard, or “what goes on behind closed doors is none of my business” continues to flourish. For many years I looked for every conceivable explanation for the actions and words used as weapons of punishment on my kids and me. I have since concluded there is no explanation, save to attribute actions and words to choice. Either we choose to own our behaviors and words, or we do not.
During the marriage I had been friendly with my sister-in-law who lived far from the family, by choice, and had spiritual beliefs, and a lifestyle radically different from the accepted “Christian norm” of the rest of us. I applauded her independent thinking, and over the years was one of the few in the family who expressed interest in her spiritual beliefs and lifestyle. It is to her, in small part, I credit with moving away from organized religion and seeking journey with the Divine, or God. And yet, she too offered explanations for her brother’s choices, giving further weight to blood is thicker than water.
On a visit to her childhood state a couple of years after the divorce, she stopped in to see us. We caught up and had a lovely time until she shared with me research she had done on abusive people. Her research concluded babies born five pounds or under were more likely to be abusers in life than babies born over five pounds. I listened politely and patiently to this otherwise intelligent, insightful woman, and then stated emphatically I would no longer tolerate explanations or excuses for his, or anyone else’s, abusive behavior. My twin girls were five pounds and under when they were born, and are two of the most gentle, compassionate, humanitarian women I have ever known. And, there are countless other low birth-weight babies who have grown to become loving, compassionate, productive members of society. Excuses and explanations for people who have chosen to abuse others are as plentiful as the fish in the sea. The bottom line is choice; we choose our behavior, and our words.
If you, or someone you know is a victim in an abusive relationship, there is hope. Keep in contact unless it is dangerous for the victim, let them know you are supportive and will help when they are ready to leave. If it is dangerous to stay in contact, don’t risk the victim being further abused however, if she/he works outside the home, send cards of encouragement to their work address, or call occasionally just to say, “I love you”. Victims need the support of their families, and those on the outside. Please know, the victim must take the lead and let you know when she/he is ready.
If you are the victim, there are agencies willing to help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good place to start. Their number is 1-800-799-SAFE. Most cities have Women’s Shelters for women and children who will provide safety and help. You are not alone.
Not all love is good, nor all obedience holy…….