The Last Laugh

Give me a child until he is seven, says an old Jesuit motto,  and I will give you the man. I was six years old when I was molested. He would beat my skull with the sharp edge of a wooden ruler till I did as I was told. The abuse lasted for months. It helped him that I had been prepped in kindergarten by bullies who stole my lunches. The bullying lasted throughout my school life. Oh, and I was fatherless at aged three. Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man. Well, yes and no. Yes because these three major wrongs did impact the way I reacted to the world, and no because I refuse to let them have the last laugh.

People always wonder why I never laugh out loud. You know, the clutching-the-belly kind of laughter. I suppose I lost that ability to be playful, as though that hurt child within needed to be shielded from the big bad world. In my youth I was the sober one in the bar while everyone else was punch drunk. And serious people rarely have make friends, if at all. How I envy the bonding ritual of others: girls giggling silly together, boys black-slapping, elbows poking one another. They say that when a child is molested the inner parent emerges (even at aged six) to shield the child from harm. But the inner parent also isolates. I tend to distrust people until they prove themselves trustworthy (salespeople and con artist have a tough time with me). It is exactly as though there is a parent sitting on my shoulder, wagging a finger towards that man with the shifty eyes. Being isolated never feels secure, despite the inner parent. It makes you more vulnerable.

Worse than any of this is my tendency to react with anger when strangers bump into me, or encroach on my space. “Where did that come from?” people ask, when I react out of proportion. I do not know, I used to reply. I do now though. I now realize that at these moments that hurt child emerges, it is he who is reacting to the bullies, the abusers whenever I am touched without invitation. There is no denying that what happened to me before aged seven shaped the man I became, until that is, I realized that it had. It has taken many years of reflection, and the help of a good therapist, to see the pattern of damage in my psyche from those early years. But the beauty of introspection is that once you realize what the problem, it gets fixed. It is as though a strange spell had held me in its sway all these years. Recovery does not happen suddenly. It is a process, but realizing the cause brings awareness of what is at play. Awareness is power. Awareness is freedom.

Some say that the inner child then needs to be hugged in order to heal. To this end they use dolls which represent their childhood self, they feed it, dress it, put it to bed. If it works for them, go ahead and do it. For me, I found another way to nurture him that makes sense to me. I look for him in the eyes of people who are worse off than I am. No need to go to the slums of Mumbai to find such people, there are plenty right here in Canada. I have encountered a homeless man who is undergoing chemo, another one who is blind and unable to walk. I constantly meet old people who have been in hospital for months without a visit from their sons and daughters. People suffer from isolation, loneliness, sickness, loss. Having found others suffering, I try to do something to ease it a little. I like the old Boy Scouts’ motto: do one good deed everyday. It need not be anything life changing, it can be as small as making someone feel appreciated.

I think that the worse part of having been bullied and abused was that I was treated as a non-person. In a big city, how often do we treat strangers as non-persons? To be watchful of that is an act of no small kindness. Holding the door open, acknowledging others in line before you, being mindful of not cutting off others, these are all good deeds. Living near the hospitals I often see elderly people with walkers standing at the top of the subway stairs, wondering how they are going to manage down those stairs. And dozens of younger people will walk or run past them without acknowledging their existence, let alone their plight. I don’t feel the need to literally do at least one good a day, but I do so whenever the opportunity arises. Sometimes, within the eyes and in the smiles of the people I have helped, I see my child self. It makes me weep. It is those tears which wash away the hurt of that boy under seven. He has the last laugh.

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