Most of the favored traditions in the old neighborhood were well-steeped in alcoholic beverages.
Every adult turned a blind eye to the ages of those imbibing as well, as long as they weren't younger than 14 or so. In fact, the drunkest I ever got in my entire life was at the tender age of 16, in full view of the adults that had settled this particular neighborhood when the homes were first built in the 1950s. It was a wedding reception, and the champagne flowed freely. When it was gone, the father of the bride brought out what I would one day learn was his signature recipe for a dry martini. Having had an ample taste of the champagne, I took to Charlie's medicine like a duck takes to water and in the midst of what was surely a brilliant discourse on a vital issue of the day, I'm told I stopped dead in my tracks, halfway across the street, sentence unfinished, and passed out. I have no recollection whatsoever of doing so.
Someone must have helped me to bed, because my next memory involves waking in the darkness, fully clothed, tangled in the bed sheets, reeking of sweat and booze, with a blinding headache and a thirst that couldn't be satisfied, no matter how much water I drank.
I never did take to drink. I tried, more than once, in an effort to go along to get along, but my body quickly expels alcohol and since I really hate throwing up, I gave it up.
Until I was pregnant for Patrick. Because of my propensity for early labor, my OB/GYN wanted me to enjoy a single glass of wine each night before retiring so as to allow my body to relax and to thereby avoid premature labor. In a hormonal snit over one thing or another, one night I chose an oversized tumbler to serve as that single glass. That proved sufficient to put me at decided odds with my husband, who wisely circumvented my alcohol-enhanced diatribe with the statement, "I'm not having this conversation with you right now because you are drunk." Then he went to bed. "The unmitigated gall!" I thought as I retired to the sofa where I quickly fell asleep.
Unfortunately, the next morning I had perfect recall of the night's events and I learned a true lesson in humility. I apologized profusely for my actions having nothing to offer except the lame excuse, "I was drunk," and I have avoided intoxication since.
However, this wasn't my first, nor my final experience with repentance. There are many, many others in my life, and certainly, more to come for as long as I live. It is, however, the first one that comes to mind when I hear the word repentance, because it contains all of the components of repentance.
* Acknowledge the sin. (In this case, there were several, drunkenness merely in the top ten.)
* Sorrow for the harm caused by the sin.
* A sincere determination to turn away from the sin.
Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw) had it wrong all those years ago when she told Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) that "love means never having to say you're sorry," in the 1970 film "Love Story."
And any involved in the Penn State scandal have it wrong today if they continue to stonewall, justify, or defend the characters of the alleged perpetrator of the crimes and those who failed to stop him when they had the opportunity.
I dare say, we all have plenty to be sorry about. The human condition is, after all, a broken condition. But only a coward would witness what the grand jury transcript reveals to be a violent act of rape of a young child, turn his back and do nothing to stop the assault. (Contrary to later revelations by McQueary, the grand jury transcript is clear. He offered no testimony whatsoever indicating that he stopped the assault.)
Perhaps I am ultra-sensitive to situations such as the one described in the transcript because I know victims who suffered similar assaults. (And, just as in what is unfolding at Penn State, when their situations came to light and were reported to their parents, nothing was done to stop the perpetrators. Nor was anything done to protect the boys, nor to protect any future victims.)
Maybe I just recognize evil when I see it and dare to take a stand against it, risking all -- job, reputation, even life itself. Perhaps it's both -- only God knows.
The list of names, both of victims and co-conspirators, continues to grow in the Penn State scandal. Only those directly involved know what in their world was worth what amounts to child-sacrifice. Only they can name the fear that silenced them, stopped them from acting, or kept them from pursuing justice. Only they know now what true repentance will look like. Will it look like the woman caught in adultery, told to "go and sin no more"? Will it look like Zaccheus who repaid all those he had defrauded? Will they fall prostrate before their victims exclaiming, "I have sinned against heaven and you!"? Or will they remain cowards to the end, sacrificing all, even their very souls to fear?
These things are true:
* The past cannot be undone, but the damage done can be acknowledged and healing can begin
* Today matters, as does every tomorrow we have left before us
* Repentance means that today I will not shrink back in fear; today, I can learn, and do, the right thing.
As horrific as this scandal is, even as it worsens as the investigations continue and victims continue to step forward, this is only a very public view of a very real problem in our "if it feels good, do it" culture. To pretend that in the grand scheme of things, sin really doesn't matter because everyone sins completely ignores the very real need for justice, for absolutes, and serves to silence those who would otherwise stand and say, "No! This stops now!"
"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." James 4:17 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.