Good or Evil or Both?
From October 2003
Last week the headmaster from the school my daughter attended through fifth grade was arrested for child pornography. It seems that he was entering chat rooms for 13- and 14-year-olds and sending them graphic pictures of things he would like to do to them. I forced myself to write the last two sentences. It is the only way to make real the fact that someone I know — an old, old friend — has a dark side that reaches far beyond what I can look at with any compassion whatsoever.
His picture — not one of the many I have of him in a scrapbook, but rather, his mug shot — was staring at me from the front page of the NY Post when I went to work on Tuesday. I looked into his eyes and wondered who he is. I thought back to my memories of lunches gone by, where he taught me things: that grammar is not as important as expressing yourself; that my daughter is special; that I was better at pool than he is; that basketball is a game of ballet, teamwork, and resilience; and that he was willing to stand up and ask for what he wanted.
You see, I thought I knew this man. I do know this man. I am certain that he woke up each and every day and was as certain that this was the day he would stop doing what could hurt the individuals he has done so much to serve. He is/was (which tense to use is a complicated issue for me now) a caring person, often putting others above himself. Watching him teach Cuisenaire rods to first-graders because he loves math and wants kids to love it too was like watching a great movie.
So, how to figure out the larger picture? I realize today that we are not one-dimensional. I have always been confident that the scumbags who hurt our children are only that: scumbags who hurt children. But here is a man who mentored thousands of young individuals through adolescence (including my adopted daughter from Bosnia) with a kindness and sense of purpose that gave them the confidence to believe that they are someone. How can I possibly reconcile that man with the man staring back at me from a mug shot — a man who preyed upon at least one 14-year-old girl?
Truth is, I can’t. Which leads me to the point of this missive, and that is that the old adage “Judge not …” is not something to ignore. I really can’t judge him. I want him to get help. I want him to serve time. And, perhaps most importantly, I want him to know that he is more to me than the sum of his darkest side. And, that I will likely never see him again.
We never really know the pain, evil, and horror inside those around us. I have to believe that this lesson — Jack’s last as one of my educators — is that one-dimensional no longer applies to people. Good and evil are not absolutes. It’s time for me to realize that three-dimensional does not necessarily mean three like dimensions, but rather, many dimensions that don’t always fit together to make a perfect whole.
It’s almost 20 years later, and Harvey Weinstein, and Donald Trump, and Kavanaugh and Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and possibly the secret service, and oh-so-many others have been felled by truth. We are all trying to distinguish truth from lies, and discovering what I wrote in my journal 15 years ago about a man I have thought of often over the years comes to mind. He had a number of truths: Great educator. Mentor to thousands of kids. Pedophile. All truths. But I realize now that the pedophile truth was a deal breaker to all the others. It’s like working out for two hours so you can have an extra pint of ice cream. The real drive is the ice cream. That’s who you really are. Not the workout queen everyone admires.
So, I see him differently today. I see how he groomed me by helping me with my weaknesses to arrive at his endgame. We gave more money to the school because of my relationship with him. I supported changes he wanted to make in the school. I elevated his stature through my own. I was his friend. I was his enabler, as I have been for the politicians around me that haven’t served me well.
And, that we all have looked away for decades from the lies around us as we set about our daily lives leaving the safety of women and our country’s future to the the people we put in power of the world to take care of for us. We walked away from our responsibility. We are not here to empower others, we are here to work alongside them and do what needs to be done to build the country and family and friendships that we want. We are responsible to hold them accountable. We cannot just hand them the keys to the kingdom and walk alway. Pelosi. Schumer. They have been in power for decades and this is where we are? Shame on me.
I have had dinner with Schumer. Many times actually. He never really answered my questions, but I continued to support him. Or at the very least, I didn’t take way my support. Anyone at this moment in time who is taking off the month of August in DC who should be at work trying to make sure the election doesn’t put the final end to our democracy, is not a good politician or leader. They feign caring and action, but results matter and they are very very short on results. So short that taking a month off now is not an option. So, my ambivalence around any of these men and women who are destroying all that I truly believe in, the teacher who was my friend included, is gone. All good deeds that lead to a free ride to evil are no longer good deeds. So what now? That’s the question.