Let it begin with me

I recently caught the ending of the Menendez brothers’ story being shown as a TV series detailing the brutal murders of their parents by the young men in 1989. I had caught bits and pieces over the last couple months and just the very end of the last episode, so I can’t say I know the whole story. However, I did catch in the few scenes I saw that there was an alleged element of sexual abuse by the brothers’ father toward them when they were children. In the last few minutes of the series, the big disclosure comes out that their father was similarly treated by his mother, a fact the boys’ aunt laments that brought this illness to these boys a generation later.

Such stories are not unique, well maybe the gruesome parental murder part, but not the cross generational effects of such tragic childhood experiences. I know so many people who struggle with issues today that stem from dysfunctional parents or even from ancestors they may never have known. I look at my crooked pinky, the result of “Vikings” disease, and can only imagine what atrocities some distant ancestor may have caused. Could there be some unresolved effect even today?

For me, at least superficially, every time I look at it I’m acutely reminded of the need to be kind to others to perhaps compensate for a life so many generations back that was not motivated in that way. I’m reminded to try to make right in this lifetime something that may not have been this way then. I’m reminded of our human failings so it keeps me humble and thankful for grace.

We each live our lives to the best of our abilities, struggling sometimes inexplicably with thoughts, actions, or emotions we can’t explain, perhaps springing from a deep place from centuries back. So what can we do today?

In the case of the Menendez brothers, the childhood abuse was a toxic secret. This fact alone caused the severity of the negativity to gain even more power over them, propelling them from a place of fear and hurt to one of anger and revenge. Clearly in their grandmother’s lifetime, she did not choose to address the problem, thus allowing it to breed and take hold on the next generation. Perhaps it didn’t even start with her but had come from prior ancestors causing even more intensification of the atrocity. Denial in the boys’ generation only increased the demonic hold on them for they were not even able to know or understand their actions. The pattern caught them blindsided, literally, with parents equally not choosing to bring light to the darkness. Two seemingly nice boys from a typical family to go so awry. . .?

How many times do we read about people acting erratically, unpredictably, sometimes even violently, to the surprise of those who know them? How often do our friends or relatives surprise us with unanticipated actions? How often do we surprise ourselves with our own dark thoughts or unexpected reactions?

To what extent these influences are demonic, sociological, or psychological is not really as important to understand as what we choose to do about them. I believe there is truth to generational curses but it’s not helpful to stop there. So many generations after Adam and Eve, what can we expect? After all, we are human.

What we can do in this generation, at this time, is to recognize and address these prior influences and failings. Perpetuating family secrets, or even unhealthy family dynamics, can stop with us. Start speaking with that family member no one likes. Learn more about your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, not just the favorite stories, but about some of their struggles as well. Cultivate a place for nonjudgmental discussion. Admit our own vulnerabilities to ourselves and to trusted others who can help us see our blindspots. Assuming most of us are not sociopaths, follow that inner voice. We know when we’re acting badly. We just don’t always want to admit it and do the right thing. And if in doubt, let kindness guide your steps.

Through prayer, therapy, discussion, and education we can improve our self awareness and precipitate healing. As light is shed on secrets that may bind us, a huge step forward to change can become a reality.

It’s not an easy process, but healing for this and the next generation begins with each of us. As the verse goes:

“Let there be peace on earth.
And let it begin with me.”

Shabbat shalom.

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