Under the Clouds of Smoke and Rain of Ash and Soot

By Didacus Ramos

SAS Class of 1968

     Driving home from Santa Barbara as the worst fire in California history raged out of control all around me, I realized that the Franciscans may not be all that interested in me changing them. In fact, they may not be all that interested in me. And why should they be? What does it gain them? For all I know they are smug in their position within the Catholic Church. I am just their flotsam cut lose many, many years ago.

     While in Santa Barbara for a scheduled meeting of survivors, we, the survivors, were asked about our feelings, how they were being addressed and what priority should they have. Several of us put forth that we unequivocally support all actions taken by survivors regarding the OFM. Some of us are thinking punitively; some preventively; others cooperatively; still others are simply thinking that we, the damaged, be made whole.

     When last I was in therapy a while back--alright, several years ago--alright, a few decades ago--my therapist almost threw a party for me when I said that I could not change my parents thinking, but I accept it even if I disagree with it. That was a breakthrough. And that's my starting point on this journey.

     What am I after in this process? I am at the beginning of the process, still numb from admitting to myself what happened so long ago. For a brief moment I played with the idea of ignoring the discovery. Then I listened to one of my brothers imparting his story to us, how he was abused, how he buried it, how the demon reared its head and hurt the people he loved, and finally what he lost and what a priest had stolen from him. My moment passed. The moderator asked if everyone was all right. I didn't say anything. Qui tacet consentit. (Silence implies consent.) I was more afraid that a crack in my voice would betray me.

     Someone asked, "Did he have a fish tank in his room?"

     There was a fish tank with the disinterested colorful fish unaware that they were captives. I remember the fish.

    "What do you remember about the room?"

     I remember the window. It was dark outside. Lights twinkled in the distance. Yes, the lights were part of a different reality. Not mine. Was someone being hurt under those lights? Were people laughing? I remember the lights. I remember the window.

     What would we want from the Province? What do we need? The blood was up. "Take no prisoners!" felt like a better rallying cry. I didn't say anything.

     At the survivors' meeting we were asked to make a wish list. Immediately "red ants and honey" popped into my mind. The moderator continued asking us to name what the Province could supply us with that would aid in the healing. Still, in my mind, red ants and honey sounded like a good beginning. But it was a serious question and I wasn't sure that the group would understand that my request was serious, too.

     Another brother sitting next to me voiced his anger at the injustice and defensiveness of the Order. He enunciated, "No reconciliation without accountability." He quivered. I felt the tremors through the floor.

     Could we just end this now, please? No. Mold and rot only stop when the light of day burns them out. That hasn't happened yet. Too much is still hidden.

     Over the years I have learned to hide. When others are being emotional. Hide. They look like fools. When a good friend told me that his brother had been abused. Hide. Deny. Same thing. Couldn't happen. Didn't happen.---There, I can move on.

     Twenty years passed. Many more were hurt, damaged, torn. They were raped. And, with my brothers' loss of innocence, the priests lost both their divinity and humanity. But I didn't cry. I forgot.

     Spartacus was accused of treason and was offered amnesty for all if he surrendered. As we know, the Romans lined the Apian Way with crucified slaves-all named Spartacus. He among them. Tell me, did Spartacus go to heaven?

     All I want is to be free, to know peace, to not fear the beast that I know lies dormant, eyes wide open inside of me. I'm not sure when and how I will gain my peace. But for me, right now, I cannot ask for help from those who betrayed us. One of my brothers related how when he was violated there was a witness. The witness saw but did nothing. Dona nobis pacem.

     I thought I was being trained to be brave. I thought I was learning honesty, humility and humor. Hillel the Great in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers, a tractate of the Mishnah), said, "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? If not now, when?"

     I am seeking the essence of humanity. This tractate gives me peace even though it heralds a prelude to the fight. You see, peace is not the absence of aggression but the absence of silence in the face of injustice. Peace smiles broadly and bellows a laugh. In the words of the Cohenim, the sons of Aaron, the priestly cast of the house of Israel, "May he show his countenance to you and give you peace."

     The fantasies of boyhood fall like scales from my eyes. From a cocoon I emerge-still a caterpillar. The transformation did not occur. No bell will give me my wings. My wish list has only one item on it--give me peace.

October 28, 2003

Los Angeles, CA