“It’s cliché, I know. Clichés work. That’s how they become clichés.” ~ Raymond Reddington, The Blacklist
Last night my husband and I watched a rather ridiculous movie on TV. It was so forgettable, I have forgotten the title. But a revelation can come unexpectedly. At least to me. Little did I know, this low budget film was about to shift my way of looking at things.
The movie was about 3 teenage boys who were about the same age as Joel when he died. Two of the boys were popular and the third was shy and kept to himself. He was only included because one of the popular guys happened to be his cousin. The 3 boys were running around at night in the woods, when suddenly they came across a huge hole in the ground that looked like it was caused by a meteor colliding with the earth. The hole was glowing and making weird noises, as in low-budget special effects, intended to make it appear radioactive.
As everyone knows, young men have a slow rate of devolpment in the frontal lobe of their brains. Not to overstate the obvious, this is the part of the brain where the functions of judgement, risk assessment and just plain common sense reside. And so, the boys climbed down inside the hole.
And immerged with Super Powers.
They decided to make a pact together to keep their powers a secret. The shy boy lived with his supposedly disabled, alcoholic father and his dying mother. He was an only child. His father physically and verbally abused him regularly. His mother was aware of the abuse, but she was too ill and too frightened to intervene. As a result, the boy’s psyche was constantly and inevitably being packed with unexpressed rage.
Meanwhile, as time passed, the Super Powers all three guys possessed continued to become stronger and stronger. Things were quickly turning into a nightmare. As the movie hurled to its conclusion, the shy boy could no longer control his pent up rage and he suddenly went ballistic. He somehow found himself atop a tall building in what looked like New York City. As a crowd began gathering, he completely lost it and began using his Super Powers to senselessly kill many of the innocent bystanders. There was no stopping him; his also meteor-empowered cousin had no choice other than to kill him.
Ealier in the movie, the shy boy had become obsessed with a dream of traveling to Tibet and summiting a mountain to gain spiritual enlightenment.
The movie ended with his cousin climbing to the summit of a high mountain in Tibet. He carried with him the shy boy’s ashes in a vial. When he reached the mountain’s summit, he placed the vial gently in the cleft of a rock. Then he simply said,
“You made it man. I love you.”
When the movie ended and we were getting ready for bed, I knew there was something familiar about that story. Something that applied to our family. I mulled it over in my head for some time before I realized what it was. It seemed to me that the connection had something to do with what had happened within my relationship with Joel when our twins were between the ages of 14 and 18. This was when my husband had started working as a volunteer with the Lausanne Movement, preparing for a gathering of Christian leaders from all over the world. His role involved four years of exhausting work, as well as extensive overseas travel. Most of which was to South Africa. And he was also continuing in his regular full time, highly stressful job.
Joel had always been a bit more than a handful. He was a delightful, but extremely active and headstrong child. I knew when I agreed to Steve taking on this extra work, there would be a potentially high price I would have to pay. But I had no idea how high that price was going to be.
I had no idea it would cost me everything I had.
At least everything I thought I had. As soon as Steve’s extensive travel began, Joel’s already edgy behavior would quickly change into a frightening downward spiral. Before I knew it, as soon as Steve’s car left the garage, Joel would simply take over our home. I would instantly lose any semblance of authority or respect as a parent. And Joel’s horrifying fits of rage would boil over. There was nothing I could do about it. I was living within an inescapable nightmare.
I was constantly terrified. The stress under which I was living was so great, I had almost completely lost my health. I was in a constant state of “fight or flight”- even while sleeping. I was either close to a panic attack, or having one. And yet somehow, I knew the work Steve was doing with the Lausanne Movement was so important, my small life was worth the sacrifice. Every time he was packing to go, he asked me if he should. And every time, I said, “Yes”. I knew it was the right thing to do for us all to serve God. And at the same time, subconsciously I suppose I knew it was the only thing that I could do to help my son. I honestly thought I could handle it. I didn’t know I couldn’t.
So that is why we sent our son to The Institute. It was an incredibly difficult decision. For me it felt like the most unnatural thing a mother could do. Sending my beloved son away to another state for an entire year? And agreeing to the stringent rules and regulations of the program he would be in? A program that determined when I could write letters to him and even what I could write. And when I could see him again. When I could put my arms around him and give him a hug. When I could see his beautiful toothpaste-ad white teeth, as he flashed his irrresible smile at me. When I could hear the sound of his laugh and smell the scent of his skin again. I missed him so much, I literally thought I would go out of my mind.
But God was with us. When Joel finally came home, he was clean and sober. And he was hopeful about his future for the first time in years. He was again the great kid he had been when he was younger.
But the positive changes in him were short lived.
Three months later, Joel was dead.
After Joel’s death, I could not silence the questions within my mind. They rolled incessantly over and over: Where did I go wrong? Was there some hidden sin or bad choices in my life? Was I a bad mother? Was it somehow my fault that my boy had been taken away from me?
I had no choice but to put my trust in God.
And here was the Unexpected Epiphany hidden within the movie: I suddenly realized Joel, like the boy in the movie, had a huge rage within his tortured soul that he could not hold inside. He had to let it out with someone safe. Someone he could trust to love him unconditionally. No matter what. He would have to find a person with enough unconditional love for him that he wouldn’t have to risk the loss of a relationship with someone he truly loved.
Suddenly I realized that someone was me. Joel wasn’t abusing me… he was trusting me. God had chosen me to carry Joel’s vial home. I was the person chosen to climb that mountain, put his vial at its summit and say to him, “You made it Jojo.”
I love you