Back on the farm, it was just before Christmas and all the members of the house gathered to watch a special movie. We were all together in the main room to watch a movie called Boys Town.
To be clear, I was never into old movies or black and white films. At best, the only black and white shows I’d watch were some of the old sitcoms like The Honeymooners or maybe I Love Lucy.
For the most part, I was far from a movie buff and far from interested in an old film that I could never relate to.
However, in this case and, as usual, I was wrong again.
The premise of the movie was about a priest named Father Flanagan who built a home for boys where they could come in off the street and live a better life. There I was, just barely into a new life that was far away from my old and usual life. I was being made to walk the line. I had rules to follow. I had to wear my clothes a certain way. I had to act and dress and perform as a person with responsibilities. To be clear, I hated this. I hated the rules. I hated the early wake-ups and the work details. I hated that I couldn’t hide away or sneak off somewhere for a cigarette. I couldn’t be lazy nor could I avoid anyone (including myself). In the interim, I was going through my own process of realization. I was starting to see the truth about myself; and with a humble heart – I did not like the reflection I saw in the mirror.
I was on the verge of something yet I had no idea what was about to come my way. My sentencing from the courts were left to this: I was mandated to a long-term treatment facility which meant that, like it or not, my only choices were this place . . . or one year, plus 90 days in a correctional facility.
Boys Town. What the hell could I possibly have in common with a movie that was released back in 1938?
What I recall most was a line from the movie where Father Flanagan said, “There is no such thing as a bad boy.”
There is more to this scene and certainly more to this story; however, I can remember being faced with my own personal truth.
I remember weeping.
I remember being faced with the truth of my cruelties. I remember the things I did to earn my little packages and keep my habit going. Yet, there was this man on the television (acting or not) standing in the warmth of all innocence and purity, explaining how the one thing he knows; that he truly knows is that there’s no such thing as a bad boy.
There was something painful about this. Maybe it would be best to compare this to the times when we were kids and scraped our knees – and then a parent or maybe a nurse at school would spray some kind of antiseptic on it – and then the initial burn would sting something awful.
I remember being told the reason why it stings is because the spray is cleaning out the “bad stuff.” This way, I won’t get an infection.
Well, I say life is like this.
I say there are times when life comes along to give us a view of our personal dirt.
I say life happens and we find ourselves in the face of our truth. In fairness, this is why people run away from themselves.
This is why little kids are afraid to go to the nurse’s office at school when they scrape their knees.
They’re afraid of the burn that comes with the sting from the antiseptic.
I get that. I get that in more ways than one.
I get this from a personal level, like when something so kind and so loving was put before me that the contrast between myself and the light did nothing else but expose the darkness of my truth.
Maybe this is why people tell us the truth hurts.
I can relate to feeling the sting of truth.
I can remember rejecting the light and the warmth of people.
Maybe I wasn’t a good boy.
Maybe I wasn’t a good boy at all but at the same time; I wasn’t a bad boy either.
I couldn’t have been because if I was bad; and I mean if I were truly bad or as bad as I pretended to be, then I wouldn’t have cared. I wouldn’t have had a sense of remorse. If I were truly bad or heartless, then I wouldn’t consider what I did nor would I ever feel guilt or shame. If I was really “about that life,” then I would have had no trouble looking in the mirror with a clear conscience.
I wouldn’t have looked back at my parents and felt shame about the things I did or the things that I took.
I wasn’t a bad boy, but I did do bad things.
The idea of transformation or the thought that perhaps I could be rehabilitated or reformed was unthinkable to me. The reason for this was that the pathways of my thinking were misguided and inaccurate.
That was then . . .
This is now . . .
I am far from a boy and decades away from a small part of my history where I was sat in rooms and made to listen to stories about living a good clean life. I am older now and certainly more seasoned.
I have seen things in this world. I have met both good people and bad people. I have sat in rooms with men who were about to be convicted of terrible things. I have sat with people who sold their bodies and traded their lives (and their souls) for a poison that comes in a tiny white envelope.
I have met with stick-up kids and people who’ve committed armed robbery. I have sat with people who learned and understood the truest concepts of violence with notches on their belts to act as proof that they, themselves, had taken a life.
I have also sat with people who wore their suits and ties or their high-priced business attire and they, too, have committed their own atrocities no different from street corner hoodlums.
I have seen white people and black people and people who speak different languages. I have seen domestic people and people from other countries; yet, at some point – they were once somebody’s little boy or little girl or whichever they choose in-between.
I have stood in front of groups of people who were held in a correctional facility awaiting their time before the judge. Some of them were far from first-time offenders. Many of them knew the legal system better than the court appointed attorneys who represented them.
Some of them would challenge my thoughts; to which I would offer the opportunity to prove me wrong.
No, really. Please.
Go ahead and tell me how your life is justified and tell me again how this is what you would want for your child or your grandkids.
No one ever had an answer for that.
Would you want this for your child?
Someone once responded, “I’d be a fool if I said yes to that, right?”
“No, you’d be a liar,” is what I told them.
It’s not that we don’t know what we’re doing or why. It’s that we don’t want to face our truths. It’s the direction of our thinking. Back when I was on the farm and facing the consequences of my actions, I made a choice.
I cannot say that I have always been a good boy or that I am absolutely sinless.
No, this would be a lie.
I am a constant work in progress.
However, I can clearly see how my thinking impacts my choices. I can see how this affects my moods and my decisions. I can also see where Father Flanagan was coming from when he built a home for boys.
His goal was to help them see a better life. The idea was to build a place where he could teach a new way of thinking. His hope was to save as many kids as he could but . . .
Even though Father Flanagan built a home for boys and although there were probably countless success stories; we all know that life is not like the movies.
Someone once told me how the demons rejected the light because it exposed the darkness of their deeds.
I understand this.
I understand the need to be free from the sting which cleans us from our personal dirt.
I understand the need and the want to be pure or to be good. Yet, there is a thought process that keeps us stuck in a pattern of living in the wrong direction.
I don’t know if it’s true that there is no such thing as a bad boy or a bad kid or a bad person.
Maybe I am jaded. Maybe I’ve met too many wolves in sheep’s clothing; or, maybe I’ve been a wolf in sheep’s clothing myself (too many times in fact). However, I do believe that there is good in the heart.
I do believe in rehabilitation.
I don’t believe that we can quit on our society and see people as hopeless. Therefore, I would rather get rid of excuses and offer an exit to change than cancel people and call them hopeless.
I know that I often talk about building a farm like the one I lived on years ago. I know that I often talk about building a place where people can go because life on the outside just doesn’t make sense.
I want to build a place where the bullied can find safety. I want to create a place where the anxious and the depressed can learn to live worry-free.
I want to build a place where the sting isn’t so intimidating and that while love and warmth might still be intimidating; I want to build a place where people can come to their own realization – and at last, they can be clean from their own personal dirt.
I want to build a place where if asked, “What the hell were you thinking?”
People could answer in a collective and understanding way.
Is there such a thing as a bad person? Maybe there is.
But my place is not going to be built for judgment.
No, I want to build a place where people can come to heal.
I’ll need some help with this, of course.
I’ll need all the support that I can find too.
But somehow, someday . . .
My farm will be real.