On a recent vacation trip to Hawaii, the wife and I decided to take a tour of Pearl Harbor. Before boarding the Navy vessel that takes you out to the USS Arizona site, we were reminded that there are over 900 men entombed in that ship still, almost all of whom died in their late teens and early twenties, and that we should act respectfully.
While I am more than a little disappointed that reminder was necessary, and I’m sure it is, I was also reminded of something that is true of anyone who dies young, including child abuse victims. They are always remembered as victims, and honored as such. They didn’t live long enough to do something that would alter that.
This ties in very much with something I recently shared on the News and Reviews site as well. In the linked article, the author discusses the idea that the photos that we see in stories about child abuse are always of young, innocent, victims. They are frozen in that time of childhood. Just like the men of the Arizona, if they were killed as children, that is all we have to remember them by, but if they survive, sometimes things don’t always stay that way.
Think of the survivors of Pearl Harbor. Many of them went on to do heroic things during the War, but I’m sure some others simply went on to become crappy husbands, fathers, or just mean people. Some of them may have been racist, others may have had issues with alcoholism or any number of negative outcomes.
We probably don’t “remember” them as fondly as we do the ones who died on Dec 7, 1941. The truth is, that the ones who survive are likely to suffer from PTSD, and/or other mental health issues, and those issues don’t always look so pretty. The same is true of abuse survivors. Those innocent children we see in the photos may very well grow up to be troubled teenagers, or adults with mental health issues and lacking in social skills. We might well have been a little preoccupied with simply surviving childhood instead of developing at the same rate as other children, so as adults, we may not come across as well.
The truth is, that a dead child is a dead child, and always will be. That is sad, and no one needs to be told to feel sadness about that. I don’t believe there is anything more tragic than young lives taken away. The harder thing for us, as a society, is to see that trauma play out in grownups and still feel the same sympathy. There’s something about having to be faced with what may be negative personality traits and still remembering that it’s the trauma, that the innocent child survivor does not magically get better when they become an adult. They may still be learning and healing. That’s not always a sympathetic picture. But they still deserve our sympathy and support as they heal.
That’s not to say that survivors get a free pass to behave badly. Clearly, once we become adults, we are responsible for how we choose to react to our situation, and for our own healing. But, a little grace could go a long way here. An adult survivor struggling and going through the healing process might not look as sympathetic as the child in those articles, but they need support and encouragement just as much.