Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Prison

So, maybe I was a little hard on myself last week. There's a fine balance between responsibility and compassion, I guess. And I've been learning the lesson all week.

For instance, I'm riding to work at the prison one morning, listening to public radio when the announcer announces a story delivered by a Connecticut reporter named Abby Cousins (made-up-name.) A sudden blast of cold air blew up my sleeve as I recognized the name - there could only be one Abby Cousins - she joined the cult with me way back in the seventies and I knew she lived in the same state as I did now. I knew she was still in one of the splinter groups of The Way, a rather innocuous reincarnation of a "twig" fellowship but we had fallen out of touch.

Abby was a strong influence in my life when I was a teenager. She was two years older than me and I looked up to her in every way - from the clothes that she wore to the schools she attended. I wanted to be like her. Her parents were very well-to-do and unlike mine, belonged to all the best country clubs, bought the best clothes and served in the local church. They even took me in, a charity case, when my mother had to travel on business and my father was drinking. No one could trust my father to take proper care of me when he was drunk. Once, Mrs. Cousins scolded me for borrowing one of her pencils and not returning it immediately. "Are you a borrower, Kris?" Her words filled me with shame.

But Abby. How I wanted to be like her - with her effortless charm, brains, and old money. She wasn't beautiful but was attractive in a healthy, affluent L.L. Bean sort of way. She exuded love, bringing new converts to the fold wherever she went and she taught God's Word thoughtfully. Even her parents were Christians and approving of The Way, which her older brother also joined when he graduated from Harvard.

I listened intently to the radio show, my hands getting sweaty on the wheel. She was interviewing someone mundane like the CEO of a travel agency. Her voice sounded strong and musical, almost lilting. It brought me back to the days when we were in The Way together and she dreamed of working for national TV or radio to spread the Word into culture. She once served as our cult leader's (The Doctor's) press secretary, writing press releases and magazine articles to bone up the fractured image of the cult in the media. The Doctor always encouraged us to infiltrate society with the message of The Way, to run classes for the most successful sinners (and to line his pockets with more money.)

So Abby had finally arrived and my old feelings of inadequacy returned. She had always been one of those people who never seemed to sweat, the unflappable duck paddling furiously below the surface. And I had made a royal mess of my life, only to write about it and draw criticism.

Her news report was decent and informative and I longed to make contact with her. Call her up - a blast from her past. But why? She never approved of my book or my rantings about The Way and the Doctor's abuse. She never believed me. Why should I subject myself to her judgment? Better yet, why should I judge her? I wasn't walking in her shoes. I didn't know what she was living through these days. So I decided not to call.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here except that I can be a harsh judge of myself and a harsh judge of other people. Its something I'm working on. I'm happy for Abby, that she's achieved a dream. And I'm happy for me, too, that I'm living mine. Let's just leave it at that for now.