Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Protected Sex

Fourteen year old girls are built for love. Well, everyone is, but the allegiance of this creature takes on an intensity that often lasts a lifetime. If we are fortunate, forces around us will direct this intensity towards matters eternal. The rest of us flit from social circles to cloying musical groups to PETA-like causes that are tepid and pointless compared to the fire inside of us. We should be invited to broader horizons. This, for instance. 

The Indefatigable Fr. Michael Shields
Father Michael Shields gave a retreat four years ago which he opened with the promise to share the definitive single thing a woman wants from a man. I was immediately rapt, and spent the day in shades of mild anxiety as I kept ducking in and out of the church to tend my newborn's fussing, worried I'd miss his mini-revelation. I didn't miss it. I still think of it when I'm frustrated by the disappointments my sisters on this planet suffer from the misused brawn and brains of our brothers. Fr. Shields posited that women want to be protected by men.

I won't spend long caressing any feminist hackles raised by this assertion, because they're obvious and irrelevant. The role of women is not diminished by the role of men, when both are rightly fulfilled. There are as many ways this protective role is made manifest as there are different human temperaments. Plenty of women live without a care for the willful protection of a man. That doesn't change the decorum with which men should behave towards women.

Father Shields' adroitly stated promise of Christ comes to mind again, cited from his work approaching homeless pregnant women in Russia, to offer them freedom and shelter: "Jesus doesn't want to take anything from you. He only wants to give."

Some examples of the protection a man offers a woman are clear cut and tangible. Earning money for a family's material needs and using physical strength to ensure another's safety, for instance. Others are nuanced and most evident when they're not met: sexual assault, abandonment and emotional cowardice. The effects of such dereliction are massive, capable of wounding generations and bleeding through society's fabric with little to trace back to its source. We have a beloved family member who, as a child during confession, confided to a priest ongoing incestuous attempts by her father. The priest casually responded that "some families do that."  Try telling my brave relative that she was wrong to look elsewhere for guidance from that day forward.

A bunch of Allison's men and one of mine,
tending the home fires.
Likewise, young men especially have the ability to heal these wounds before they're formed. Heroic virtue in boys begins with adults allowing it to blossom. Our power must not be threatened by their delicate formation, and I see hopeful sprouts of it in the simplest tasks. We have friends with a cadre of bouncing boys, some of whom I've already been privileged to watch grow through adolescence. The first dozen times we arrived at their driveway for parties, I counted it coincidental that their sons would beeline to my car and offer to carry babies and potluck dishes into their house. 

It was at least a year before it crystallized, and I was floored by my own oblivion and the careful instruction of my friends towards their sons --- they were sending them out! Of course I can carry a casserole, a toddler, a diaper bag and an infant carseat, I'm actually quite practiced at it. But I don't have to, in certain settings. More important than my own acrobatics are the characters of young men which I would trample on by dismissing their offer of help. Chivalry rocks. What are we here for in this life, if not to lighten the loads of those around us? No one soul reaches salvation --- or its opposite --- alone. Certain friends inspire us through their steady assistance more than others.

Upon reflection, I have such a friend. Rather ironically (he's an atheist), his friendship also foreshadowed Christian charity to me: no decision of mine, smart or foolish, seems to raise or lower my status in his eyes. My flaws have been received in grace at every turn for twenty years.

He has tempered my mania with his grounding sense of humor, objective wisdom, and a refusal to define me by life's worst moments. It's hard to be a seventeen year old drunk without seeking the company of lowly men (who's going to buy the beer, after all?). I have both witnessed and endured some extreme displays of this absence of good character. I also behaved badly, maliciously and without morals. He loved me anyway. Too many times, my behavior created imminent physical and emotional peril, which he would providentially appear and solve, usually by tossing my carcass over his shoulder and into a waiting pickup truck. He protected me.

Thank you, Jeremy.
Later in life, my histrionics were met with bored common sense, even on life-changing matters like leaving college, entering treatment for alcoholism and divorcing my husband. ("I don't think you're so bad off, but do what you gotta do." And years later, "So now you're going to trash your marriage; just don't do it in my living room.") 

My friend always comes to mind when I read various horrific reports of lively teenaged girls who meet their final match in the presence of so-called friends. It sounds like a pathetic endorsement of the human bond --- "I trust that you would help me if we overdosed on illicit drugs" --- but taken in layers of context and innate virtue, love is evident. I'm not painting him as a Boy Scout, and we probably wouldn't have spoken a second time if he had been. But if you have a daughter for whom you do everything right and she still goes wayward, pray that she is granted the profound blessing of a friend like mine for the journey. It's a wild world. It's hard to get by just upon a smile.


  1. Oh my, I enjoyed this was like reaching into my life. going to subscribe now...

    1. Thank you! It's like a bad cross-stitch sampler~ Friends ARE the Flowers in the Garden Of Life.

  2. Well. So I'm indebted to Jeremy, too, as a beneficiary of a blessed friendship. Love the picture ; you manage to inspire me with my own boys!

    1. Thank you. Your words are kind.

  3. You are SO welcome MsBorges.. If there is one thing I cherish, that is our friendship and our long talks on the phone, your hand written letters and your kindness.. I willl always be there for you and I know u are there for me. Love You Jey Shu