Everything in The Holy Bible is true but not everything contained therein is accurate. The first two chapters of Genesis give conflicting stories of creation; each is true but they can’t both be accurate. Like the thirty-six-year-old account that haunts Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, many people recall stories from teenage years from perspectives that conflict. While too many kids were molested or harassed by nefarious adults or peer bullies, others simply need to work through matters that antagonize their social or emotional development. Either way, we can acknowledge the truth of the hurt carried, even if the accuracy is foggy.
Various recollections of a 250-pound high school vice-principal for discipline taking scrawny freshman boys to a basement wrestling mat to fight each other and/or him range from hilarious to horrendous. A physical education coach at another school insisting that all the boys strip naked to swim is bizarre. Parties from just about any school that resulted in drunk kids embarrassing themselves, boys assaulting girls, teens driving while wasted, lives ending or otherwise destroyed is beyond sad. The stories seem endless. I recall junior high altar boys from those years warning me about a certain pervert-priest while tacitly accepting that parents wouldn’t believe it because adults equated him to Jesus. They were different times.
The punk rock band, Green Day, had fun twenty years ago recording their album, Nimrod, a farewell to adolescence as they reluctantly matured or got sucked into adulthood. They reminded us of the many doofuses, boneheads, lame brains, numskulls, goof-offs, and total jerks that walked the halls of academia with us. Of course, we were them: just acting our age. Unfortunately, some of the adults didn’t act theirs. The album’s lead song, Good Riddance, speaks volumes: “I hope you had the time of your life.” Of course, not everyone did. In Adam Sandler’s back-to-school movie, Billy Madison, he realizes that what he thought was funny back in school was stupid and hurtful to those he targeted. He calls an outcast classmate, whom he had victimized, to apologize. The classmate, played by the iconic Steve Buscemi, listens and accepts the apology; then, after hanging up, he crosses Billy’s name off his list of “People To Kill” with a tube of lipstick before applying it to his face. The truth behind the humor is disturbing.
These stories are reflections of growing up in decades past. Some of the behaviors can be categorized as inappropriate, some as disgusting, some as clearly wrong, yet some still linger. Whether page boy in the senate, cabana boy at the club, or altar boy at the church, the anecdotes vacillate from farcical to frightening. Teenage crushes, romances, and party pursuits range from inept and innocent to crazy and criminal. Kids then, like kids now, are trying to grow up. Adults who oversee kids today are held to standards that were not in place at that time. We are moving in a more responsible direction as a society, one that brings into light what had been kept in darkness. We can’t save teenagers from themselves—most of us made it to adulthood, somewhat sanely, by luck and the grace of God—but we can protect them and help them in ways that weren’t talked about a half, or even a quarter, century ago.
I’m not sure what is considered appropriate apologizing for our nimrod actions of youth. Senior citizen priests are apologizing for immoral behaviors of peers long ago and corporate leaders apologizing for bad actors in their institution’s past. While a good thing for them to do, we probably ought to leave our adolescence where it belongs, learn from it, and help kids to make wiser decisions. Underneath inaccurate recollections, various perspectives and perceptions, layers of years and the fog that clouds time, a truth exists there. Some may benefit from revisiting it in order to arrive at a social and emotional maturity appropriate for our stage in life, but most of us are better off to leave it in the past.