I was filling out a form this morning. One of the questions asked was ‘Year born’? Not a problem, 1949. The next question was ‘Year died’? Kind of threw me. Got me to thinking about dying. Got me to wondering if I already have died. There’s a good possibility that I have, and if so, I’d like to know about it. In fact, I’d actually like to be the first to know. That’s reasonable, don’t you think?
But I was thinking about all the deaths we really do die over the course of a lifetime. We die to old habits, frivolous relationships, and identities, which often get shed like cocoons. We die to cities and towns, packing up and getting out when they can no longer hold our interest, our notoriety, or our secrets. We die to jobs that have bored us, held us back, disrespected us, or not compensated us accordingly. We die to style that we grow out of (hopefully), and to language that becomes unbecoming of our age. We die to belief systems as we gain wisdom, and to simplistic myths as we accumulate knowledge.
Some of us die to behaviors that are damaging to others, or compromising to our own character, or both. And some of us do not. Some of us ignore our inner compass. As with an actual compass, an inner compass can be pretty accurate, and dependable. It is something we rely on to help us determine our path, to guide our way. But when an inner compass is neglected a man can get lost. If it gets too near a magnet it can go haywire, resulting in devastating consequences for the traveler, throwing him off track, pointing him in a potentially dangerous direction. It is when this happens that one must be willing to listen to an external voice to help them rediscover their way.
Bernie Ward was a Catholic Priest. He left the priesthood many years ago, got married, and had children. He worked as an assistant for Senator Barbara Boxer, hosted a Sunday morning television talk show, and was a San Francisco Bay Area radio talk show host for the better part of two decades, three hours every weeknight. It was a very popular show. Bernie was well regarded. I’d known of him for years, but never actually listened to his show. About a year and a half ago, while turning the dial, I landed on his radio program. I didn’t know whom I was listening to, but was stunned at the impression this radio personality was having on me. He was talking politics, social politics specifically. He was not saying anything particularly controversial, kind of the same old recycled clichés. But there was something I was picking up between the lines. There was something in his attitude, in his spirit, and in his psyche, something dark and sinister. I listened for about ten minutes, and shut off the radio. I was quite disturbed about it. Two nights later I felt compelled to find his program again. I did, and listened for another 10 minutes. In those 20 minutes I saw a traveler who had completely lost his way. I became aware that Mr. Ward was living a deep and troubling secret. His spirit was so compromised that it skewed his every view of life. His belief system was tailored to function as a justification for his behavior. Let me say that again. His belief system had become custom tailored to function as a justification for his own behavior. It was unspoken behavior, but I knew what the behavior was.
I sat down and wrote Bernie Ward a long letter, explaining to him that he had lost his inner compass, that he had wandered way too close to the magnet. I told him that I know him, and that I am fully aware of his secret life. I told him I wanted to warn him, and give him opportunity for personal redemption, a redemption he could find on his own, within himself, a redemption that would save his life, and spare his family the pain and degradation of his behavior. I knew that if I never heard from him that he would have rejected my warning, and that if I did it would be because he would have found it within himself to face down his own demons.
Last December Bernie Ward was arrested and indicted on several counts of receiving and distributing child pornography, some of which had to do with children under the age of three, bound and gagged. Some of his fantasy had to do with his very own children. When given the opportunity, Bernie Ward did not die to his own behaviors. He is spending the next several years in prison, a convicted felon.
There are many different magnets that cause people to lose their ability to be guided. This was just his.
Quoting myself, “when an inner compass gets too near a magnet, it can have devastating consequences for the traveler, throwing him off track, pointing him in a potentially dangerous direction. It is when this happens that one must be willing to listen to an external voice to help them rediscover their way.”
Keep your compass away from magnets.
Listen to your inner voice, or a sensible external one should you no longer be able to hear your own.
Have the courage to be that external voice for someone else you might intuit is in need of re-direction.