Thursday, August 15, 2013



By Kathleen Hoy Foley

Occasionally I think of my uncle, Bill, a "paragon" of decency who founded a soup kitchen to feed the homeless, yet carried such a vast emptiness in his heart that he led himself and others to practice violence against my elderly mother, his invalid sister, and me, his niece.

My uncle was adopted as a little guy.  The story was pretty straight up.  An orphanage.  A kid.  And a family that wanted him.  And was he ever loved!  He was coddled, pampered, and as the youngest in his family, revered.  You know the saying: the sun rises and sets.  It was all there for Little Bill.  Too close to my age to call him uncle, to me he was just Little Bill, and I was taken with him.  Every time he said my name and pronounced it in that Evans’ way—Kath-ah-leen—I swooned.  Did I mention how much I loved him? 

He doesn’t sound like a guy who would ever practice violence.  Practicing violence sounds like swagger and fist fights—a gang on the street corner looking for trouble.  It conveys the ring of guns and blood, and bodies sprawled across the pavement.  That's the television version.  In reality, most violence is much more subtle.  In real life, practicing violence is an established art form so quiet, so acceptable it goes unnoticed except by those who are its target.

Somewhere between college, marriage, kids, carrying on the family business as a baker extraordinaire, and founding that soup kitchen for Ohio’s homeless, Bill decided that as an adopted person he was entitled to more.  He drank the cultural Kool-Aid, attracted a lot of destructive people who practice a lot of violence, and before long, Little Bill succumbed to practicing violence himself shrouding it in his sorrow and need and entitlement.

It is no surprise then that Bill attracted a predator—an experienced stalker well versed in practicing violence while pulling on heartstrings: the predator adoptee that had been stalking me and creating havoc in my life for years.  Bill knew this, but invited violence in anyway.  Which would have been fine if he’d kept all the aggression and cruelty they instigated together confined to his family, to his life. 

Except that’s not how violence works.  The rallying cry of violence is YOU OWE ME!  Violence feeds on anger and frustration and gains feverish strength and whirlwind power as it justifies its own destructive deeds.  It out-shouts internal alarm systems that point to dangerous and deplorable wrongdoings.  It plows through moral and civil boundaries fiercely defending its actions all the while producing terrible damage. 

Soon Bill and the predator adoptee were making plans to ambush my mother and trick her into a meeting with the adoptee—violent deception hidden beneath an “innocent family gathering.”  But who would ever admit that?  Anyway, what would it matter?  Thanks to dementia, his sister’s brain was gone anyway.  And how much fight could a frail old lady muster?  As it turned out, Little Bill and the predator adoptee were right.  My mother’s capability for decision making and energy to put up a fight had vanished.  Besides, she thought she was just being taken out for a ride.
Founding a charity does nothing to erase the practice of violence or repair its aftermath of destruction.  Adoption offers no excuse.  Heart pain grants no defense.  Practicing violence—dismissing, creating, and escalating others' agony for your own benefit—is an undertaking that unleashes powerful, destructive energy that ultimately returns to its source.  Practicing violence is like throwing a contaminated boomerang.  Don’t waste your time ducking, it won’t work.  It’s coming smack back at you. 

Whether you volunteer at a battered women’s shelter while planning an ambush, or run a website advocating the invasion of another's life under the lie of justice, or in any way promote coercing someone to bend to the will of another, you are practicing violence.  You may be loud.  You may be able to convince others with your arguments about entitlement.  You may be able to gain public sympathy with your sad story punctuated by a flood of tears.  But nothing can hide the underlying truth: you are promoting violence.  You are smart enough to know that.  But it takes tremendous courage to admit it.  And it takes even more courage and a dedicated commitment to self-respect to stop doing it.                     

Back to old Little Bill.  Maybe you think I hate him.  I don't.  Actually I have compassion for him—for anyone consumed by the delusion of vast emptiness, a phantom pain that insists the resolution to its obsession can only be gained through the practice of violence, by persistent stalking and the relentless pursuit of the very thing they already possess—the love that is right in front of them.

Little Bill was loved more than he recognized.  And he destroyed more than he knows.