Thursday, December 13, 2012

Discovering Uncomfortable Things About a Family

On Monday I went to a Christmas party luncheon with several friends. While we were driving home I shared with them a little about the books I have been reading. The titles are the same, Sometimes God Has A Kid's Face, by two different authors, Father Bruce Ritter and Sister Mary Rose McGeady. The books are profoundly moving accounts of young people who turned to the Covenant House in New York City for aid in turning their lives around.

To learn more about the Covenant House I turned to the Internet and Wikipedia. Originally started by Father Ritter and Father Fitzgibbon, it was incorporated in 1972. They provide food, shelter, immediate crisis care and essential services to homeless kids. They have facilities are in Anchorage, Atlanta, Atlantic City, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Managua, Mexico City, Milpas Altas, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Orlando, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Tegucigalpa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.

Covenant House Street Outreach Teams and Residential and Community Service Center programs care for thousands of at-risk and homeless kids in 21 cities in the United States, Canada, and Central America. In 1990, Sister Mary Rose took over and served until 2003. The current director is Kevin Ryan.
Their hotline is 1-800-999-999.

One of our friends asked if in doing family history research I ever encounter unsettling information about the families. Yes, I said, especially in newspaper articles from earlier time periods. When working with clients, they often don't disclose uncomfortable family information. Then as a researcher such discoveries come as surprises. The key is that once such a discovery is made the client controls how or if such information will be included in shared material.

Abuse, homelessness and criminal activities can be very embarrassing for family members. Most families have some secrets that they would like to keep neatly tucked away from the public eye. Even Covenant House has an uncomfortable history noted on Wikipedia. Father Ritter has been accused of various activities that have become all too common in the headlines of today. As I read his book I often wondered how he would protect himself from such accusations.

With the access to the Internet and other sources of social media the news of today spreads at record speed. On Tuesday our youngest son was at the Clackamas Town Center Mall when another young man brought violence into the lives of the 10,000 people at the facility. By today we knew who the victims are, who the shooter was and the stories of many who were there. My compassion turns to the family members left behind to cope with the repercussions of this event. This now becomes a part of their family history. How this is shared is controlled some by the families, but the news media works hard to provide all the details and then some.

As I consider the public's right to know versus the families right to privacy, I think the later always should take precedence. My son was involved in a much different level than the shooter. But yet, we have no idea of the backgrounds and influences that lead this young man to make such a horrific show of violence. For the most part people just want to know how such a situation can be prevented in the future. What we discover is that sometimes there is just nothing that could be done to alter the course of events. Even within our own families we don't want to repeat the mistakes of those who have gone before us, but sometimes they seem inevitable.

This seems like a downer of a post for the Christmas season, but the point is that we need to offer support to those who face difficult situations when we can. Life will never be perfect though we want it to be. When composing a family history we can focus on the positive without overlooking the negative. With our evolving world we have come out of the ages of hiding uncomfortable things about our families and emerge knowing that we can learn from the mistakes of the past. Take that step forward during the holiday season by reaching out to those who need our love and support.

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