No Wake Zone

09/07/2016 04:00 pm ET

My oldest grandson and I have begun a rating system for boat wakes. This is important when riding a SUP (standup paddle board). There’s an art to taking a wake. Trust me on this. SUP boarders provide an endless supply of entertainment as we watch them down by the river following our workday. On a busy summer night with half a dozen boats along our stretch at any given time, SUPing is challenging at best. There are splashes, giggles, and many riders simply sit down and paddle. Occasionally someone loses his or her paddle in the fall. That’s a big no-no and makes for a long, slow doggy paddle home.

Understanding a wake keeps one vertical. Our system begins with a minus 1 (jet skis) up to a level 3 (surf boarders), whose wake resembles the swell and break of a small ocean wave. We assess the wake as it presses outward from the boat’s motor, and adjust our board and stance to take it. I call a ride where I take a dozen wakes, athletic – a magic carpet sort of experience where balance is key. Truth be told, I prefer peaceful. 

The displacement of water from a boat is anything but peaceful. Waves splash against shore with a mighty spray of water, and along a river, the backsplash of that wake swirls back into the channel like a whirlpool. That riot of motion is tricky to maneuver. Doable, but tricky. Maybe I should now qualify with ‘insights gleaned while Paddleboarding,’ or ‘life lessons understood in nature.’ Wait for it…so when a child is sexually abused, the displacement of trust and safety is beyond a level 3 wake. It is a shame based, coerced, highly invasive violation of the innocent. The resultant wake batters those who encounter it across generations.

Yesterday I was interviewed by radio station WPRO of Providence regarding the scandal surrounding St. George’s School in Rhode Island. Years ago parents sent their children to this picturesque seaside boarding school expecting a safe, educational, moral environment. Instead, as many as forty students were sexually abused by staff. Some reported their abuse and nothing was done. Others reported, and their abuser was let go only to serve in another institution. One young girl called her parents begging to be brought home, but didn’t have the language to explain why. At no time were any of the abusers reported to authorities, or any subsequent employer. This happened decades ago. Talk about resultant waves. Survivors stood together in their truth, and eventually brought about change.

Under its current leadership, the school has acknowledged the abuse, apologized, made restitution, and has set into place state of the art protections for students, including standards of practice. It’s the right thing to do.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be speaking to a regional group of pastors regarding sexual abuse in the parish. Topics will include telltale signs, how to respond when disclosure is made, who is mandated to report, and the importance of putting into place standards of practice regarding abuse.

Along the river there are periodic signs specifying “No Wake Zone.” There are summer camps, places where the river is narrow, and public swimming areas protected by these mandates. A boat slows to an idle within a hundred feet of these locations. I’d like to think churches, cathedrals, schools, colleges, sports clubs, summer camps, boarding schools – all these would be ‘no wake zones’ on behalf of children. Safe places to send our kids. Not all are. On behalf of this generation of children and those to follow, it is up to us to create and maintain safe zones. That requires thoughtful planning, training, implementation, and follow through. Let’s do it!

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