Elaine M. Hale: A place where truth can set people free

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PITTSFIELD >> I am one of a family of nine children raised here in Pittsfield. After I married and moved away, I would often tell friends how growing up here in the Berkshires was a bit of Camelot.

We were a family fully involved in our faith, morning Mass, daily rosary. Our parents were strong models of giving to others, studying hard and they believed in the importance of being family. My father's untimely death left us scared and devastated but my mother's strength and amazing courage to survive kept us on track and focused.

But we had our secrets. I kept the secrets. I was good at keeping my secrets, buried and out of sight.

Keeping secrets has a price; it takes a toll. The toll is different for each of us but there is always a price. The price for me was silence. Silence was my safe place to go. I often did not talk, struggled in college in courses that required me to write and give my thoughts or opinions. I thrived in math and science where data was what I needed to put down.

I liked the corners of rooms and being in the background; I did not like to be seen. And I was often afraid of irrational things. I often hid in the closet as a child, and subsequently as an adult.

Desire for answers

My husband Bill and I have in lived in the same house for 47 years; we have never locked our front door and have never been afraid of who or what might come in. Even when I was alone with Bill traveling, I never thought to lock the door — I was not afraid.

However, when Bill was away for work, I would hide in the closet at night, afraid of who might enter my bedroom even though there was no one there to be afraid of anymore.

Mid-life came and questions swirled and I wanted more from life. I wanted answers. There began an echo in my head, a voice I kept hearing, saying: the truth will set you free. A verse very familiar to me, one that I interpreted as the truth of the church, the truths of the life Jesus would all set me free.

But freedom too, has a price. Beginning when I was young, I had a dream; at least I had always called it a dream. I had confessed this dream, this memory, this secret so many times in the confessional, I had lost count. Such dirty thoughts, always feeling ashamed for having these thoughts: over and over and over. Why, why, why?

As an adult, I was driving home from a planning session for a woman's retreat, overwhelmed with a need to say something, feeling like I was choking and gagging on words. Words that I had choked down for so long it physically hurt. I drove off the road just missing a tree and landing on a grassy patch of shoulder; I sobbed and finally said aloud: it happened, it was real and it was never a dream, it was my secret. I began to talk.

I came to the Kids' Place in the '90s to learn about the work being done here and to become a part of it. My goal was to be able to have a voice, even a silent one here, where I grew up and where I was abused.

I left the Kids' Place that first day asking myself a question, one I pondered a lot over time: How would my life have been different if I had a Kids' Place to go to? How would my life have been different if at an early age someone had recognized the signs and invited me into a safe place?

How would my life have been different, if I had told someone my secret and they had believed me?

How would my life have been different if when I told my secret, I was allowed to cry and not be alone?

How would my life have been different if I had not carried shame and guilt into my adult life and been free to be me?

I cannot answer these questions; I do not really know how it would have changed things. I have had a wonderful life and have so much to be thankful for. I believe that the lessons of hard work, of discipline and strong faith helped me to survive.

A safe haven

Many who have been abused seek relief in addictions and painful relationships. I was lucky to have found stability and love. I did not have a Kids' Place, but I did have a safe place to grieve and to heal. My family, Bill and my children, never wavered, loved me through it all along with two of my sisters, a brother and my cousins who have been there for me and are here tonight. I am free in my truth. My family has been my Kids' Place.

So, it is through personal experience that I know that the work at the Kids' Place is important. A child's life will be different because he or she has a safe place to go, to tell their story and to be believed. A child's life will be different because they are allowed to grieve and to be loved. Children's lives are changed and saved, I believe, because the Kids' Place allows their truth to set them free.

The preceding remarks were given by Elaine M. Hale upon receiving, with her husband William C. (Bill) Hale, the Founders Award from the Berkshire County Kids' Place in Pittsfield on Oct. 16. Berkshire County Kids' Place and Violence Prevention Center provides an interdisciplinary, cooperative team approach to address the needs of children subjected to violence as victims or as witnesses and to their non-offending family members.


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