Author’s note to reader: This was not easy to write, and I realize by sharing a story so personal that I risk offending and/or losing readers. Further, I do not write this to change minds, but rather to offer additional insight. I am NOT promoting one political party or position. Instead, I am sharing how one short-term experience with trauma forever impacted me. I cannot begin to imagine what other victims of long-term abuse, violation, and/or suppression have experienced and been impacted. My hope is that readers begin to see there truly are faces behind statistics, and that the other “you” is a real person.
“Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and everyone of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”—Pope Francis
I don’t know about you, Dear Reader, but my mind, heart, and soul are a swirling with questions. As I type this early Sunday morning, I am reflecting over events of my lifetime, events of recent years, and current headlines. I am one who rarely speaks to topics of controversy, but my heart and soul are urging me, an ordinary person, to share my story in order illustrate why there is often a great divide.
I am but one person, one voice, and one point of experience. I am not naive enough to think my thoughts will impact the world in a big way. However, as I sat this past week in Morgantown overlooking the Monongahela River, I observed a random leaf drift down onto the chocolate-milk-colored water. As soon as the leaf alighted upon the river, it created a wave that reached the shore. That is my hope for these words—they will resonate and/or increase understanding/empathy within a person or two.
“Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’”—St. Josemaria Escriva
As a child I often received spoken and unspoken rules from a male-dominated society. Some of these messages included:
“It’s not good for a woman to be too smart. She won’t get a husband.”
“Women should only be nurses, teachers, or secretaries; otherwise, they are taking work away from a man.”
“Women who wear _______________ (short skirts, low-cut blouses, high heels, and so forth.) are asking for ‘it.’” (What “it” was, I never understood as a kid.)
“Women who go to a/n ______________ (bar, restaurant that serves alcohol, empty street, boy’s house, and so forth.) alone are asking for ‘it’.” (Again, I did not know what “it” was, but I sensed “it” must be bad.)
As a youngster, I questioned the validity of these messages. In fact, I questioned most everything, including my own family rules. I am sure I drove my parents crazy because “why” seemed hard-wired into my child-brain. My siblings have often told me they learned from me, mostly due to my frequent bouts of “punishments,” including getting my mouth washed out with soap on more than one occasion, the rewards of not talking back. Still, I kept speaking out, questioning. Then, I learned the hard way, not everyone cares what you have to say.
I was an older teen when it happened. How it exactly happened, I am unsure. Just as I cannot tell you the dates or the exact words I said as a kid to get my mouth washed out with soap, I only remember the bitter taste of the soap, so too is this memory.
The shag carpet of the staircase in my face, and pain exploding in my body. I said, “stop”, but the carpet was in my face. The pain was like no other. The carpet fibers chafed my tear-stained cheeks as I continued to say, “No.” The pain continued to explode as my voice fell on deaf ears. Shame filled my mind. Can. Never. Tell. Must. Not. Ever. Tell. It. Must. Be. My. Fault. Hurt, hurt, hurt.
I do not remember how I got home. I only remember the bathroom, lying on the cool linoleum, overcome with pain and shame that would not go away, and continually sobbing. Must. Not. Tell.
I remember him. He is clear as the taste of Dial soap, but I don’t recall the date or many pertinent details. Most days, I don’t think of him or the event. Most days, I have moved beyond that event, and even forgiven him because he was (and is) a product of the times in which we were raised. However, I can now recognize how that event forever changed me, changed the way I perceived my voice, created fears and inner demons within me, and planted seeds of mistrust of others and myself that have taken decades to acknowledge and understand.
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”—Mother Teresa
These past two weeks though have brought much of it back: the nightmares; feelings of shame; the knot in my stomach; and the feeling of being powerless. The talking heads of society that mock, ridicule, and/or hide behind positions of power often remind me of the same vitriolic attitudes I sensed so long ago–those attitudes and “rules” I once questioned as a kid. I feel those same questions begin to rise once more as bile rises when one begins to get sick. And, yet, my faith and personal disposition at age 53, remind me that I must move beyond the hate, the judgment, and acridity of headlines. Therefore, I choose to use my voice, my words, and my thoughts to promote change; and, I do this with the full love and support of my husband and daughter.
“Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.”—Pope Francis
I say, not just to women, but also to all victims of oppression, cruelty, and repression: Rise up. Let your voices be heard in government, churches, businesses, educational institutions, corporations, social media, news outlets, and all other forms of societal groups. Tell your stories. Be quiet no more. Act upon your words and beliefs. Work to bring about change. Uplift and support others. Watch and protect one another. Do not dwell on past events; but rather, use them as a point of motivation.
Most of all, now, more than ever, embrace an attitude of hope, rather than defeat. For it is by embracing hope that we are motivated to work towards a future of change—a tomorrow that, albeit, may never be perfect, but can be filled with progress—progress toward a path in which ALL voices can be heard/seen; positions/institutions of power and policies can be questioned; and the content of character matters more than media image, political party, bank account size, or special interest affiliation.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”—Jeremiah 29:11