Hello, sweet friends!
Hopefully, you all got the email with the link to our new home! We’re moving, as families sometimes do – but we’re still us.
All of the content has moved over, all the posts, all your comments. No one’s stories have been lost, they just have a prettier place to live.
Come on over and check out our new digs on this, the anniversary of the event that led to most of you getting here – the day Mary and I walked into a tiny police station and reported our abuser. If you’ve not read that story – here it is, sitting pretty on our new website.
If you did not get that email and are getting this one, please be sure to follow the new blog, lauraparrottperry.com and be certain to sign up for the newsletter as well!
Love you so!
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand
at the grindstone, Scrooge!
A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!
Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of my top five books of all time, and the passage above is my favorite in it. Try reading it out loud. It’s delicious.
The story, in all its iterations, is one of my favorite parts of Christmas every year. The single best version is A Muppet Christmas Carol. That is not open to discussion. I mean… Kermit as Bob Cratchit? “Light the lamp, not the rat!” It is the first Christmas movie we watch every year, and usually the last.
Everyone loves Scrooge at the end- how can you not? The boundless joy and gratitude, the seismic shift in perspective- the redemption? Forget about it. I am a sucker for a redemption story.
I have deep affection for early Scrooge. Awful Scrooge. Mean Scrooge. That might seem strange to some, but even before the happy ending, I find myself tearing up over his nastiness and feeling pangs of empathy for his miserly ways.
He’s so afraid.
That sort of hoarding, whether its money, power, control, prestige – even joy- all comes from a place of deep fear. Fear of scarcity, fear of powerlessness, fear of being small. When faced with those fears, Scrooge does what we all do from time to time in our lives, he becomes the very worst version of himself. He’s ungenerous and unkind. His fear masquerades as anger and judgment. We dress those feelings up because the only thing more terrifying than fear is people knowing we’re afraid. And just like a child’s costume at Halloween, the outside may be more gruesome than what it’s covering, but at least you can hide behind it. At least no one can see you.
I had a panic attack last night. I woke and sat bolt upright in the dark, with my heart pounding and my mind in a place of not enough. I was gasping for breath. Every catastrophic outcome to every situation in my life seemed not only possible but probable. I am a single mom with a kid about to go off to college next year, and I have no idea how I’ll pull that off. To some degree, I worry about finances every single day. I tell myself I’m alone in it- as solitary as an oyster- and I get scared.
“Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”
It’s impossible to overstate how much I hate writing that. The only thing I hate more than being afraid is admitting I’m afraid. I would love to keep that truth to myself, but the cost of doing so is more than I can afford. Holding that fear in the dark is easy, but hugely expensive.
Part of that is having grown up with scarcity. Part of that is born of trauma. If I’m being honest, while I love feeling safe, moments of security are a vacation spot in my life. They’re a lovely place to visit, but I do not live there.
I used to drink over those feelings. I certainly drank over pain, but uncertainty is the shakiest ground for me. Not knowing what’s to come. And now I get to sit with that because to opt out of those feelings is to lose everything I’ve fought for these past two and a half years.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Statler and Waldorf as Marley and Marley (I mean, come ON. Perfection.) visit Scrooge. In the past, our family had lively debate over what the last word of their song was. I used to think it was CHAINS! I eventually consulted the Google and learned it is, in fact, CHANGE! Both work, though. I am trying to change the way I deal with my chains. I am trying to move through this life differently. I am trying to transform my relationship with my oldest, heaviest burden- fear.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling.
“Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,”
replied the Ghost.
“I made it link by link, and yard by yard;
I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
My hope is that by giving voice to this fear, some of it will dissipate. I need to say it, otherwise, it becomes another secret, and I don’t keep those anymore. Even as I wrote about feeling alone the fundamental untruth of it resonated within me. Sometimes our fears and the lies we tell ourselves can’t survive the challenge of being spoken.
I’m going to do my very best not to time travel this Christmas. To stay right here, where my feet are. To remember that I am unfettered if I choose to be. I only have to carry the heavy things I decide to pick up. I don’t need to go to the painful past or the uncertain future, but just right here, right now. Those ghosts can only come through the door if I invite them in. Those chains are mine to wear if I make the decision to put them on.
I have enough for today. The tree is lit and my kids are under one roof. The dog is perfect. I’m sober. There’s food and there’s warmth and there’s light. Today.
“You fear the world too much,’ she answered gently. ‘All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off, one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”
Merry Christmas, sweet friends.
God bless us, every one.
Love you so,
“The stories we create to make sense of things become real for us. We live inside them. Your house is not your home – your story is. We think we build walls to protect ourselves, but eventually they imprison us. When our stories are secrets we stack them high until we’re trapped behind them. You know what the difference between a home and a prison is? It’s just your ability to step outside it to freedom.”
Laura Parrott Perry
A little over three years ago, I launched this blog. I had less than no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about or whether anyone would care about what I might have to say. I wrote a few posts and I lived and died by whether people read and responded to them. By people, I mean the 43 people who followed my blog in those early days, most of whom were friends and family, who were basically required to do so.
Then a little essay I wrote went viral and our cozy community got a bit bigger. This blog became a place where I started really telling the truth – and here is the thing about truth-telling: it gains momentum. It’s very hard to be rigorously honest in one corner of your life and still keep secrets in another. At least for me. And the more stories I told, the more shame drenched secrets I dragged out of the shadows, the more of you there were stepping forward and saying those words that have become a call to arms of late – ME TOO.
With every single me too I felt a little less alone, a little braver, a little bolder. Every time I survived the telling it reinforced what I have come to believe- the work is never worse than the wound. Every story shared with me in the comments, by email, Facebook message, or in workshops, helped me to understand the profound impact secret-keeping has in our lives.
I’ve said it before and I’ll just keep saying it, forever and ever, amen: If you have a story you’re not telling anyone, anywhere, in any way, that is not privacy, it’s secrecy. Privacy and secrecy are not the same thing. Not even close. The difference between privacy and secrecy is shame. Our shame stories wield enormous power in our lives. If you have a story you’ve deemed unspeakable, I guarantee it’s running the board. It’s in charge of your whole life.
When we tell our stories we connect with each other. When our stories are reflected back to us with empathy, we come to understand them differently. You can survive the telling, but sometimes your story cannot. A story told is a story reclaimed, and sometimes, re-written.
This blog and you readers have helped me transform from a secret-keeper to a storyteller. That change, that shift? Well, it didn’t just change my life, it saved it.
This January, I hope you will all help me welcome our book into the world. It’s OUR book. Yours and mine.
Isn’t she gorgeous?
Soon there will be some changes here on the blog- it’ll look different and have a new name, but please know that what truly matters will remain exactly the same. You’ll meet me here and we’ll tell our stories. We’ll shine a light in dark corners. We’ll widen the circle. And when someone lays down something dark and heavy? We’ll bear witness. We’ll take a corner. We’ll lift. We’ll say, We’ll carry this with you.
We’ll drag our own secrets out into the sunlight.
We will write them down.
She Wrote It Down: How a Secret-keeper Became a Storyteller will be available on Amazon on January 23rd. Thank you again for making this possible and for coming along on this ride with me. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this space and this community – for you.
Love you so,
We’re launching a book here!
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It would have been more
comfortable to remain silent.
It feels different, doesn’t it? There’s an uneasiness in the air right now. You’re thinking about your behavior in a way you’ve not been required to before. You’re afraid to do the wrong thing lest it be interpreted the wrong way by the opposite gender with possibly catastrophic consequences.
Awful, isn’t it?
Welcome to our Tuesday.
It’s interesting to watch men try and navigate the waters of not wanting to appear to be part of the problem while very much being actively a part of the problem. It requires some pretty deft footwork. Bless their hearts, though, they’re giving Fred Astaire a run for his money.
“I don’t want to seem insensitive, but…” “We need to be careful not to…” “Not all men…”
I read a couple of comments on social media yesterday which I found interesting. I saw, “bandwagon” bandied about. “Vendettas.” “Mob mentality.” I saw the words “witch hunt” thrown around more than once.
And then, of course, my all-time favorite: a “hysterical reaction.”
Oh, we lady-folk love that one.
Do you know what the word hysterical means? I mean, actually means?
If you consult a dictionary, it’ll tell you this:
- deriving from or affected by uncontrolled emotion.
- (psychiatry) relating to, associated with, or suffering from hysteria.
Do you know what hysteria is? Do you know what that diagnosis means? The term dates back to the 5th century BC- Hippocrates, in fact. He believed the cause of this “disease” had its roots in the movement of the uterus. It was purely a feminine phenomenon. Through the ages, it was treated as both a physical and a spiritual malady- one that had many different “cures” some of which are laughable and some of which are now banned by the Geneva Convention.
It’s being tossed around now with alacrity. That makes sense. Women are angry and this is a world that prefers to diagnose women’s anger rather than reckon with it. If we’re angry, the world is quick to try and decide what’s wrong with us so we can be fixed.
Let me make this efficient for you. Nothing. There is not a goddamned thing wrong with us.
We are not having a hysterical reaction.
Anger is an appropriate thing to feel when opening up our newsfeeds every day and bearing witness for more and more of our sisters stepping forward, speaking the truth of what this world is like to move through as a woman. It is fitting to feel rage when we read account after account of women being treated in degrading, hateful, violent ways.
I love when men throw the term witch hunt around in circumstances like these- when they bring up Abigail Williams, Betty Parrish, and Mary Warren, All of that mayhem and false accusation caused by THOSE GIRLS.
I wonder if the real horror of those trials for the people invoking them is that THOSE GIRLS were believed. Because here’s the thing, those girls had no power. Women had no power in 1692. No female judges. No female juries. Women couldn’t vote. Wives and children were essentially property. Those girls could have levied accusations and been ignored like eons of women before and since then. They weren’t. They instigated irreparable harm, death, destruction. They accused, but men convicted the accused. Men hung Bridget Bishop. Men imprisoned their fellow villagers. Men pressed Giles Corey to death. But even so, when the word hysteria is used about that era it is almost always used about the girls- those girls had absolutely no agency to get any of that done on their own. Imagine, all that happening on the mere words of a girl. Imagine believing a girl. What a crazy time. I guess believing girls sure does have some terrible consequences. Thank God we do it so seldom.
What those girls did was horrible- and you could unpack the psychological and societal impetuses for their behavior until the end of time. It’s fascinating, actually. It just doesn’t have one single thing to do with what is happening right now that has men so uneasy. Not one.
What we are witnessing right now is not a witch-hunt- women have just had it. We are done.
We are not sitting down, we are standing up. We are not going back, we are stepping forward. We are not shutting up or shutting down, we are raising our voices and claiming our space.
There has been so much talk about inappropriate behavior and men have been lamenting about how HARD it can be to know what appropriate even IS anymore. Poor dears. Change is hard. If men are uncomfortable, that is appropriate. Being uncomfortable in the face of so much misogyny and sexism and criminal behavior is absolutely appropriate. Good job.
But then, men, you could worry less about what’s appropriate and more about what’s criminal. That’s a good place to start. I get it, though. Things have been one way, let’s be honest- your way– for, well, always. And that feels like it’s shifting. I heard a man say on tv yesterday, “The rules are changing.” We-ell… I think it’s probably been against the rules to whip your penis out at work for at least a little while. I feel like sexual assault statutes have been on the books for more than a minute. The rules against having sex with children aren’t, like, NEW.
Things are changing and change is never comfortable. It’s not as uncomfortable as, say, being pinned up against a wall by someone who holds your career in his sweaty hand, though. It’s not as awkward as the dance so many women do to try and walk the line between safeguarding their bodies and not angering the men in power by APPEARING to safeguard their bodies. Change is tiring, but not as tiring as going to a job every day wondering how many unwanted advances you’ll have to ward off. Not as wearying as having your professional or financial destiny controlled by someone who views having access to your body as a job perk.
There are no “good people on both sides” of this issue. There is the one at the desk trying to do her job and the one trying to pin her up against it. Period. This is not nuanced. And if you are trying to nimbly do the dance of, “he didn’t do it, but if he did he didn’t realize it wasn’t wrong and she’s not credible anyway and if it did happen these other women are just jumping on the bandwagon…?” Well, no wonder you fellas are tired.
That has been a fact of women’s lives for a very long time. Just a FACT. A wildly uncomfortable, sometimes terrifying, unavoidable fact. I don’t know a single woman, not ONE, who has not endured some version of harassment, abuse, or assault in her life. And the pain of those things is compounded by what we face when we come forward. You want to talk about uncomfortable? Try attempting to explain every circumstance and reaction surrounding the crime perpetrated against you to a power system looking to make you culpable for your own trauma. Name another crime where we do that.
We do not want that for future generations of girls. We are not a mob, and that is not a torch we want to pass.
Because fellas, that shit is EXHAUSTING.
This is not a hysterical reaction, though I understand why that would be more comfortable for you guys. As it turns out, this is not a time for comfort.
You know why it feels this way? The uneasiness? The fear? Like something’s brewing?
Because it is not hysterical, it’s historical- and it is not a reaction, it’s a reckoning.
Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Autumn has always been my favorite season. I live in New England, and autumn in New England is spectacular. The crisp blue days, the smell of woodsmoke at night, and the brilliantly colored foliage that draws people from all over the country to drive 25 mph in a 55 mph zone. #JesusFixIt
I love the fall. I am energized by it. I tend to start new projects, set new goals. It’s a very productive time for me, creatively- and yet, there’s a fairly deep vein of melancholy for me at this time of year. Wistfulness has always been a part of my make-up, even though I’m generally a positive person. I always wondered why that was. Why, during a season that delights me so much, do I experience waves of something akin to grief?
I recently read something in a book about different seasons serving different purposes in our lives. It posited that the fall is a good time to take stock of where you are at, what you need to work on, what you have, and what you no longer need. An inventory, if you will. Now that may seem like a task more suited to spring, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I also read an article about the Eastern perspective on seasons which said that in Chinese philosophy the emotions associated with autumn are courage and sadness.
That feels right to me.
All seasons are transitions when you think about it. If winter is a season of dormancy and gestation, and springtime is a season of newness and birth, then really, autumn, at its heart, is a season about dying.
All those beautiful leaves that the out of town peepers come to ogle? Thousands upon thousands of lovely, necessary little deaths.
When I was at Wild Goose this summer, I had the privilege of hearing Reverend Otis Moss III preach. He was talking about the constant hand-wringing over the belief that the American church is dying. His take on it?
“Then LET. IT. DIE. Some things need to die.”
He went on to talk about how things need to die in order for something else to be birthed- something new, something better. Something closer to who we are intended to be.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in terms of trauma and what we do with it. I think in order to truly heal we must be willing to let some things die.
Human beings are story-making creatures. As long as humans have existed, so has story. Since the beginning of time, we’ve sought to make sense of the world by taking the sometimes mystifying facts at hand and building story around them. The volcano erupted? The gods are angry. A bountiful harvest? Our sacrifices pleased the gods. An independent woman? Must be a witch.
When we endure trauma as children, we have neither the life experience nor the wisdom to put it into any kind of healthy context. We don’t know enough about the world or human nature or the way people and institutions are supposed to behave to frame our abuse appropriately. And frequently, our abusers are people we trust, people who we believe to be infallible or all-powerful. That emotional and spiritual dissonance lends itself perfectly to story-building.
Children take a complicated situation and make a simple story out of it. We take the facts of our abuse, use them as scaffolding and then we build walls of story around them. We build a house out of that story and we live in it. We live as though it is true, and so, in many cases, it becomes so.
If you speak the truth about your abuse and are called a liar by the adults at the center of your universe, then you believe them. You are a liar. And what do liars do? They lie. So you lie. And then? Well, then you’re a liar.
And even though the stories we build are overwhelmingly harmful, we can be reluctant to let them go.
I think we sometimes cling to long-held beliefs about our trauma and what it means because to challenge the validity of those beliefs is to set our houses on fire. It’s a death. And even if the story you’ve been living out of is dark and toxic and harmful? It’s still home.
In his brilliant book, Finding God in the Ruins, Matt Bays reminds us that redemption is, by definition, an exchange. In order to write a new ending for your story, you may need the willingness to offer up long-held assumptions, beliefs, and identities at the altar of healing. Maybe what you exchange in return for freedom from your trauma is the house of story you’ve lived in since you were abused.
What are you waiting for? Do you think tomorrow is guaranteed? How much time have you sacrificed in order to guard the house of pain you live in? Has it maybe been long enough? Look around at your story-house. Has it become a prison? If it has, and the walls are the story you told yourself about what your abuse meant about you, your family, the world, God… here’s the good news: Those walls may be tall and seemingly impenetrable, but the door is WIDE OPEN. You need only decide to walk out.
If your old story needs to die for you to heal, then let it die.
Maybe this is the season for that. Drag it out into the sunlight and let it die, like the scarlet and gold drifts against the fence outside my window. Let the story in which you’ve been serving time die a lovely little death. It’s necessary.
Toss a match and let it burn, like so many brilliantly colored leaves. Stand in the waning autumn light and breathe in the smoke. Hold courage in one hand and sadness in the other. Only then can you write a new ending. You really can, you know. You can strip away all that story, go back to the bones, the facts, and build yourself a new home.
Maybe it’s time to write a new story.
I am writing a book and in order to get said book published, it is awfully helpful to make the most of your platform. At least, that is what The People Who Know The Things tell me.
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“You cannot stop the waves,
but you can learn to surf.”
There’s a condition called congenital analgesia. It’s really rare, and it basically means you are born without the ability to feel physical pain. At first blush, that might sound great. It’s not. It’s actually incredibly dangerous because while pain is awful, it is GREAT INFORMATION. Pain is important, life-saving data. It tells you something is wrong. You need help. You need to explore something. You’re being harmed. You’re unwell.
It’s the same thing with emotional pain. It’s a hint that perhaps someone or something has harmed you, that you’ve brushed up against some open wound, there’s some trauma you’ve not yet healed, there’s something long ignored that is pleading to be examined.
I’ve been dealing with a bit of both. Physical pain, emotional pain. I’m trying to suss out where the real pain ends and the voluntary pain begins.
To that end, I had my third reflexology appointment today.
I like my practitioner a lot, even though there’s a fair to middlin’ chance she’s Satan’s handmaiden. She was happy to hear what a difference our last appointment made and began the session. It was different this time because I knew what was coming. The pain took me by surprise the first time. Now, I like surprises when they involve white twinkle lights, giraffes, someone bringing me Starbucks… but excruciating pain? Notsomuch. I wondered if it would be less intense now that I’d already had it done twice.
It was decidedly not. I was prepared for it, though. I willed myself not to tense up. I began my measured breathing before she started and focused on that. I tried to keep my hands and feet relaxed.
I’ve always been able to handle physical pain. A gift born of trauma, I suppose. I could always escape into my head.
During my second pregnancy, I remember the midwife at my birthing class saying, “You can’t fight the pain. Well, you CAN, if you want to sign up for MORE pain.”
It’s so counter-intuitive. Our human instinct is to resist pain- we’re inclined to tense up, run, or numb.
I was only twenty-one when I had my first child. I’m sure my midwife THAT time said something similar, but I was younger, single, freaked out, and perhaps a smidge less teachable? My contractions were never much farther apart than five minutes and I was in labor for twenty-five and a half hours. As soon as one contraction ended I tensed up in preparation for the next one, thereby ensuring it would be more painful. I was determined to get through without pain meds, though, and I did. My refusal to participate in voluntary suffering is a somewhat recent development.
Child number two was born seven years later. That time around, I remembered what my midwife taught me. During contractions, while I breathed I would let myself feel the pain, settle into it, and really THINK about it. When you focus on the breathing that way, it almost makes the pain abstract. It becomes a thing outside of you. I wrapped my mind around the tightening, piercing contractions. I envisioned holding the pain, turning it around in my hands, examining it. I asked myself, “Can I live through THIS pain, RIGHT now, for ONE minute.”
Let me tell you, you can get through a minute of just about anything if you’re willing to accept it. Relax into the pain and coast. The wave of pain comes and instead of paddling against it, you ride.
Minutes add up over time. That labor was just under eight hours and kiddo #2 weighed in at 10 lbs 10 oz. Still no meds, but much less traumatic. I didn’t believe the nurse when she came in to tell me the birth weight. How was that birth easier than my 7 lb first baby?
Accept. Don’t fight. Ride the wave. Surrender.
Damn it all if surrender and acceptance aren’t almost always the answer to all of the things. I find it to be a hugely annoying truth… that I accept. (seewhatididthere?)
I’ve could never manage that with emotional pain, though. There was no escaping into my head because my mind was the battle’s front line- so I turned running and numbing and hustling into an art form. I was always rushing toward the voluntary pain to avoid the one I was afraid to feel. I drank, I starved, I shopped, I cleaned, I volunteered, I snarked… Run, run, run. Numb, numb, numb. It probably seems weird to count pain as anesthesia. I mean, to normal people. Whoever they are.
I would stay in untenable situations because it was familiar pain. Comfortable pain, if you will.
Nowadays, when I find myself in emotionally painful situations I find myself getting curious about the pain. I follow it. I consciously still myself. Quiet my mind. I pick up the pain and I turn it around in my hands. I examine it. Is this unavoidable pain? Voluntary? Self-inflicted?
I had a massage appointment last week. I hadn’t been in a while, but school started back up and between Favorite and I we have three kids in three different schools in three different cities. He’s been traveling a lot, and so on our days with his boys I have been spending a LOT of time behind the wheel which isn’t great for anyone with back trouble.
Anyway, at one point during my session, I winced, and she asked, “How is that pressure?” “I can handle it.” I said.
She got very still and then said,
“You know, just because you can withstand a certain level of pain doesn’t mean you HAVE to endure it.”
That’s such a thing with trauma survivors- just accepting pain as your normal. The mindset that because you CAN live with it means that you should or must. I think it’s what keeps so many of us from doing the work. If your baseline since childhood has been pain that can feel a lot like home to you. I have had so many survivors say to me, “It’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve lived with it this long. I’ve accepted it. The only one it affects is me.”
I firmly believe accepting the facts of your abuse is part of the healing process. Fighting the facts of our history is never time well spent because facts are not negotiable. Accepting a lifetime of continued pain around your abuse is another matter entirely. And no one’s trauma exists in a vacuum. There is always collateral damage to those who love us, in one form or another.
It’s so tricky sometimes, isn’t it? I know I need to sit still for pain or follow pain and see where it leads me- but I ALSO know I don’t need to sit down in it and live there. I don’t need to hang curtains and put down throw rugs. I don’t need to make my pain cozy. If pain is there to teach me something, and I believe it is, then my interaction with it needs to be intentional. I need to lean in with the intention to learn, let the pain take me where it needs to, and then I need to move on. Any pain I refuse to learn from will keep coming back, again and again.
People put off doing work around their trauma because they are afraid of the pain, but if that trauma goes untreated you will be in pain anyway- and it will be a pointless pain. Pain for pain’s sake.
If you stand still and let the pain wash over you, let it take you where it’s going, you will eventually get to shore. This I know.
“If one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected-those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most-and listens to their testimony.”
James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket
I’ve always been a sucker for a movie in which the main character is on a quest for justice. That’s what I told myself, anyway.
Give me a Liam Neeson going after the guy who took his daughter or a Count of Monte Christo dramatically settling scores. When the line of police cars is tearing up the road to Shawshank Prison and you know the warden is going down? Forget about it.
There was so much pain, so much harm in my life and in the world around me, and I wanted wrong things made right. I wanted there to be consequences. I wanted bad guys to pay. The problem with that is what I was really seeking was vengeance.
We talk a lot about our justice system in this country. It is huge- almost 114K employees, with a budget of over $31 billion dollars. It also has exactly nothing to do with justice.
What we have is a Retribution Department. A Punishment Department.
Please hear me when I say this, I am not saying that crimes don’t deserve punishment. It may be the best bad option when someone is grievously harmed. Make no mistake, though, no matter how swiftly the verdict is reached, no matter how severe a sentence is imposed, justice is never served. The scales will never feel balanced because justice is not the answer to injustice, it is the absence of it.
The scales will never feel balanced
because justice is not the answer to injustice,
it is the absence of it.
When my cousin Mary and I wrote our story for Boston Magazine, the first title that got assigned to the article was, How to get revenge on a dead man.
I recoiled and shrieked a little when I read it. I had a visceral reaction to the word revenge because that is not what we were seeking. It is not revenge to go to the police when harm has been done to you. We asked that the title be NOT THAT and they changed it. Eventually, it was entitled, How to get justice from a dead man. That is infinitely better and still not quite right.
We got no justice. Traditional justice, as is meted out by the penal system, was never going to be an option anyway because our perpetrator was long deceased. If he was still alive should he have gone to prison? Yes. Yes, he should have. I sorely wish he’d been reported and prosecuted back when he was abusing us because other victims would have been spared their trauma. That didn’t happen. Other girls were harmed and suffered injustice because he escaped punishment. That is sometimes harder to live with than my own trauma.
When we walked into that police station that cold January morning we were not seeking vengeance. I’m not sure we were even seeking justice. Our untold story was screaming inside us. It had made itself known in a myriad of toxic and harmful ways and we were desperately tired of dragging it around. We were looking for a place to lay that dark and heavy thing down. We needed to tell our story. We needed a witness. We needed an opportunity to say, “LOOK. This terrible thing happened.”
My version of finding some measure of peace is using the knowledge I have as a survivor to try and prevent other kids from being sexually abused. I can raise awareness, talk to parents about prevention and what to do if their kids do disclose abuse. I find freedom in telling my story and helping other survivors tell theirs. My healing is largely born of using my experience to help others to heal. I am grateful for that peace and healing. I am thankful for that freedom.
Justice would have been not having that experience and knowledge in the first place. I would have preferred not to have that story to tell.
Justice is what should have happened,
not the solution to what did.
When I was at Wild Goose this summer I heard Reverend Otis Moss III speak. He talked about how our purpose on this earth is to make way for the next person. To make a path, open a door, create space for the person coming up behind us.
Some crimes demand punishment. They do. It is the best way (so far) that our society has come up with to underscore the fact that behavior is unacceptable and dangerous. Sometimes individuals are so dangerous that society requires protection from them. Period.
I think we get so invested in punishment as justice. And if and when we do get it, we wonder why it doesn’t lessen our pain, why we’re still bitter, why is feels empty.
How many times have we heard families of victims say they thought they’d feel better when the perpetrator went to jail, but it was hollow? That it wasn’t enough, somehow?
Of course it’s not enough. Because we’re left with just us and our pain. No justice. The harm is still there. The trauma is still untreated. Healing from trauma- whether it be our own or that of someone we love- is work. HARD work. Long term work. Healing cannot be handed down in the form of a sentence. It just does not work that way.
Retribution is not our work. Vengeance is not our work.
So, if those of us who have been abused, harmed, violated- by a person, an institution, or society at large- do seek justice it will not be for ourselves. The injustice we suffered is a fact and facts are not negotiable. It already happened. There is simply no unringing those terrible bells.
We can raise awareness, we can educate, we can advocate, we can fight, and we can resist- because if we do that sacred work we can ensure the next child, next woman, next person of color, next LGBTQ kid, next prisoner, next whoever, does not experience that same thing.
If we want justice we go to those who have suffered injustice and ask what happened and what should have happened, then we work to make that happen for the next person. We do our individual work, and then we do our familial work, our institutional work, our societal work and things change.
Just us, then justice.
“Justice will not be served
until those who are unaffected
are as outraged as those who are.”
Last weekend, social media was awash in the hashtag #ThisIsNotUs. I heard politician after politician say, “America is better than this,” and, “This is not who we are.”
That needs to stop. Seriously.
Listen, I get it. I get the urge, when confronted with such ugliness, such hatred, ignorance, and violence, to disavow the behavior as something aberrant, alien. OTHER. Who wants to be associated with what is the very worst of human nature? I have a visceral reaction to what I saw take place in Charlottesville. It sickens me.
The thing is though, what we saw happen in Charlottesville is us. It is. It is exactly us, at this moment in time. Those photos of faces twisted in fury, lit by torches? Those are family photos. They are the same faces that were once covered by hoods, and before that worn by overseers and slave traders. They were present at the bus riots in Boston, the lunch counters in Alabama, and this president’s rallies during the election. Those faces have always been a part of the American family. They have never not been us.
The United States of America was the first country born of an idea.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That idea, that IDEAL, has never been realized in this country. It was lofty and bold and beautiful and penned by a man who owned other human beings. Even the guy who WROTE it didn’t believe in it enough to fully live it. That is a wildly uncomfortable FACT.
In Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech he said:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.”
That remains an unfulfilled dream.
I have heard in years past that race as an issue is a generational thing- that kids today are ‘post-racial.’
I think we saw a black man elected to the highest office in the land and it allowed us to think we’d done work we have not done.
Take a look at those photos of the people surrounding that statue in the square in Charlottesville, the torches they carry illuminate their YOUNG faces contorted in rage as they shout, “Blood and Soil,” a phrase derived from the German, “Blut und Boden,” popularized during the Nazi’s ascension to power.
The comparison to Nazis is not just apt, it’s direct. It’s a same/same comparison. These are not remnants from a generation past, these are young people, primarily male, who have LEARNED from generations past. These young men didn’t descend on the square and commit their first act of hatred. There is exactly zero percent chance that’s the case. They came from their families and communities and schools and jobs where they learned, spread, and lived out of this hate.
I’ve heard people say President Obama brought this out in people, which is patently ridiculous. I have news for you, if your reaction to policies you don’t agree with is to hate black people, you already hated black people.
And it’s nonsense to blame this entirely on the current President. If those seeds, if that underlying racism wasn’t already there, there is nothing that man could have said to foment such ugliness so quickly. Did he embolden them? ABSOLUTELY. His rhetoric and blatant inciting of violence at his rallies and his hiring of Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon resulted in turning hooded racists into bare-faced racists. He pulled the covers off it, he wrote them a permission slip- but these people were already here, in line at the bank, next to us in class and in church pews and across the Thanksgiving table.
They didn’t march on Charlottesville because the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee was an attempt to “bury history,” either. Hear me when I say this:
Exactly no one is suggesting we bury history. What is being asked is that we no longer display signs and symbols and statues glorifying the horror of slavery. Would a statue of Hitler be okay in Munich? Ok to fly Nazi flags in the towns where Jewish Germans were packed onto train cars and sent to their deaths? We should have comprehensive museums that accurately reflect the monstrous national sin that was slavery- not statues of its architects and defenders that were placed in town squares to terrorize and intimidate.
And I am guessing these young men knew that.
These young men were intent on preserving a statue which was a state sanctioned act of terror because they are terrorists. Full stop.
There was a book I read many years back called Hitler’s Willing Executioners. It wasn’t about Nazis, it was about regular Germans.
Ordinary people, who said nothing and did nothing to halt the tide of insane nationalism combined with systemic anti-Semitism that resulted in the Holocaust. People who held latent bias, perhaps, and just didn’t want to get involved in all that ugliness. Who didn’t want to rock the boat or make trouble. Maybe they didn’t want the Jews exterminated but they didn’t want to stick their necks out for them either. So they stayed quiet. They went along. They behaved.
And so, some frustrated, angry, self-important, power hungry little man came along who gave them someone to blame for every unrealized dream, every personal failure, every national problem. Any of this ringing a bell?
These terrorists in Charlottesville are not other. They’re not. When we say, “This is not US,” we are saying what we want to be true rather than what is. The fact that that’s unsettling and unpleasant does not make it untrue. Those angry men might not be ME, and they might not be YOU- but they ARE us. US is a collective noun. It means me, and it means you, AND IT MEANS THEM. They didn’t come from nowhere. They didn’t come up with those ideas on their own.
If the terrorist that drove the car that killed that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens more had more melanin in his skin, if his family worshipped at a mosque and not a church, we’d be hearing a hell of a lot more, “Where was he radicalized?” You can bet your bottom dollar this White House would have used the word terrorist inside of an hour.
White America needs to get real. We need a long, hard, unflinching look in the national mirror.
One of the most life changing things I have learned in recovery is to examine my part in things, whether it be conflict, relationships, resentments- anything that’s making me uneasy, unhappy, or unhealthy.
This is not a delightful process.
Before I got sober I was much more inclined to feel like life and hardship and harm were just happening to me, that I was a victim of circumstance. The trouble with that is this: If you are not part of the problem, if you have no ownership of any of it, it’s nigh impossible to be part of the solution because you have no agency in how you got there.
If these radicalized white nationalists are just happening to us, we’re screwed. If they’re just spontaneously erupting like a whack-a-mole from hell, well then, there’s not a hell of a lot we can do about it.
Spoiler alert- they’re not. Every racist joke unchallenged at the dinner table, every stereotype reinforced by the media and news outlets not called out, and every polite biting of the tongue when someone crosses a line of decency is a seed sown. When your kid saw you not raise hell when an elected official called the First Lady of the United States an “ape in heels,” when a Mayor sends out a meme with the White House front lawn depicted as a watermelon patch, when President Obama was lynched in effigy on a regular basis, and you said NOTHING? You became complicit.
And when you deny your own privilege, when you, “yeah, but…” when you reflexively get defensive rather than simply listening and acknowledging someone else’s pain and the harm that has been done to them by our country, you are actively part of the problem.
These white nationalists are not apart from us, they are a PART OF US. Denying that is just doubling down on our guilt.
There’s a part of Dr. King’s speech that doesn’t get quoted as often.
“In a sense, we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”
I think we avoid that passage because it makes us uncomfortable, and it makes us uncomfortable because we know it is STILL TRUE. That check remains uncashed, our promises remain unhonored.
We remain a racist nation. We do. And it is not enough to wring our hands and lament when violence erupts. It’s not productive to go on defense when people are honest about it. It is not enough to engage in pointing fingers at others to blame when we’ve not searched our own souls and done our own work.
We need to listen. We need to learn (which does not mean making it someone else’s job to educate us.) We need to repent.
Until we do those things, this is the U.S., and this is us.