Witness

“I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead… And anyone who does not remember betrays them again.”

Elie Wiesel

The only time in my entire life that I recall having a positive body image was when I was pregnant.  I watched my body grow bigger than I would have ever thought possible.  I didn’t berate myself for gaining weight, which was a drastic change.  I was awestruck at the way my body seemed to know what was needed, on any given day doing the hard and important work of creating a human. I was largely unaware of the day to day progress, or the subtle and miraculous things that were happening- I was just sort of along for the ride.  My body grew and changed, others remarked on how big I’d gotten (for real, people- do not do that thing.)  People who loved me would behold my growing belly and grow misty-eyed in reaction.

My pregnant body was me, but it wasn’t me.

He Wrote it Down went out into the world one year ago, today.  One year ago today I hastily wrote an account of Mary and I reporting our grandfather for abusing us 35 years ago, and I clicked the publish button.  That seems impossible.  Like most life-changing events, in retrospect it seems like yesterday and a million years ago, simultaneously.

I feel about that post a bit the way I did during those pregnancies.  A bit outside of it.  It’s my story, written by me- but it’s not mine.  I marvel at the way it grows and changes.  It is out in the world doing important work every day, and I have nothing to do with it.  I rarely check the stats on my blog, but I did yesterday in anticipation of writing this. Almost 300,000 people have read it to date.  It had a bunch of views yesterday.

I’ve had emails from people in the UK and the United Arab Emirates, from Texas and Thailand.  People whose lives look completely different from the outside, but we’re all connected by this dark, unwelcome thread.  My pain as a little girl in Massachusetts was no different than the little girl in Manitoba or the little boy in Malaysia

I don’t re-read it much- I hadn’t read it in months and months.  When I looked at it yesterday, my writer’s brain began tweaking, editing.  I’d write it very differently today.  The discipline of writing every day has changed me as an artist.  I think I’ve grown.  I wrote a piece recently about writing from a scar versus writing from a wound.  The truth is, that piece is both.  It is the ancient scar of my childhood trauma and the recent wound of revisiting it in the form of reporting my grandfather.

I’m so glad I didn’t wait. I’m so glad I wrote it in the moment.  I’m not sure it would have resonated with people the same way if it was more artful and less immediate.  I think it all played out the way it was intended to.

I believe the reason people responded to it has absolutely nothing to do with me or my writing.  I think it addressed a deep, aching hunger. A need.  I think it is a conversation that is long overdue.

I’ve come to realize that this particular piece is not an essay so much as it is a permission slip.

After the post went viral I got thousands of emails and comments from survivors.  I read every one.  I tried very hard to respond to each one personally.  It was, perhaps, the great honor of my life.

Although the tide has ebbed, I still get an email about once a week from someone just discovering He Wrote it Down.  Sometimes it’s from someone saying kind things, which is always lovely.  More often, though, it is someone telling me their story.  They offer up those shards of truth, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes angrily- but they all want the same thing.  They want their stories validated.  They want to be HEARD, sometimes for the first time.

Mary and I have lots of plans and lots of goals for Say It, Survivor.  We know, though, that the most sacred work we do is bearing witness to survivors’ stories.  We know, too, that there are those of us who do not survive.  Whose stories never get told.  Whose stories are never honored.  Whose desperate cries for help go unanswered.  Our forsaken brothers and sisters.

There are people who have questioned why we continue to talk about “that same old stuff” over and over again.  I get that.  I honestly do.  Why keep revisiting something so painful?

We tell our story because in doing so we hope to make it easier for others to tell their stories.  We tell our story over and over again because we CAN.  We offer up our testimony because we are fortunate enough to have survived to do so.

We tell our story for the lost.

I seldom ask anyone to share anything I write, but I am asking today.  Maybe because I don’t really feel as though I wrote it.  If you can, please share He Wrote it Down today. Give it a chance to reach someone it hasn’t yet.  Someone who might be wearing a mantle of dark and heavy shame that was never theirs to carry.

And if you are one of us, if you are our sister or brother in survival, and you are white knuckling your way through the pain, please know that you are not alone.  Come sit with us awhile.  This is a safe place.  You’re among friends.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time to tell your story.  If it is, we’ll listen.

8 Comments on “Witness

  1. Beautiful. I don’t have a huge number of friends on FB, but I will be more than happy to share it again. I will try to think of specific people who have a wider “audience” than I who might be able to pass it on further and e-mail it to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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