Thanksgiving

This is an odd Thanksgiving post, but go with me here, and see where I’m heading.

Christa Brown wrote an unusual Thanksgiving post on her blog. In a day wrapped in warm-fuzzies, it reaches out and grabs you with the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy realities in which abuse victims live.

She concludes with the awareness that she is grateful – grateful that she is alive to still feel that pain. Grateful to have emerged from the other side of that dark hole sane and whole. Grateful for the people who surround her who do care and who understand.

This piece resonated with me deeply. I’m taking a sociology class this semester, which is generally a subject I thoroughly enjoy. The social sciences are right up my tree. Since it is an honors class it is discussion-based and we have a lot of fun while being able to explore the material more deeply than most classes can.

However, the section we have just completed was on the socializing functions of education and religion. The material touched deep wounds and, try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake it off. Last Thursday we had an exam at 11 a.m. and I have no classes prior to that period so I spent the time from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the library studying for the exam. Well, that was my intention anyway. But the pain became so overwhelming I ended up sitting in the library crying for two hours and hoping no one would notice.

Also during the same general time frame of this past week or so, I had an e-mail exchange with my academic advisor about some plans for the upcoming year. In the process we got to talking about the way we have learned to see life differently at 40-something. We see life as less linear. Life is more… holistic is the term we decided on. It is inclusive.

I don’t know specifically what he was thinking about when he was talking about a holistic vs. linear perspective. But I was thinking about this (among other things) – we don’t leave the past in the past and it is finished, and then move on to the next stage. The yesterdays are still part of the todays. The pain of the yesterdays is still part of the todays. And that is OK. Today’s joys are not necessarily marred by the pain of yesterday; the two are just one unified today.

I wouldn’t be who I am today and wouldn’t have the message I have today without the yesterdays – but I don’t want anyone else to have to walk where I have walked. The value in my yesterdays certainly does not justify the continuance of evil for the same “benefit” in the life of someone else.

I read a poem in the anthology we’re using in my English Comp class this semester. It is about Vietnam, but it is vividly parallel to the experience of abuse. It is called wahbegan, by Jim Northrup.

Didja ever hear a sound
smell something
taste something
that brought you back
to Vietnam, instantly?
Didja ever wonder
when it would end?
It ended for my brother.
He died in the war
but didn’t fall down
for fifteen tortured years.
His flashbacks are over,
another casualty whose name
will never be on the Wall.
Some can find peace
only in death.
The sound of his
family crying hurt
The smell of the flowers
didn’t comfort us.
The bitter taste
in my mouth
still sours me.
How about a memorial
for those who made it
through the war
but still died
before their time?

Christa’s Thanksgiving post reminded me of this poem, of my morning crying in the library last week, and of my conversation with my academic advisor. When religious leaders treat the issue of abuse with such cavalier attitudes as if it was just something that happened back then and we should get over it and move on, they have no idea. And there are no words to make them see.

When these religious leaders refuse to stand for righteousness, and persist in covering for abusers; when people insist that abusers should be given reduced or commuted sentences because of “all the good” they have done with the “rest” of their lives — I want to scream out – do you not see that you are driving the nails in Jesus’ hands again and laying stripes on the backs of the victims one more time? It is injustice on top of injustice in the one place where injustice most should not stand. And it hurts again and again and again.

But like Christa said in her post, I’m grateful to be alive to feel that pain. I almost died – it could have happened. I’m glad I’m alive. I do know people who are permanently institutionalized because their minds coudn’t handle the reality of their abuse. I have known people who couldn’t endure their internal pain and chose to end it early. I know people who choose to live in denial or significant dysfunction because acknowledgement is too much to bear.

So as hard as some days may be, I am thankful. I am thankful for the God who holds my hand, and who holds me in His arms when it’s just too, too much.