By Richard Krawiec
Recently I met with a group of women who had suffered terrible transgressions and losses in their lives from an early age. Deaths of loved ones, violent rape and abuse, humiliations by friends and abandonment to strangers.
We all know the clichéd responses to this, right? When life gives you lemons…put it behind you and move on…etc.etc.
But I think there is something ultimately dismissive in failing to recognize that sometimes we suffer damage we can’t get beyond. Sometimes we suffer damage that creates a wound so deep it will not heal. We can learn to live through it, we can try to accommodate it, to go forward despite the wound – but the wound remains. It’s what is meant by the term ‘survivor’ I think. The person who knows what happened can’t be ignored, or changed, but has found a way to live past without denying the damage.
Many of us have things happen to us that are difficult to move on from. I had a girlfriend who was haunted by the memory of watching her father die on their kitchen floor, begging God not to take him from his family. I can’t seem to get past my best friend as a child growing into an estranged teenager who blew his brains out with a shotgun; I’m still haunted by memories of the time I walked out of a Juvenile Court in Pittsburgh without the 5-year-old girl who was returned, by the courts, to her sexually abusive father.
I know these incidents pale in comparison to what others have to deal with. I didn’t survive the concentration camps. I wasn’t a child growing up in war-torn Gaza. No gang of soldiers raped me in a tent. I wasn’t that girl, that friend.
So it always feels childish, whiny to admit these things still create a profound sorrow in me when I think about them. But we don’t choose our damage, and to a large extent we don’t choose, at least initially, our ability, or inability, to deal with the traumas of our lives. Aren’t our ways of response to at least some extent conditioned by those around us, especially those around us when we were growing up?
On another thread a woman speaks about visiting her father in the hospital and holding his hand, like she used to when she was a child. I can’t remember ever holding my father’s hand. He wasn’t a cruel or abusive man, but he wasn’t attentive in that way.
When friends died in high school – from hanging, drug overdose, leukemia – I don’t remember any of our parents offering support, advice, condolences or ways to deal with the loss to those of us who remained.
When you don’t have a way to deal with a wound, it remains unstaunched. People find different ways, not so much to move forward as to cover it up, to bandage pain with sex, drugs, violence. Because they don’t know how, or aren’t allowed, to look at it. Just put it aside, we’re counseled, forget about it, so you can become a productive member of society again. It’s a type of cultural denial, isn’t it? But what do people do when they can’t. Well there is the previously mentioned trinity –drugs, sex, violence. But there are other ways for people who can’t articulate but somehow know their concerns aren’t being addressed.
Some people turn to writing, others to song, painting, dance. Because nothing offers a better path into the interior, a more honest and unflinching way to look at what has happened, as well as a better vision of new paths out of that darkness, than art. I think it was Springsteen who once said the best part of him existed in his songs. In real life he could be a mess. I know that feeling. God, do I know it.
But the point is, art offers us the potential to examine the past and an array of paths – spiritual, moral, ethical, philosophical, psychological – that can lead to a future full of what, in another context, David Brooks calls “the eulogy virtues”.
I never thought I’d say Conservative columnist David Brooks wrote a probing piece -but there it is. In today’s NYT, Brooks talks about something that resonates with what I’m thinking about here. He discusses how we live in an age of self-absorption; we are told to be individualists, “be true to yourself…follow your own path.” It’s easy, Brooks says, “to slip into self-satisfied moral mediocrity.”
And he contrasts this with those whose lives had followed a pattern of “defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding…The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative.”
What’s the connection with this and damage? I guess that what I’m trying to say is this – the culture that says take an anti-depressant when your loved one dies so you can obscure your pain is not a culture that accepts damage. Damage is distasteful, unpleasant, not something we want to discuss. Let’s all get beyond it as quickly as possible so we can go out and have fun.
And if you don’t? Why isn’t there something wrong with you?
Because if we really, truly looked closely at the damage people endured, and it’s long-lasting effect on them, wouldn’t we have to do something to help?
About Writing for Peace Adviser Richard Krawiec
Richard Krawiec is the founder of Jacar Press, A Community active Press dedicated to paying writers and working in under-served communities and has worked extensively with people in homeless shelters, women’s shelters, prisons, literacy classes, and community sites, teaching writing. Richard’s second book of poems, She Hands me the Razor, (title poem nominated for a Pushcart Prize) was published by Press 53. It was one of 17 finalists for a SIBA Award. His latest collection is Women Who Loved Me Despite (Press 53). To learn more about Richard Krawiec, check out his page here.
Writing for Peace News
Meet Malaka Mohammed, Writing for Peace Young Adviser
As a Palestinian, peace for me is the the end of Israeli policies of the occupation of our historical lands, ethnic cleansing, colonization, and racial discrimination that have been continuously condemned by human rights and international law organizations, yet Israel chooses to ignore all these calls with full impunity. Peace is by putting so much pressure on this settler colonial state to abide by human rights and international law. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is one of the tactics that has proved its success to tell Israel that you’re no more impune; the world is watching and looking for a peaceful Globe. I use writing as a way to raise awareness and to express myself. It is good to have approachable platforms that one can use to reach a large number of audience around the world.
~Malaka Mohammed, Writing for Peace Young Adviser
Malaka Mohammed is a Palestinian activist, freelance writer living in Sheffield, and our newest member of the Writing for Peace Young Adviser’s Panel. A powerful voice for peace and justice, Malaka graduated with a BA in English literature from the Islamic University of Gaza and a MA in global politics and law from the University of Sheffield in Britain. Read Malaka’s articles on Huffington post here.
Activism Update From Adviser Dr. Margaret Flowers:
Clearing the FOG speaks with activists from Washington State to Washington, DC who are taking on Big Energy to say “no” to more fossil fuel infrastructure. We begin with four organizers who walked across the United States last year to raise awareness about the climate crisis. They visited front line communities along the way. When they arrived in Washington, DC, they spent a week protesting the little known Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of the Beyond Extreme Energy coalition. Now they are planning more resistance. In Washington State, the “SHell No” campaign is organizing a Flotilla to keep Shell Oil out of the Port of Seattle. We’ll discuss why direct action is the necessary tactic to end fossil fuels and move to renewable energy sources.
Writing for Peace May Day Events
- 2015 DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts “Nature” Edition Book Release! Watch for news of the latest DoveTales, a truly extraordinary and beautiful edition of our annual journal.
- 2015 Young Writer Winners Announcements! Find out what our prestigious judges (Antonya Nelson, Fiction; Steve Almond, Nonfiction; and Stephen Kuusisto, Poetry) have to say about our talented young writers!
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