A couple of years ago, just as Break The Silence Sunday was being born, a dear friend asked me if I thought I might ever be able to say that I was grateful for what happened to me. My answer, without any hesitation, was a firm “no”. Two years, a lot of work, a lot of advocacy, and the reality of the world we’re living in, my answer is still no, but it’s much more nuanced.
It turns out that, like many things relating to being a survivor in the world today, I need a different word. I’m hoping that in some known language in the galaxy the word I need already exists, but maybe it’s up to me to create a new word. I need something that describes this:
I am not grateful for what happened to me, but I am finally grateful for the person I am today who would not have existed without what happened to me.
This is a strange place to be, this feeling that I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the horrible things I endured. I don’t know if I would have been able to love so relentlessly, to open my heart and allow it to be broken day in and day out, over, and over, and over again, if it were not for what happened to me. It is a peculiar feeling to think that what the men who raped me tried to do failed so spectacularly. They tried to convince me that violence, and hatred were stronger than love, and grace. And they were wrong. The effect of what they did, the outcome of their actions thirty years later is that I understand how deeply I am able to love this broken world because of what they did.
I’m not entirely sure what to do with this feeling except struggle to find a word to describe it, and live into it being my new reality. But it does also have me thinking about resilience and our capacity to love.
In the days since the Weinstein scandal broke, and the #metoo hashtag went viral I have been honoured to listen to more than sixty stories, nearly all of them told for the first time. Women (and a few men) have read my “This Is What A Rape Survivor Looks Like” button and responded with their own stories of dates and partners they thought they could trust, of parents and other adults who exploited them as young children, of things they didn’t even know how to describe until recently, of events that took place in the last few months, and nearly fifty years ago.
Through all the stories runs one unifying theme – the incredible strength and resilience of the human spirit. The people who have shared their stories with me, and all of the survivors I know, are stronger than they can ever imagine. They are taking what has happened to them and not letting it destroy them. Yes, there are hard days (weeks, months, years), but they are all looking for a way to see themselves as more than what they experienced. Most of the folks I’ve listened to are just beginning their healing journey, and are uncertain about where it will lead, but almost all of them want this to be something that changes them, but doesn’t define them.
These are hard days. I’m trying to pastor my parish, stay informed about the world we’re living in, contact my senators and representatives often enough that their staff know me by name, advocate for people being trampled on by the system, listen to survivors, advocate for change, keep the laundry at least under reasonable control, snuggle my kittens, and take care of myself. I cry myself to sleep, and I don’t think I’m doing enough because there’s so much that needs doing.
The odds seem insurmountable, but then I remember that I shouldn’t be here. Seriously. The things that the men who raped me did should have killed me, but they didn’t. I’m still here, still breathing, and still believing in the relentlessly beautiful, gentle, transformative power of love.
I’ve written a poem about this, and it’s still a bit raw. I think I’m inclined to leave it untitled because every title I try to come up with seems to fall short. A writer friend said that the grammatical tense of the poem is a bit muddled – moving between past and present – and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. What they did happened more than thirty years ago, and I’m only now realizing some of what it means for how I live today. And I must confess that the poem feels ugly to me because I don’t want the images of what they did to me to haunt you, and I live with the shame that many (most) survivors feel, that if you knew, really knew what had been done to me you would think less of me. My head knows that’s irrational, but my heart isn’t so sure, but it’s time to stop playing it small. The system of oppression depends on my silence and I’m done with that. As the writer Anne Lamott said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Untitled, 29 November 2017
by Moira Finley
They tried their best,
laying hands on me,
what they believed
they had a right to take –
all trying to destroy me,
break my body,
that violence and hatred
would win the night.
But they hadn’t reckoned
on the invincibility
of my soul,
that every blow,
would root me
in a grace I do not understand,
and intimate violation
my capacity to love.