There are days when I cannot get out of bed without wanting to curl into a ball and weep. Days when my entire body feels as if someone has poured kerosene over me and lit a match as they gleefully danced over my burning body, kicking the ashes simply to add insult to injury. There are days I spend the entire day wanting to slap my left side, it feels as if Fire Ants are crawling just under my skin biting me from the inside out. Some days I spend walking, sitting and standing as if I am still in a neck brace, you know those hard flesh toned ones that push your head up and create furrows in your shoulders, I still remember what they feel like and still hold my head exactly so. Some days, when I feel as if my very best option is to curl into a corner and weep in pain and frustration, I can’t do that even because my body will not follow my desire without screaming in protest.
This was one of those weeks, when my body hurt and thus my mind, my spirit followed the path of pain protesting, ‘it isn’t fair’. The funny thing about weeks like this? No one knows, I never tell and no one seems to notice, no one ever asks if I am okay, for more than a decade now it seems no one asks. Maybe they have simply decided I am not allowed my pain or my weakness. There are times this infuriates me. This week was one of those times.
This week I was the sole speaker for two very different Victim Impact groups, the first an adult Parolee the other a juvenile START. In each case, I found myself judged harshly by those who were there to listen, learn and with some luck consider a different direction. Oddly, the judgment was for similar reason, the discussion though took very different directions. I will say this, after the first I was emotionally wrung out, wondering why I subjected myself to these, after the second I remembered why.
The content of Victim Impact is always the same the cadence though each time is different and depends on how I feel, physically, spiritually and sometimes the vibe of the audience sets a tone. This audience was odd, mixed in their willingness to hear me their hostility at being there. There curiosity to hear the story wars with their feigned boredom, their world weary slump in the seat. I know how to hold them though, as I tell the story of the night I became a ‘Victim’ and then a ‘Survivor’ and ultimately ‘Victorious’, obviously this didn’t happen in a single night but over time and not without work.
I don’t hide some of my history, I tell truths about being a runaway, being a delinquent and ultimately making different life choices. I also talk about my offenders, their choices, their youth and the struggle I have even now with the sentences they received, despite the terrible damage they caused to me, my family and their other victims. I do not shy away from the issue of race, it played a key role in why they chose me and their other victims, thus it has to be part of the conversation.
I have been doing Victim Impact for nearly ten years now. When I first started, I was afraid and still very angry. When I first started, I had no peace in my soul so every single time I spoke there was a small ball of fury caught in my throat. Slowly that ball dissipated, I learned from those I was supposed to be teaching and from others who spoke.
I was asked recently by someone I love, if I could go back in time and change that one day would I do so and my answer was no. I know in my heart what happened was simply a part of the trajectory of my life, part of what made me who and what I am. I could wish for a different lesson book, a different manner in which I got to this precise moment in time but I cannot wish to be a different person.
On Wednesday the same question was asked, would I change it and the answer was still no. The problem was what came before that question was a discussion of forgiveness and a demand that I forgive my offenders because, wait for it:
“It is the Christian thing to do”
“You will never be free until you do”
“It isn’t right to hold a grudge”
“They deserve to be forgiven”
Forgiveness is always part of the discussion, I suspect because everyone wants to know they can be forgiven. Here is what I said, not once but twice within a 24-hour time span.
I do not owe it. I do not offer it freely. I also do not withhold it. Were any of my offenders to come to me with open heart and hands, offering true and honest remorse for their actions I would likely forgive them, but only for the harm they did directly to me. I cannot offer forgiveness for the harm they did, the pain they caused to others, including my parents, sons, spouse, siblings and friends; that forgiveness isn’t mine to give.
Forgiveness without remorse is a cheap imitation and only makes others feel good. It is a good storyline in books and made for TV movies.
I am not Christian thus am not held captive by any man’s version of religious compromise or its accompanying guilt.
I do not owe forgiveness for my own freedom I am already free.
This was a very difficult philosophical stance for those in the audience to ‘get’. After a 5-minute discussion, I called a stop. It was stunning, usually I have a sense of humor about most things, that night and after that discussion, my humor fled.
One person had the audacity to say to me, “Well, would you rather be dead. You have told us all about how hard it was, you haven’t said how grateful you are to be alive.”
I told him I was. Then I told him about living in pain, every single day for the past twenty-two years, I explained the pain meter and how I was never below a four on that meter, never. I told him I was grateful I outlived both my parents that I was glad I could be beside them when they passed. Then I explained this wasn’t what we were there for, that my survival was only testament to my strength and they were all sitting in those hard seats to learn what it meant to be a victim of violence from the point of view of the victim. They didn’t need to know we could survive, they didn’t need hearts and flowers about how grateful we were for our lives after brutality, but that under that survival was pain. To learn empathy and compassion they had to see our pain and our humanity.
Another person wanted to go down the path of victim blaming, that perhaps, somehow and in some way I shared blame in my carjacking and shooting. Well yes, of course that must be true. My aliveness, my drawing breath, my being there in a perfectly safe place, at 7pm on a February evening, yes that makes me share the blame. It truly is a great thing I am the person I am, my temptation was to nail him in the forehead with my high-heel.
As I said, I did two of these this week. One with Adult Parolee’s and the other with Juveniles, the first was with the adults and you have seen a glimpse of that one here. It shredded me, wrung me out. There were a few bright spots but not many. The second though, with the young people though we had similar discussions about forgiveness, empathy and compassion; well, at the end of it my spirit was once again lifted. I was once again reminded why even when it is hard I will continue to do this.