I just met someone who was left for dead, one of the thousands of victims of violence I have worked with through the years. I am not going to repeat the details of her assault. I celebrate her survival, yet her survival itself cannot eradicate the experience of her physical and psychic wounds. Nor does her miraculous survival bestow any kind of healing upon the wounds of a society in which these assaults happen unimpeded and routinely. Her survival, her bravery, her strength do not change the underlying situation.
Masked and unmasked hatred for girls and women, reinforced by their normalized oppression through the sex trade and marriage practices, make this particular crime survivor’s country of origin a veritable cesspool of corruption, violence and suffering. This deep well of suffering leads to an ocean. And we are all connected, like it or not. Even if only some communities show the more extreme face of violence, the underlying social injustices it are scattered worldwide, and affect all genders. Not one of us is completely safe.
Here is someone who is “lucky to be alive,” or so she is often told. Yet why should she feel more lucky than anyone else breathing on this planet at any given moment? We each have just the same tentative and fleeting hold on our bodies, our health and our lives. We are each walking on this same earth, whatever our particular struggles and whatever our sources of pain. No matter how we compartmentalize or numb ourselves, no matter how many walls we build, these are the people we live among. We cannot get away.
This young person has deep scars and has undergone multiple surgeries to remove parts of several organs and other damaged flesh. Some of the internal scar tissue has fused together, causing infertility, intestinal blockage, and more. She suffers from functional problems, chronic pain, and increased likelihood of future disease processes. Her attackers may be happy to put their actions behind them and pretend this never happened, especially as the years go by and they move on, but this survivor has no such luxury. She will never have a waking moment in which she is not painfully aware of her assault. Her body’s permanent damage is like an alarm system calling out to her brain; an alarm that she can never shut off.
Yes, the attackers are scarred, too, in so many ways. But they walked away at that moment, laughing as her very life blood flowed out of her. That is the last thing she remembers before she lost consciousness. And all over the world, the attackers are still walking away. And here we all are on this speck of stardust, stuck together, grown together, fused together, in ways that stop us from functioning as fully wholehearted humans. In ways that impede our progress as social creatures. We are bound to each other, no matter what the behaviors of the people around us.
If only I had the steady hands of a surgeon, and that sharpest of razors, the scalpel that could separate and remove all areas of deep wounds and scars, leaving the healthy tissue vibrant and sustainable, life-affirming and whole. But all I have are my words, my love, and my trembling hands.