For B —
I’ve been thinking about family. I’ve been thinking about what happens when family members turn on you in unforgivable ways. I’ve been thinking about the worlds I see through my students’ eyes, through the papers they write.
I learn from my students. I learn how to appreciate what I have now, and the privilege that was my childhood. When I’m tempted to whine about whatever indignity I might have suffered once or might be suffering now, I remember the paper written by a student a couple of quarters ago. He was a gang member, and his family’s house was burned down by a rival gang. He left the gang then, thankful that nobody in his family had died in the fire.
I remember the student who wrote about the scar in his leg, a gunshot memento from running drugs and a gang skirmish. I remember the woman with the three little dots on her cheek, a tattoo that centered her in the sub-culture that was her world. There are men and women here who are recovering from addictions: alcohol, crack, meth. So many meth addicts, trying day-by-day to turn their lives around.
There are stories from girls who cut themselves because that’s the only power they know. There was the student who was molested by his babysitter for years as a prepubescent boy. And every quarter, somehow, someway, there are the stories of girls who have been raped, or sexually abused, or beaten by controlling boyfriends. There are those who were molested once, and who told parents who believed them, and who saw justice done. And there are those whose parents either were the molesters, or who allowed the molestation to happen.
I can’t imagine it. Can’t imagine standing by and letting anyone hurt Zeke. I can’t imagine not believing her, or seeing abuse and turning away. I can’t imagine how a mother could do that to a kid, what kind of dark and twisted world that mother grew up in to think it’s OK to turn her back on abuse to a child.
I think of the extraordinary courage of students who stand up in the face of family hostility and say, “This isn’t right” about the years they withstood abuse that went unchallenged. We’re not “supposed” to be molested by close relatives, but if we are, we’re not “supposed” to send those relatives to jail. Charging a father or a brother or a mother or a sister goes against some terrible instinct that says family cohesion is more important than individual rights. And yet some people have the courage to walk away from family, to recognize that family cycles can’t continue. They break away, at terrible cost to themselves, for something that is ultimately for the greater good.
A few of those brave women (and sometimes men), are able to do so and yet somehow maintain their ability to love, to hold compassion in mind with every action. They love those who have hurt them, and while they take the brave and isolated stance that destroys the family cycle of hate and destruction, they never lose sight of love.
For those rare and precious people, for those few I know personally and others all around the world who also walk such lonely paths, I pray.