Sunday, April 13, 2014

The exquisite pain of fighting alone together

I've had a very full day.  A very long, very full, very wonderful day, actually.  And I'm completely overwhelmed.

This morning, I participated in a fundraising walk for a local rape crisis center.  When I saw the fundraiser advertised, I knew I had to do it.  I found an awesome friend to do it with me, I raised $170.00, and I went.  I've done walks before -- I participated in Relay for Life in both college and grad school, and I've staffed tables and raised money for several autism walks.  But this walk was different. 

First of all, it's the only walk I've ever done in heels.  The walk -- called "Walk A Mile In Her Shoes" -- asks everyone (men included) to wear high-heels for the mile-long walk.  With the focus on teaching men not to rape and to be allies for women on this issue, they're asking men to (literally) walk a mile in a woman's shoes.  It's catchy, right?  And, I'll admit, it WAS pretty awesome watching men of all ages totter down the streets in heels -- some with socks, some without, and some with packing tape wrapped around the foot and shoe to keep it on (points for creativity there). 

There were signs, too, of course: "Real men don't rape."  "Rape is a 4 letter word."  "Rape hurts ALL of us."  It was an easy walk on an incredibly gorgeous day.  People came outside to watch us walk by, take pictures of the men in heels, and clap (or, you know, just stare.  That too).  People driving by honked their horns and gave us a thumbs up. 

I had this moment, out in the sunshine, with a big crowd of people all joining together to stand up against this horrific thing that I frequently feel so alone in fighting, when I realized: I'm not alone in this.  This is not a battle we fight only from our individual bedrooms.  This is not a battle we fight only through words on a page going nowhere.  This is not a battle we fight only in moments shrouded with stillness, and silence, and pain.  We can also fight this battle together.  People care about this issue.  People care enough to come, they care enough to walk, they care enough to wear heels for a mileand, when this issue is on the street marching through town, people care enough to agree and to acknowledge us. 

I know this, of course.  I know that there are many, many people who care about this issue.  I know that there are many, many people affected by this issue.  I know that "rape is wrong" is a statement most people can get behind.  But it doesn't feel that way very often.  When you're fighting in the war, it's hard to see that there are people battling alongside you and behind you and in front of you because you're just so focused on making it out of that battle alive. 

And yet...there we were.  Together.  Standing together in the April sun, complete strangers, daring to stand on this issue that we all fight alone.

Tonight, this thought fills me with an exquisite pain that's hard to explain.  It's just so right, you know?  It's's as it should be, and that's beautiful.  For once, it feels like somebody got something right.  For once, it feels like maybe...just maybe...there's hope.  Maybe all the sunshine went to my head, but there is this emotional pain that feels a little bit like a closed heart breaking open -- painful, and beautiful all at once. 

I will be teaching a course at a local university starting in the fall.  Last week, I got an email from a professor/mentor/friend there, who asked if I would be willing to talk with a student about graduate school and answer her questions.  I agreed, and we arranged to meet this afternoon. 

And what an incredible, incredible young woman she is!  She wants to be a therapist, and her passion lies in working with victims of sexual violence.  She currently volunteers 5 days a week as a victim advocate on the overnight shift for a local hospital.  She's going to be travelling abroad to work with victims of sexual violence in a third world country.  You can just feel her open heart and enthusiasm for life exuding from her body, and she hung on every word I said.  I felt completely inadequate in "helping" her (didn't I just graduate from college?  How is it possible that she greeted me as "doctor," and I had to remind her [twice] to call me by my first name?). 

It's overwhelming to feel so looked up to and respected.  How incredible it is to see someone with such passion for working on this issue!  Someone who says it is her "calling," and who is so ready to take on the world.  How amazing it is to feel that I now have some degree of influence over the students I come in contact with -- that I can help them develop plans for their futures, or see where they want to go, or how they can move towards becoming more of the incredible beings they see themselves becoming. 

It's just so right, you know?  It's hopeful, and beautiful, and powerful and right to see this young, empowered woman bursting at the seams with desire to change the world.  To be able to tell her of one possible path, or maybe two -- and then to leave her to make those decisions on her own. 

It's not that I've been depressed, but I've been tired.  I've felt alone.  I've felt overwhelmed.  I feel a tremendous responsibility to give back to the people and places that have helped me; a responsibility to give back to people who know the struggles I have known; and a responsibility to change the face of my profession, given the wrong I have seen done within it.  As the days go by and nothing visible changes, you feel ineffective and you feel tired.  As the days go by and you focus more on getting yourself through them than on lifting others up, you feel tired.  As you see the same problems, and the same arguments, and the same conversations had over and over, you feel tired.  It's crazy-making, and exhausting, and lonely, this fight. 

And then there's a moment when you that you are not alone in these struggles or this fight, that it's not your responsibility to change the whole world, or even your corner of it.  It's your responsibility to get up in the morning.  To walk.  To breathe.  To smile.  To cry.  It's your responsibility to find yourself in the loneliness and to make it through those moments alone.  It's your responsibility to find the moments of connection and to make it through them together.  Such is life.  There is pain in isolation, yes.  But there is pain in connection and community, too.  An exquisite sort of pain.  There is pain in the contrast.  And that pain, in the ways it serves you -- it's right.  It's beautiful, and painful, and right. It will crack you open, and open, and open, and those cracks are painful and hard...but also right.  Also beautiful.  Also exquisite.  It is also part of being alive.  

I guess that's the thing.  I guess that, today, I felt alone, and I felt connected, and I felt whole and wholly cracked open.  And isn't that what it is to feel alive?  What more can one hope for, but to feel alive as we fight alone, together? 

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