Comfort in the face of tragedy
Yesterday morning, I sat at a table where the word “rape” was mentioned as easily as “lunch.” People are able to have the word simply roll off their tongue, with no side effects. Matter-of-factly. Knowing it is a terrible experience, a horrifying act, it is merely something that has happened to others — it is not part of their history, so it does not dwell in their memory.
Dwell…no. Haunt. Rape. The word is a trigger. The act haunts me. I was raped.
Two horrific times in my life: 1978. 1998.
I remember the dates. I remember the times. I remember it all.
I couldn’t sit there, yesterday. It was a Torah class. Yet the word “rape” became part of it’s focus. Unfortunately, evil has been around since the beginning of creation. I didn’t know that rape was a part of my Jewish history as well.
I sat there, in my shul, as the rabbi mentioned the day’s lesson overview. Dina was raped. We were going to talk about clothing, being provocative, consequences, and more. I couldn’t take it. And I couldn’t stop the movie from playing in my head. I saw my ex-husband, the red shirt he had on, the navy dress I was wearing, the couch he had thrown me on. I started to feel the pain on my arms as he held me down…then I thought I was going to throw up in the shul. In my sacred haven. I had to run.
Sometimes, as I am driving, I look at other women in their cars. I see them as I think they are. And I wonder. How does it feel to have never been raped? What would it feel like to have never had hands laid on you for hurt, to do damage, to inflict pain — to have never been beaten until bones broke and bleeding was unmanageable?
What do they feel like, these other women?
Then the red light will change, and it is time to step on the gas pedal, back to my reality of trying to forget.
I don’t feel sorry for myself. What has happened to me in my course of life is all part of a plan. Everything I have experienced, brings me another opportunity or another ounce of sensitivity and compassion. I don’t understand it now, but perhaps, someday I will. I don’t ask “why”…but what can I do with it. What can I do with what happened to me? My own answer comes in telling others. I warn women, young and old, about danger signs. I tell of safety tips. And I don’t judge.
As my fellow classmates learned of Dina’s story, I cried for the entire morning. Sick to my stomach, I lost control of mindfulness. The movie was playing in my head and I couldn’t pull the plug on the projector.
Then I stopped.
My rabbi’s wife phoned me. She did not have to speak words of wisdom, although she usually does! No, yesterday, all she had to do was listen.
Then I received another phonecall from a worried classmate, and another…until I realized. I shared an important piece of myself with these people whom I felt were no longer strangers.
And today, I am thanking God, for having given me such good people in my life. If it needed to be that I lived through such pains to get to where I am today, then so be it. I am so blessed to be surrounded by caring people.
But in all honesty, I will probably sit at another traffic light today and wonder…just what it would feel like to be free of these torments of rape and physical violence….
God sent us forth, released us from the Garden of Eden into history, to confront mortality, pain, danger, and our destiny.
I wonder what it would be like not to feel haunted.