tell me everything
I was so sorry to hear about the ways you were abused.
As I read your story, what stuck me first was how very alone you were during those ten years you simply survived. Abusers need isolation to do harm – I suppose that’s just the math of hurting people. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier for me to hear what it was like for you to live through hell on earth without anyone by your side.
You are very brave to reach back through time and grab what happened to you by the neck, and with the other hand to reach forward to find a hand to hold. I want you to know that I see you. I want you to know that you aren’t alone any more.
You kept apologizing for the details. You said you couldn’t understand how they connected or why they mattered. But in the paragraph where you described the line of locust trees on that first day that he hurt you, I felt you straining to climb up those branches and hide in high leaves on high winds, so far off the earth that you wouldn’t feel... so far that you might even become weightless.
You said, “I hid behind the living room couch and traced the ugly upholstery pattern with my finger while he hit her in the kitchen. A vintage cowboys and Indians print, brown figures on mustard yellow velour.” You told me how that fabric felt strange, itchy, how it always made your legs sweat, and then you said you were sorry, because it didn’t matter what the couch looked like.
But it does matter, because those details were your hiding place. I want you to keep telling me things like that so that I can sit beside you and trace over the cowboys with you. I want you to tell me enough that when the memory comes back, you won’t have to be alone this time, listening to him do what he did to her.
There’s a scene in the end of Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” where the main character turns his face to the back of a couch and stares at a button. While his life and dreams are falling apart, he can’t even turn to face the room in which he is dying. When life gets too scary, we tend to do that. We go small.
On one of the flights we took to adopt our youngest son in China, we rode in a plane that felt like it was made out of cardboard and staples. I think it was the second most deadly airlines in the world at that point in time.
Hurricane warnings were all over the news that day, train tracks were being washed away by floods, and I doubt that American air traffic control would have let anybody in the air in conditions like these. But we had to take that flight, because our boy was at the end of the journey.
Walking onto that plane was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I got a window seat, but I could barely stand to look.
At however many thousand feet, while the body of the plane shook my teeth loose, I saw stretched over what looked like the whole face of the earth, angry, deep purple and black clouds rotating in violent circles. The light was otherworldly, a pale, irridescent yellow falling on Fibonacci twists, inky indigos bloodied by red plums, a foamy amethyst, all ignited by fire flashing, Propero’s brew from The Tempest.
I felt my whole body go weak.
I'm embarrassed to admit to you that I had trouble praying. I could only count to ten forwards and backwards, pressing my finger and thumb together in a pulse. It was the feeling of helplessness, I think. Foreign country. Crappy plane. Completely at the mercy of forces bigger than I was. Paralytic.
And when you tell me about what you survived, when you tell me that you counted 1...2...3...4... those aren’t just numbers. Leaves aren’t just leaves. Upholstery isn’t just upholstery. These are microfortresses in which a terrified and compressed soul tries to hide.
You also told me that you don't understand where God was. You cried out to him, and nothing changed. You said that it's hard now to trust a God who didn’t intervene when nobody else could help.
I know that some people would rush in and try to defend God to you at this point, but I'm not going to. A high-minded, theological discussion about whatever consequences were left to humans after a Fall might answer our brains, but our hearts would continue to cry out. That answer doesn't fix this problem.
We'd finish that conversation and then go check the Facebook feed, and we'd read updates from people who seem to have always had it easy, and today they are thanking God for providing a new car or another beach vacation. Our theological answer is going to burn sour in our bellies while we wonder what sort of cosmic roulette wheel gets spun, why the white marble of fate bounces from infant to infant, doling out a decade of hiding to some and lifetime of luxury to others.
The bottom line is, I didn't live through what you did. My answers can't reconcile the anger you feel. I'm not going to try to do it.
Have you ever heard mathematicians explaining why we can’t divide by zero? “It’s a meaningless expression,” they say, but it always makes me angry to hear that. It's not because I can't accept futility, but because all of math seems to promise an answer. And so does theology.
Where is the answer to abuse? Why doesn't God stop it? Why didn't He stop it for you?
I have read a hundred explanations for the presence of evil in the world, and while my cognition can comprehend what my compassion cannot... when I see you flutter in pain and when I cry out to God on your behalf, I care only about holding you in my hands and tending your broken wing.
If He has answered my prayer and flooded me with love for you, it is not in the love of explanation but in the love of presence.
How your heart beats! It must be running a thousand strokes a second. I'm so sorry. So sorry about all of what you saw.
Rest here a moment, then.
Just rest while I watch over you now, and be safe beside me. Say whatever you want. Tell me everything while I listen. Perhaps answers enough will come in good time.