This I Believe
This I believe: hate begets hate; violence begets violence. I believe each of us is capable of violence that shocks us to our very core. I also believe that we are all equally capable of love. We don’t always understand how love can prevail, but it must. It is basic to our salvation.
I believe in these seemingly disparate approaches towards life and living. Even though I grew up in an upper middle class Jewish family, my parents’ zeal for sadistic sex and harm of their children pervaded my life. Their obsession was with the pain and humiliation they inflicted equally on to one another. My family denies these truths. They find it easier to consider me the crazy one, the black sheep. Regardless of their need for labeling, I know my truth. It does not matter that they claim my beliefs as delusional and psychotic. It is true I have a mental illness. However, my illness is not one based in psychosis, but on trauma. This is the greater truth. Because now I understand why I am afraid of being trapped outdoors unprotected against the elements or why the smell of a cigarette sends my head reeling. These phenomena are the results of growing up in the horror of such a violent family. This family, my family, respected in the community, led duplicitous lives. As an adult, I have never engaged in hurting children. I have participated in harmful activities as an adult with other consenting adults. I have great shame for these particularly painful sexual exploits. However, through the acceptance of the people in my life now, I have learned that self-forgiveness is paramount to stop the behaviors that perpetuate the hatred I have internalized.
Growing up, I felt like Lord Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon. I felt trapped and “it might be months, or years, or days,/ I kept no count, I took no note,/ I had no hope my eyes to raise,/ and clear them of their dreary mote/. When I left home for college
my bonds aside were cast
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage – and all my own! . . .
With spiders I had friendships made . . .
Had seen the mice by moonlight play . . .
My very chains and I grew friends
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are: – even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.
Such imprisonment creates what can appear to be insanity, but in reality, the prison becomes a haven to escape the inescapable. As my chains of despair have become unlocked, and I have begun to leave my internal world, I find myself filled with fear and hate in equal quantities.
As I have begun to share my history with my friends, my partner and my therapist they are appalled. Their affirmations and support do not dismiss the behaviors I engaged in as an adult but I understand them better. As a result, I have chosen to stop harming myself as well as anyone else. With the acceptance of my friends, partner and therapist, I have learned that love happens in the most unanticipated ways. I did not believe in love for many years. I thought that love was a set up for pain: physical, sexual, and/or spiritual. I have had to learn that love means we can still inflict pain, but not intentionally. We all inadvertently hurt the ones we care about the most. In the early seventies, the phrase “love means never having to say you are sorry” was one of the sorriest expressions coming out of the hippy era. Love and taking responsibility for having caused pain go hand in hand. Dismissing the basic truths of another person is like denying the basic right to be alive. These are the cruelest forms of the love under which I grew up.
Hatred, whether directed inwardly or outwardly, kills. I have struggled with self-hate for as long as I can remember. Too, I have struggled with contempt for the world and its blatant disregard for the sanctity of life. I realize these seem diametrically opposed, but in reality, they are the same issues on opposite sides of the same page.
For these very same reasons, I believe war destroys the fabric of our humanity. Having grown up in a war zone, I know the enormous destruction of hate and death. I don’t know anyone who, when a loved one dies, does not become overwhelmed with grief. My family has been at war with itself for as long as I can remember. When my father committed suicide, many of my friends said he got what he deserved. I disagreed. No one deserves to die even they committed horrific deeds; not Hitler; not Jeffery Dalhmer; not Sloboban Milosevic; not Saddam Hussein; not my father.
When a loved one dies, we are left with some kind of hole. Being Jewish I intimately understand the atrocities of the Holocaust and the devastation of genocide. Some of today’s worst offenders still loved and tried to protect their families. Saddam Hussein had his wife and daughter exiled to Jordan before he was taken captive. Yasser Arafat let his wife and daughter stay in France prior to his being forced to live in his bunker for two years. I do not believe in genocide. It is hideous. Those who perpetrate such crimes against humanity deserve some form of punishment. However, taking a life, no matter how deviant the crimes, takes away from our humanity. The statement “an eye for an eye” holds no relevance when claiming the life of another.
You may wonder how I can make such grand statements. I make these statements because I lived in an environment where my life held no value. My death would have been dismissed for its lack of value even in an upper middle class Jewish family. I have experienced things I would not wish even upon those who perpetrated them. I know about the desire for revenge. I know how it kills the soul. I know how the desire for revenge perpetuates the most hellish of winters never allowing spring to come.
Spring, though, comes at the most unexpected times. Learning to understand that even someone like me has the right to be alive and thrive brings the first breath of spring. As e. e. cummings wrote,
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window, into which people look (while
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a know thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
and fro moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of a flower here and placing
an inch of air there)and
without breaking anything.
My belief in spring and “the perhaps hand” legitimates anger and rage and their ultimate resolution. Without these venomous feelings like the violence of winter, we cannot appreciate the beginnings of spring and newness previously never understood.
I understand, too, that just as spring may start for me, on the other side of the world, or across the street, fall has begun. The terror winter brings may be just beginning for another innocent child or adult. Hurting other people, either within a family, as I grew up in, or hurting an entire nation or race takes away the grace we each possess. I don’t mean grace in any religious form, I mean our innate ability to care for someone, anyone. I also don’t mean forgiving the unforgivable. I mean moving forward, beyond the contempt and hatred into a place where contentment and solace pervade. I believe in our power, as individuals and as a population to survive the un-survivable and move towards reconciliations with the past and the wrongs we inflict on one another, purposely or not. This I believe.
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