I was on a panel last year with 4 amazing women — women who were entrepreneurs, leaders, change makers for good in their communities. I was in awe of each one as they spoke about their commitment to help others and their incredible accomplishments.
The last question of the panel came from a young woman in the audience: What motivates you and gives you strength to do what you do? Since I sat at the end of the table, I was the last one to answer.
The first one told us that she had been raped as a younger woman.
The second one had been sexually molested, admitting it for the first time on the panel. Her mom, who was in the audience and already knew about her daughters trauma, sobbed with pride as she listened to her daughter say that she refused to be a victim.
The third one also had been sexually molested by a family member.
The fourth one too had been raped.
Each one spoke about how they had been forced to find light in a dark, very dark, world. That often it was tempting to live in darkness — and some had for lengths of time. But those glimpses of light kept them going. They cried. They laughed. They shared their stories with a desire to help others heal.
I was in awe.
When it came to my turn to speak, I couldn’t at first. I held back tears. Unlike each of the incredible women before me, I had not been abused. In fact, I had grown up surrounded by love and support. It was my good fortune, my gratitude for so many gifts that inspired me. How crazy that I had a moment of unworthiness sitting next to these women who had been abused and overcome such obstacles to achieve the things they did. Shouldn’t it be a basic right that every child is loved, given security, opportunity? How could it be that I was the only one?
One of the moms of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky trial pointed out that everyone had lost in this trial. The victims, the families, the communities, Jerry Sandusky himself. His psychosis, now so obvious, brings up questions about morality, personal and social responsibility.
My experience on the panel blatantly reminded me that we live in a world that is fighting many demons. There is a lot of real pain, a lot of gut wrenching trauma that innocent children, that good people, are faced with every day. And while its easy to think of Jerry Sandusky as a monster — because what he did disgusts me to my core — I feel that there is a sickness, an imbalance at its very core, that runs deep not only in him, but in our society.
I think about a similar situation where someone I know was caught doing something that disturbed me in the same way, something that I thought should be punished. Something I didn’t want to accept that person could every do. I fidget as I realize that this person’s actions were a coping reaction to a deep trauma, abuse, from the past. My head spins as I think about another friend who was abused by her father. I still cannot come to terms with it and am in awe with how she copes every day. I realize she copes because she has to. She had to heal.
I avoided the daily news about Jerry Sandusky. I avoided it, not because I was protesting the media hype, but because it made me sick and emotional. But, I know that avoiding darkness does not make it go away. It does not help people heal.
I read this article about Sandusky’s pastors words to his congregation last Sunday. He told of how Jesus was awoken on a rocking boat as a storm raged around them. He responded with the words: Peace. Be Still.
“Sure, the darkness is deep and the waves are powerful, but this is the time to engage the world, not run from it,” he said from the pulpit. “This is the day of our saving. God always speaks the loudest when the waves are the highest. Peace! Be still!”
Those women on my panel, they did not run from their pasts. They are the victims who will not be held back — who can inspire others to heal and not continue cycles of abuse. They are the light bearers for the future. The ones who share the stories so that we can let the tears flow freely in pain. So that we can release, and then find the inner stillness and strength to move on.