When there is excessive suffering there is an instinctive desire to get out of the pain. By excessive I mean substantial trauma over a period of years and years, not the kind of minor or even major irritations that are part of daily life. It’s particularly hard to navigate long-term suffering when it feels like there has been senseless waste of time or substantial losses that could have been avoided. The keenest part of suffering is not what was done to me, but rather what I did to myself and others as a result of what was done to me. This is the sheerest piece of agony. Because it feels, and of course is, my own fault. Worse, when I judge myself harshly, I then proceed to judge others with the same severity. The harder I whip myself, in my pride and indignation, the harder I whip others either directly or in my mind.
Nothing about pain is simple. It’s so tempting to make it so – to want to divvy the issues up, color things conveniently in black and white, dispense with them. But anyone who has contended with self-destructive behavior knows that this is a childish approach. If you could have stopped hurting yourself and ones you love, you would have done so long ago. But you can’t. Reminding me of one of my favorite writers E. Annie Proulx whose main character Quoyle, in The Shipping News, writes secret headlines for himself, including this one, “Stupid Man Does Wrong Thing Once More”. The torment is how we frame it up, though, this epic battle to overcome what happened. We can frame it differently.
The ones who battle for us that we cannot see, on both sides of the spiritual fence, have a perspective that we do not. They know eternity. Good knows eternity utterly, sees the scope. Evil knows that eternity will eventually swallow evil, death will die. So, therefore, God is not in a hurry, but darkness always is.
Life is Time. How we allot our time is the same as how we allot our life. Time is another way to notice life, to notice change, to notice how temporary things truly are. But in the dark hour, alone, with nothing but the evil that was done to me and the evil I have carried out upon others, it would be a comfort to be a hero and find a way to pay for it once and for all. God is that hero, not me. God pays for it, pays my ransom, as I have neither the skill to see the depth of my debt, nor the ability to pay for it.
From the age of 3 until the age of 12 I was raped and tortured nightly except on rare occasions when I was not at home or someone else was with my mother and I. My mother deliberately kept my nights free so that she could do what she wanted. Even if, on the very rare chance that another girl slept over, I was not allowed to have that girl sleep in my room. My mother did not stop raping me simply because another child was in the house. Then, from the age of 12 until my early 20’s I lived in households of violence, chaos, lies, and conceit in which all of my father’s subsequent wives did what they wished to me. The total of those years would be about 20.
In geologic time, eras are measured in the millions of years. The Neogene Era is the shortest geologic era at 20.4 million years. Using that scale, in geologic time, my suffering is infinitesimal. Yet geologic time is less than a quark (the smallest particle we measure) of spiritual time. In spiritual time the events I describe are are basically too small to quantify.
There is no benefit to minimizing or trivializing my own suffering or the suffering of others. During my torture events, time stopped entirely. Nights with my mother, the me I am never existed before the sexual torture began and would die before it ended. The quality of that kind of pain has the ability to redefine time because of course what is really happening is time and life are becoming one in those moments. ( Like when you relive a car accident and you feel that the whole thing was strangely in slow-mo.) If you accelerate the level of pain, if you amplify it to the utter extreme of physical and emotional terror, you successfully drop out of the matrix, you drop out of the pretense of time altogether, and you find yourself suspended in life, in the actual fabric of existence.
If you survive, and I did, then it can be useful to use a spiritual timeline on occasion. It can be useful to acknowledge that my mother and stepmothers were gods for 20 years. But God has been God always and will always be God. There was a moment when I did not exist, before I was conceived, but there will not be a moment when I cease to exist. To endure the kind of trauma that I describe here, to live, and to deal with it effectively, it is useful to cast the years in an alternate light sometimes.
One reply to pain, particularly when the desire is to avoid it, is to say, “It doesn’t matter.” The problem is, for all of us, what we have to contend with when we say, “It matters.” My suffering and yours, it matters. Human suffering matters. It matters more than anything else, in fact. It’s the measuring that we do that needs to change.
To ignore the past, and the trauma that the past causes in the present is to perpetuate what happened, to extend it. To honor the past, and to put an end to the evil that happened, that process means saying, “It mattered.” Then, another way to turn it, to spin it as you try to contend with it, is to say, “That which loves me, that which fights for me, is so large, so powerful, that it cannot be quantified, only qualified: it is called Good. That which hates me, that which hurt me, is so unsubstantial, so close to nothing that it cannot be quantified, only qualified: it is called Evil.” In between Good and Evil is where we exist right now.
So, standing here, our life in our own hands, looking at both sides, Good and Evil, you begin to see that whilst one is inconceivably beautiful, staggeringly powerful, and infinitely delightful, the other is ridiculously petty, meaningless, and weak, so trivial and cheap as to be almost imperceptible.
My life and your life have just begun. Time is only useful as a way to measure life; it cannot measure death, as time and life are one and the same whilst death is neither. What my mother sought to suck out of me, the life in me, was, always, and is now beyond her reach and will always and forever be beyond her reach. My mother is dead, and she will continue to be dead. My mother, in making her choices, chose to be feasted upon by the many demons now savoring her soul until God in mercy allows my mother to cease to be. Meanwhile you and I, we have life right now, life to use for our delight, for our pleasure. We own life, it’s ours.
The moments during which they attempted to steal life from us, is paper currency, is worth nearly nothing. Those who failed to steal life from us bargained everything in the process, and, stupidly, if your predator is dead like mine is, that person is now exquisitely aware of how ludicrously short sighted they were. As children of God we get to tumble and stumble and bumble along, all the while finding a keener and keener expression of the beauty God built into us, whilst those who chose the other route die. Our tormentors feel, without mediation, as the life they squandered leaks from them. Each moment, as their life is literally drained as a consequence of their choices, they become aware of what actually has permanence and value and what does not. What they did mattered, they were used, they agreed to be tools, and now I wonder – do they see how cheaply they sold themselves? What we do in response to tragic events matters, we matter. When we agree that we matter, we see just how sacrificially, profoundly, and intimately we are loved. Norman Mailer says, “I don’t think life is absurd. I think we are all here for a huge purpose. I think we shrink from the immensity of the purpose we are here for.”