The best advice I ever got about how to heal
came from a beleaguered camp counselor
who found herself suddenly surrounded
by a flock of heaving sobbing twelve year old girls.
It had been billed as a session on conflict resolution,
an alternative to wood cookie crafts, or horseshoes,
and maybe she should have seen it coming,
how water seeks the cracks in any dam.
One girl had been brutally sexually assaulted
by the preschool director, and had not slept
through the night alone since.
One had been molested by her foster brother,
who sliced his arms with scissors in the bedroom dark.
One had been strangled by her own mother,
who later found God and apologized,
and then punished her for not offering up
the fish and loaves of forgiveness instantly,
the forgiveness which her mother had been promised
by some pastor that she deserved now, and would receive
through the mysterious machines of grace;
the kind that multiplied and magnified and
fed the endless hunger at the center of things.
There were other stories.
Abuse is a word that sounds powerful in your head
and goes limp the moment you speak it,
hanging like a soaked wet curtain
around the things we can not bear to know.
I don’t remember the counselor’s name, or
what she looked like, just that she was an enormous
buoy of a woman.That her voice was deep
and calm and quavered at all the right turns.
That she sat in a way that trained gravity.
How unprepared she must have felt,
to see the sharks swimming in our eyes,
to have been handed the heavy anchors
of our trust. What well of strength did she draw from?
What inheritance of bedrock and granite and spine?
What gospel stolen from the bent melted steel of kitchen knives?
She absorbed every blow of every word.
When we had finished, when we were softened
by confession, she took a breath and began.
Without getting into the kind of details that get attention,
she told us the story of her own early ruin,
of the lifetimes of gentle obligation it left in its wake.
The heart and the mind and the body
might never align on the requirements of joy.
The mind must be taught patience with the heart.
The heart must learn faith from the body.
The body must be tended lovingly and unwaveringly, an infant.
The heart will take its own sweet time, and can not be rushed.
“Just fake it ‘till you feel it,”she told us,
and like that, gave us permission
to put on the tight masks of adulthood,
to build walls around what was
too tender and shocked;
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