Monday, June 4, 2007

loss of innocence

Peace is much deeper than the absence of war.
Wars without beginnings, wars with pauses, but wars without ends.

War is an appetite.
It is its own reason for being.
There are no adequate answers.
The residue stings.

With war comes the loss of innocence for all involved.
For children, for women, for men, for soldiers, for leaders, for humanitarians.
No one is left untouched.
The loss of innocence becomes an appetite to experience the loss again. For others, being suddenly stripped, the collapse of the façade of ones virtue brings with it a peculiar feeling of debt, and the maddening cryptic question of who pays for someone else’s loss of innocence.

Or consider a loss of sexual innocence, whether by force or choice. Remembered as a loss, it can contribute to a life of grief, a life of anger or numbness. What comes of the choice to no longer be innocent is different for every pilgrim but to choose is to risk a region of the soul.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Liberia is coming along miserably, if at all. For a forensic psychologist, the concepts of truth, justice and accountability lie at the heart of my training and my understanding of victims, perpetrators and forgiveness. The process of recovery and rehabilitation includes victim impact statements and consequences, period. But, what if the system of justice is corrupt? Or what if the system alleges consequences but in reality it is a dangerous façade.

In Liberia the process is simple. What one sees is a group of men. These men carry clipboards (which sometimes causes them to be mistakenly perceived as Jehovah Witnesses). These men travel from house to house righteously demanding memories. With no opportunity for informed consent, support when the memories are too intense or a guarantee of anonymity, people wait in fear of the men with clipboards. With Prince Johnson (an infamous rebel leader who briefly broke away from Taylor in the late 90s only to create his very own rule of law that included heinous acts torture and power driven by fear) recently “elected” as the Senator of Nimba County, and rumors that President Ellen Sheriff financed and participated in the some of the destruction as a “revolutionary”, begs the question, why testify? Why remember when the leaders remain in power and indifference is pandemic.

In a few short months I have learned a few things. For me the goal is no longer to ensure that the names of those who sent others to die or serve or brainwash young children are prosecuted, but to reach a place where the victims recall their names only with difficulty when if ever they want to recall them. We cannot undo the past, but we can have a presence that will diminish its size, see to it that our experience of darkness does not take up more room than it’s due. The goal in recovery, I think is to circle back less and less.

This stance is against everything I believed in 6 months ago when I was sitting in the comfort of my library in the West studying war, truama and recovery. Is it ideal? – no. Is it satisfactory? – no. Does it bring more anger? – yes……but maybe embracing the anger, embracing it and them working through it is a first genuine step we can take towards healing.

We humanitarian workers will struggle most with this concept of anger as progress because it is we who believe war and aggression, anger and revenge fantasies should never be discussed or expressed; that only peace and forgiveness and kindness should prevail. But, if something heinous has occurred, something that is worthy of raw and unadulterated anger – isn’t the most genuine response to express it. Otherwise we are stuck - stuck in a limbo of sorts with feelings being repressed or denied, feelings that fester from generation to generation, feelings that if worked though have the possibility of leading us towards something new something outside the box we currently exist in.

It seems the wages of trauma is anger. The resolution of anger, my text books inform me, breaks the grip of the traumatic event. But how do we truly resolve the anger? It’s not enough just to arrive at a place where no one, not even yourself is to blame. You have to go further….

That is anger, now… on to love
How do we love if we are angry?
For me, I will start small
I will start with a mango
I will love a mango, its summer juice running down my chin
Then I will be in love with memories
The sound of my fathers car as it pulls up the driveway on a spring night, ready to enter
The look on my brohters face as he waits for his favorite pizza, lovingly picking up his dog and placing her on his shoulder, ready to love
The words of my favorite stories, given as a gift from friends who know how much I appreciate the retell, the familiar diction and delivery of a tale I have already heard but crave nonetheless, ready to soothe
The feelings connected to a recent relationship
The surge of energy that occured when our fingers accidentally brushed against one anothers
All that was then, all that is now, the slow semi-conscious physical gestures, everything I remember but won’t or can’t articulate because the words are unsupported by reason.

These feelings, these memories these sensory events – they make me feel innocent again.
Others may have a different journey towards the reemergence of innocence but this is my new theory – We must reengage our innocence to resolve the anger, to love.

Anger, innocence and love may sound simple or idealistic but when I am in these camps, or burnt out villages or mass grave sites it is not the events themselves or even the suffering that takes a fierce hold of me. The thing that has outraged me is the indifference I encounter all around it. I grew up thinking hate is the opposite of love, but now I believe it is indifference that is the true opposite of love.

At mass grave sites no one had even a piece of paper to write down the names of the dead.
At accident sites no one took even a moment to cover the young blameless bodies
At home, acts of domestic violence go unnoticed. Up and down every block the sound of the switch or the screaming of a woman hovered in a corner while nearby faces are flat with indifference – faces untouched by the violence.
Common sounds as tragic background music in an invalidated nation of angry victims.

Of course you could say that some man or woman, a group or government body, was to blame; but ordinarily selfishness or simple-mindedness is not the evil
It seems to be the shape of the indifference, the failure to love is what is toxic. This absence will take anyone down after a while, in any corner of the world.

Maybe indifference began by accommodating the impulse to affix blame. Growing out of a need to separate oneself from the brutality one witnessed. A need developed for expediency’s sake to make the suffering an abstraction.

To be angry or to be in love- both are loaded with consequence.
And I know that, at times, love can feel like the greatest of all risks
But not to follow it out, not to take the risk, wouldn’t that leave us isolated from all connections? To fall short of this final loss of innocence, to never say to another human being, I give you my life, wouldn’t that be the most tragic of all tragedies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Gwen,
Keri here--the older sister to "the twins". I am so glad Kris passed on your blog to me. This entry in particular was one of the most "simple" yet complex and profound things I have read in awhile. I am envious of your ability to capture things in such an insighful, reflective, visual, and "novelistic" way. I will look for your name in books Ms. Gwen--or should I say "on the cover"??
Take Care Gwennie--
Forever hooked on your blog, Keri
P.S. I opted for "dot" as my username because after reading your entries, I am humbled and reminded once again that I am a mere dot in the universe.

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