It was just an honest miscommunication. We thought one person was driving our daughter home and it turned out that someone else was driving her home, someone well-known to her friend but unknown to us.
In those few minutes of confusion – wait, I thought she would be home by now? who has her? if that family doesn’t have her, who has her? whose car is she in? – I…well, I panicked.
I think my husband was surprised by my visceral reaction – to him, this was just a simple youth group miscommunication that we sorted out in less than five minutes.
But in those five minutes, I fell apart. I think it was when I realized that she was in someone else’s car – someone I didn’t know – that I lost it. Without realizing entirely why, I folded into myself on the couch, crying and freaking out thoroughly.
I have felt resolved and empowered throughout the whole #MeToo movement moment of reckoning. As #TimesUp launched, as more and more women and men came forward and refused to be silenced, I cheered for them, believed them, honoured them. As other young women in my life and circles of influence came forward, I worked quietly behind the scenes to ensure that they were heard, to ensure they received support and justice. I have felt strong, able to shoulder burdens and fight alongside other women in my real life.
But there was something about those words on that night – whose car is she in? – that made me lose my damn mind.
With those words, I remembered being in random cars when I was a teenager. I remembered the rising panic of a locked door I was trying to open. I remembered going from thinking I am quite grown up and independent to realizing in a short drive just how vulnerable and young I really was after all. I remembered nights I thought I had forgotten, nights I had tucked into the boxes of my mind never to be really acknowledged.
In an instant, I remembered that particular fear that happens to young girls in strange cars like an electric shock. The memories rose up out of my mind and threw me backwards decades to sensations of panic I thought I’d forgotten, the ordinary fear almost every woman remembers experiencing in some way. My ability to compartmentalize is second only to my ability to pretend everything is fine – this has served me well right up until it doesn’t serve me at all. I thought I had forgotten those nights in those cars, but my body remembered.
I’ve talked to a few of my friends about this weird outburst of anger and grief that can fling us out of ourselves at a moment’s notice. We’re all at a simmer at this moment in our cultural conversation, it takes little to cause the pot to boil over. They have all said the smallest things can trigger that sort of deep arterial grief reaction in their bodies. One talked about how hearing footsteps behind her one night in a parking garage caused a panic attack three days later. Another spoke of a night spent crying after she missed a bus because one night long ago, when she missed her bus she had been the target of a car of men driving by, urging her to get in.
This has reminded me of the book by Bessel A. van der Kolk called “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” It’s a wise and healing book but the line that I remember most from it is this one: “The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”
As the reckoning around sexual assault, abuse, rape culture, silencing, and patriarchal theology continues, it takes courage to allow ourselves to know what we know. To know that certain things trigger us, to know that what we can bear and what we cannot, to know who is safe and who is not, to know where we are treasured and cared for instead of viewed as liabilities, to know what we experienced was real and it was not our fault, to know we are not forgotten by God, to know our unsurpassing worth and belovedness.
Allowing yourself to know what you know, allowing your body to show you what you are suppressing, is an act of courage.
Later that night, I talked it all the way through. I let myself acknowledge what had happened all those years ago when I was a teenager. Even though I had gotten off relatively light in dangerous situations, the feelings of fear and panic and vulnerability were there under the surface and I needed to honour them, feel them, acknowledge them, and bless them, allow them to breathe in order to release them.
I turned to the words I have often prayed over other women who come to me, the words from Psalm 147: “He binds their wounds, heals the sorrows of their hearts…. He is loving, compassionate, and wise beyond all measure.“
And I reminded myself that this is part of the work of resurrection, the making things right, the covenantal partnership of shalom, the work Jesus has invited us into alongside of him: these moments of quiet #MeToo far from social media and attention of celebrities, the ones uncelebrated and unacknowledged. So I turned again to those words from Isaiah that Jesus read out in the temple:
The Spirit of the Lord, the Eternal, is on me.
The Lord has appointed me for a special purpose.
He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to repair broken hearts,
And to declare to those who are held captive and bound in prison,
“Be free from your imprisonment!”
He has sent me to announce the year of jubilee, the season of the Eternal’s favor:
for our enemies it will be a day of God’s wrath;
For those who mourn it will be a time of comfort.
As for those who grieve over Zion,
God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes,
To anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow,
to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness.
People will call them magnificent, like great towering trees
standing for what is right.
They stand to the glory of the Eternal
who planted them.”
This is the work of the Gospel, isn’t it? freedom, joy, comfort, favour, beauty for ashes, victory, good news for the poor, the repair of your broken heart. This is the work of the warriors of love and light among us.
In the midst of the reckoning unfolding in our culture, I want now to quietly say to those of us who are engaged in the work of shalom, we can miss our own hearts at times. Let yourself know what you know. Make room for your own grief and heartbreak and healing, your own triggers and need for shalom, too, your own need for tenderness and care, too, the reminders and markers of healing for yourself. This is good and wise work to do, too. We are all carrying a lot with us – our own stories, our mothers stories, our sisters, friends, co-workers, aunties, news stories, all of it is within us now.
When our daughter bounced into the house minutes after my freak out, she was full of fun stories from a great night with her friends. I was still on the couch trying to get it together, I didn’t want to scare her or give her my own baggage to carry. She’ll have her own to handle, I know enough by now to know that.
Even though it was already fine, it was that lingering feeling, that momentary possibility of her not being fine that still made me want to rend the heavens and howl like a wolf.
She took one look at me on the couch and she knew. Like most daughters, she was not fooled by my protestations of being fine. We all take in our mothers fears along with their hopes it seems, no matter how hard we try to protect them from our shadows.
She curled up beside me, letting me hold her close and cry just a bit longer, telling her why I was upset and why I was afraid.
I think I was crying for both the child I had been in those moments in someone else’s car and the mother I am now, trying to create a world where girls won’t have to feel that particular fear like we did, a world where Isaiah 61 is embodied.
She didn’t understand – how could she? – but my daughter sat with me in my grief and that felt like another layer of healing, solidarity, and courage to continue.