Tag Archives: courage

Fairy Tales

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Author Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Photographer Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

“Once upon a time…”  When we were children those were magical words.  They called up a world of fairy godmothers, princes slaying dragons, and wishes come true.  A fairy tale promised excitement and adventure.  Best of all, we were guaranteed a happy ending.

Andrew Lang compiled hundreds of fairy tales into The Fairy Books of Many Colors.  I devoured these as a child, one color after another – The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc. – as fast as I could lay hands on them.  I simply could not get my fill.  Yet I could not have said at the time what the fascination was for me.

Psychologists have long argued over the meaning and usefulness of fairy tales.  These universally loved stories can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

The explanation that comes closest to my own experience is that fairy tales allow children to confront and deal with their fears and concerns – whether of abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), death (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), rejection (Cinderella), etc. – in symbolic terms, so that those fears and concerns are reduced to manageable size.

Children get the satisfaction of slaying their own dragons…from a safe distance. Continue reading

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Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD – Part 1

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893), National Gallery, Norway (Accession No. NG.M.00939), Source WebMuseum (PD)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
…” (Ps. 46: 1-2).

Most people have experienced anxiety, in one situation or another.

The death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, job loss, and moving are recognized as major stressors [1].  Other anxiety producing occasions include public speaking (always a favorite), waiting on approval for a mortgage, meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and having the in-laws over for Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there are a host of phobias.  As a general rule narrowly focused, phobias are no small matter for those suffering from them.  Phobias include the fear of heights, spiders, snakes, birds, tight spaces, bridges, flying, and blood [2].

Purpose of Anxiety

Anxiety is intended to alert us to potential danger, and prepare the body for it.

A part of the brain called the amygdala releases neuro-transmitters that initiate the so called “fight of flight” response, producing the sensations of anxiety [3].  The heart rate climbs; blood rushes to the muscles; the lungs work harder.  This process is largely autonomic.  We have, by design, very limited control.

For most, the panic associated with stressful situations quickly subsides.  Shallow breathing deepens and slows.  Rapid heartbeat subsides.

The audience does or does not throw tomatoes.  The in-laws smile or grimace – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference – and swallow their turkey.  We eventually get the mortgage.

In short, the body figures out we are going to survive.

Anxiety Disorders

About 40 million Americans, however, suffer from anxiety disorders [4].  Severe anxiety, whatever form it takes, is debilitating and can be crippling.

A. PTSD

The severe anxiety resulting from traumas such war, rape, or child abuse is better known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [5].

Whatever its origin, PTSD can cause recurrent, powerful, panic attacks, with or without an identifiable trigger.  These attacks are typically accompanied by heart palpitations, chest pain, the sensation of being smothered, and a feeling of dread.  A panic attack can, also, be experienced as paralysis and overwhelming fear.

PTSD sufferers may, in addition, experience flashbacks (vivid and disturbing memories, re-experienced involuntarily).  I have discussed these elsewhere [6]. Continue reading

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Death and Laughter

Actor Robert Cummings as Parris in

Actor Robert Cummings as Parris in “Kings Row”, Author Stetsonharry (PD)

“Parris:  I don’t know if you can take it, Drake.

Drake:   Give it to me.

Parris:    Dr. Gordon cut off your legs.  I don’t know if it was necessary.  He was that kind of butcher, who thought he had a special ordination to punish ‘transgressors’… Heaven knows what else.  The caverns of the human mind are full of strange shadows, but none of that matters.  The point is he wanted to destroy you.  Oh, not literally.  He wanted to destroy the Drake McHugh you were.  He wanted to see you turn into a life-long cripple, mentally as well as physically.  That’s all there is, Drake…

Drake (after a long pause, chuckles):  That’s a hot one, isn’t it? Where did Gordon think I lived, in my legs?  Did he think those things were Drake McHugh?…”

–        Kings Row (1942)

My younger sister and I shared a second floor bedroom as children. We would often stay up past bedtime –  watching old movies, talking about what may have happened during the day, telling stories, or sharing our childhood dreams with each other.  The two of us would invent silly games or make up jokes, and giggle under the covers.

Saplings in a Hurricane

When our father yelled up the stairs at us for being noisy, however, we trembled.  His word was law in the house.  That’s how I remember it, anyway.

Like saplings in a hurricane, we were raised in the storm of my father’s ever-present rage. We were not beaten outright.  But the threat was always there.

And yet, at times, that threat made our laughter all the harder to contain.  We would laugh helplessly, till our sides ached.  My sister and I had a name for it:  laughing in the face of death.

A Life and Death Struggle

Looking back now, we were not far wrong with that description.  There was a life and death struggle going on.

Our laughter was the sound of life, winning out, over death and darkness.  Our laughter was the sound of hope and happiness, if only temporary; the sound of faith in a future we hardly dared believe might exist, a future in which we would be free simply to live in peace. Continue reading

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History

“This House is a sanctuary; a citadel of law, of order, and of liberty…”

–        Aaron Burr

Imperfect though it is, the US Congress stands as a testament to representative government, an august body which has given rise to great men and women.  Names like Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, and Abraham Lincoln once rang out in these halls.

To the nation’s shame, the name Dennis Hastert is included in the roster.

Hastert served as the 51st Speaker of the House of Representatives (1999-2007).  He might have been known to history for that fact, might have left a positive legacy, except for one thing.  Hastert is, also, a serial child molester [1].

Four of his victims chose to come forward.  There are believed to be others.  Hastert admitted to molesting the boys decades ago, as a high school wrestling coach in Illinois.  He was sentenced this week for having paid $1.7 million in “hush” money to one of them.  The statute of limitations has run on the actual abuse. Continue reading

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Strength

Some abuse victims want as adults only to forget their past. That is an entirely legitimate response, and their prerogative.

By contrast, a surprising number of us want to use our suffering to ease the suffering of others. We want to make something purposeful – even beautiful – out of what was painful and ugly. That is a lofty goal which may or may not be achievable [1].

In either case, a few things should be clear.

A Strong Spirit

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40: 29).

Those who somehow survive abuse – physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect or domestic violence – have a strong spirit. This is true no matter the scars we carry forward from abuse or the fears abuse bequeathed to us. We would not otherwise be here.

To say that we are strong does not denigrate the abuse victims who did not survive. Even heroes are mortal. If anything, we are their witness regarding the horrors inflicted on abuse victims (not to mention the  long-term consequences of abuse).

Layers

Abuse can be multi-layered. While we may consider a single individual responsible for our abuse, many are likely to have contributed to it.

The abuse of a first individual will begin the lesson that we are undeserving of love and concern. As others follow in the same footsteps, we come to believe this untruth.

Then there are those in our lives who could have intervened, but for reasons of their own did not. This is another aspect of the tragedy of abuse. While a non-offending parent may wield less power in the family dynamic than an offending-parent, an adult is always more powerful than a child.

We had every right to look for rescue to the adults aware of our situation.

Excuses

And still we make excuses for the loved ones who abandoned, battered, and raped us.

They didn’t understand the harm they were doing. They led hard lives, were under a great deal of strain. It was our fault. We deserved it. We were disobedient, rebellious. We expected too much. We complained too often. We were too pretty, too flirtatious. Deep down, they “really” cared.

Excuse after excuse after excuse…none sufficient to justify abuse. Continue reading

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Scarred

“Sonia”, age 24, survived an acid attack in Bangladesh after declining the offer of an arranged marriage, Source Narayan Nath/FCO/Department for International Development (CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Voice of the Martyrs http://www.persecution.com began reporting some 15 years ago on a growing trend toward acid attacks against women.  One early attack took place in Pakistan against a 17 y.o. Christian girl who had refused the advances of a Muslim man. A striking photo of the girl (“Gulnaz”) showed one side of her face beautiful, the other side horribly scarred.

But acid attacks are not all religiously motivated.

As with Sonia (pictured above), the overwhelming number of attacks are made on young women who have rejected sexual advances by a male or whose parents have refused an offer of marriage [1].  The purpose of these attacks is to enforce gender inequality, and punish perceived transgressions by women against traditional norms.

More recently, acid attacks have been made against children, older women, and men. These attacks have been associated with dowry demands, land disputes, and revenge. Continue reading

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Madame Mayor

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4: 4).

In Turkey, a Muslim woman with a 5th grade education, married at 15 y.o. to an abusive husband, and largely confined to home all her married life, has been elected co-mayor of her district [1].

Technically, men and women have equal rights in Turkey. The reality is far different. Four in ten Turkish women polled in 2009 said they were victims of domestic violence.

Long isolated from the outside world by her husband, Berivan Kilic somehow found the courage to divorce him after fourteen years of marriage. Turkish women do have the legal right to divorce. Since employment is not widely available to women, however, they must either remarry or “fall into the streets”.

Aisan, Berivan’s mother, brokered a third alternative. Aisan convinced Berivan’s father to let Berivan move back home.

With her two young sons, Berivan returned to the house where she grew up. To support herself, she began cutting hair. And she resumed her education by studying at home. This shocked, but intrigued the small town of Kocakoy.

Along the way, Berivan joined the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The party, whose core values include gender equality, urged Berivan to run for office. Astonishingly, she won.

Local women now have a representative who understands their needs. One of Berivan’s priorities is, in fact, creating employment opportunities for women. She believes that this approach will for cultural reasons accomplish more good than a women’s shelter would. Berivan is, also, planning a crafts market for women’s handmade goods.

An act of courage saved a life, and is today changing other lives for the better.

[1] NBC News, “Turkish Teen Bride Divorces and Blazes Trail to Politics” by Emily Feldman, 6/5/14, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/turkish-teen-bride-divorces-blazes-trail-politics-n123611.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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In Esther’s Shoes

“ ‘For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise… from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ ” (Esther 4: 14).

The historic events on which this passage from Scripture is based exemplify courage for me. The verses have been an inspiration, over the years, helping me to overcome real and imagined shortcomings.

Esther, you may remember, was a young Jewish woman selected to marry Persian King Xerxes. When an order for the destruction of the Jews came down, Esther was urged by her cousin Mordecai to ask the king that it be rescinded. Though fearing for her life, Esther did speak out. Her intervention saved the Jewish people [1].

As child abuse victims we were powerless. Even as adults, we cannot help but recall the traumatic experiences we were forced to endure.  That fear is, in some sense, still with us.

Rather than a mark of shame, however, the scar is a mark of courage. At our most vulnerable, we somehow survived. That is an enormous achievement.

We stand today in Esther’s shoes.  We have the right to speak out; the right to tell our story, even shout it from the rooftops, if we like.  Secrecy be damned.

We have the right to take back our lives.

[1] Purim, the holiday celebrating Esther’s courage and the triumph of her people, falls on March 14 this year.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Through Hell and Back

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, the three women held captive for a decade in a Cleveland home, have made a video thanking God and all those who have extended a helping hand to them.  The video can be found on You Tube at:

Amanda says, “I am getting stronger each day.”

Gina declares, “I may have been through hell and back.  But I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and with my head held high…I will not let the situation define who I amI will define the situation…I don’t want to be consumed by hatred…We need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control…”

Nothing more need be added.

Contributions to assist the women in rebuilding their lives can be made through the Cleveland Courage Fund at:

http://www.clevelandfoundation.org/about/cleveland-courage-fund/

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT:  http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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