Forgive. And dance.

forgive-others-because-you-deserve-peace

So many of us struggle to let go of grievances; she did this; he said that; she didn’t do this; he failed to say that. We hold grudges, turning a blind eye to the affects our deep-rooted resentments have on our lives and the lives of those around us. We justify our unhappiness and hold others accountable for the way we feel; if only he’d change, if only she hadn’t treated me that way, if only my circumstances were different – then my life would be so much happier. But when we view life through the lens of non-forgiveness – we give our power away. We become powerless.

Here, I tell the true story of a brave woman named Satta Joe; a story of immense courage and forgiveness. Satta lived in Sierra Leone during the civil war, a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. When the rebels attacked Satta’s village, she became the victim of gang rape. Her husband was shot dead and her seven year old son slaughtered before her very eyes. Curled up in a broken heap on the floor with her newborn child, Satta was left for dead.sattajoe

The man who had led the attack was Nyuma Saffa, a blood relative of Satta’s who had once tried to force his love upon her. Fueled by his grievance over Satta’s rejection and by his new allegiance to the rebels, he unleashed his attack upon Satta and her family.

Once the civil war had ended, the rebels returned to live in the village. Satta recalls feeling powerless: This was very hard for me, but what was I to do?  And that’s when Fambul Tok (Family Talk) arrived, a community led reconciliation program. They called for a meeting in the village and asked for those who had experienced suffering during the war to speak up. Satta bravely stepped forward and told her story. Fambul Tok then asked that Nyuma Saffa come forward to admit his crimes against Satta and her family. Finally, he confessed.

As part of the reconciliation ritual, Satta and Nyuma were asked to dance together as a way of forgiving the past. Understandably, Satta refused. She couldn’t bear the thought of holding Nyuma’s hands – the same hands that had raped her and killed her family. Though, after much encouragement – she bravely accepted. Satta states: As I took his hand I was sobbing, not out of despair but a sense of relief that perhaps now we could move on from this terrible pain in our past. I didn’t expect it, but they succeeded in making peace between us.

Satta Joe is one of many heroic people who, under horrific and seemingly unforgivable circumstances, have chosen the path of peace.

Forgiveness does not mean that what the other person did was ok. Forgiveness is choosing to shift our focus from one of pain, to peace. We forgive because we want to feel good. And holding onto resentment prevents us from feeling any peace within ourselves. It prevents us from moving forward.

If Satta Joe can forgive this man for inflicting terrible crimes against her and her family; if she can choose peace over pain and sorrow; forgiveness over bitterness and revenge – then isn’t it time we all cleared the floor and danced?

We Remember

Day 18: Compose a series of anecdotes
Today, tell a story through a series of anecdotes (also called vignettes): short, episodic scenes or moments that together read as variations on the same theme. 

Based on real life accounts published in the local newspaper. Names and some details of individual experiences have been changed.

Last month over 1000 people gathered to remember the 185 who died in the February 2011 earthquake. I have written about my own experience of that frightful day here. With Christchurch still experiencing ground movement, we can’t help but be reminded of the many lives lost. Survivors guilt is very real, and whilst fleeing the rubble relatively unscathed brought with it renewed gratitude for life and loved ones, grief for those less fortunate continues to percolate the surface of emotions for many, especially around this time of year.

New Zealand Earthquake

February 22nd 2011, 12:51pm,
Christchurch, New Zealand 

The low rumble intensifies before Anderson reaches the center of the room, the ground beneath him gives way as the building collapses into itself. ‘This is it,’ he contemplates, before plummeting into concrete below.

The shaking stops and an eerie silence ensues. ‘I must be dead.’ The silence is pierced by a female coughing and then he too is coughing, choking on the thick layer of dust which envelopes them. The agonizing pain of his left hand confirms his existence as it throbs with the motion of his body. He winces. ‘Are you alright?’ he asks his colleague. Jenny? Sarah? Elaine?
‘I think so,’ she replies.

Soon after, sirens spring to life and two hours later, they are rescued. Emerging from the rubble, they are met with cheers from the street below. Inhaling the air as if it were to be taken from them again at any moment, they stare at the ruinous sight before them. We are the lucky ones…

***

The shutter on Langley’s camera clicks as the earth beneath murmurs its low guttural groan. Horses in the nearby paddock whinny as they jostle and bolt. Langley is thrown to the ground and he clings to the grass, the earth jerking beneath him like a wild bucking bronco. Turning towards the city where he sat at his desk just thirteen minutes prior, he watches as a thick blanket of smoke rises like an ominous cloak.

Within seconds he is behind the wheel of his Toyota racing towards the city, his camera on shane-tomlin-lead-300x340the passenger seat beside him.  Nothing can prepare him for what he finds when he arrives at the center; buildings brought to the ground, terrified people with blood stained faces. He pauses, sees that the emergency services are working hard to rescue those in need of help, then reaches for his camera.

As he takes the photos that will document a day set to change Christchurch forever, Langley spots a man pulled from the rubble, his face covered in dust. He is comforted by two males who have come to his aid. The dust covered man stares down the barrel of Langley’s lens. Click. 

***

Strolling through Christchurch’s City Mall, Mary’s daughter turns with a smile as she holds up a pretty floral scarf, “Isn’t this …” She stops mid-sentence, eyes wide as the deafening roar consumes them. Before Mary can run to her daughter’s aid she is thrown into chaos and darkness.

Seconds seem like minutes, minutes like hours and hours like days, and all the while Mary is unable to reach her daughter. Her legs trapped beneath the rubble, she tries to call for her girl: ‘Amanda… Amanda…’ Nothing. She lies back in agony, not sure which is worse, the pain of her crushed ankles, or the heavy dull ache in her chest. In the darkness that surrounds her, Mary begins to weep.

She doesn’t know how much time has passed when she is finally pulled to safety, only that she does not want to leave the wreckage – not until her Amanda is also rescued. Against her will, Mary is raced away to the hospital, all the while calling out her daughters name… ‘Amanda…’

1695316952

  ***

48 hours later

Anderson sits in his leather arm chair staring at the forgotten brew in his lap. He has sat this way for over an hour, thoughts of his fallen colleagues circulating like a never ending ferris wheel. Up one moment, down the next, as news of his co-workers trickles in: Saho from Japan who’d arrived that morning to learn English as part of her studies… Peter, who always greeted him with a smile as he collected the mail… Janice, who was to attend her daughters wedding on Saturday. All of them, gone. A tear falls into his cold coffee causing it’s stagnant surface to ripple.

***

Langley sits staring at the screen in front of him just hours after hearing the news that the dust covered man he had photographed had later died in hospital. His editor approaches him and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. He cannot help it, a surge of emotion overtakes him and before he can stop himself, he is breaking down in floods of tears, hugging his colleague beside him.

***

Mary lies in the hospital bed, her husband in the chair beside her. Her legs are in a plaster cast but she doesn’t feel a thing. She is numb from head to toe, news of Amanda’s death not quite comprehensible, not making sense to this broken, grief stricken mother. She stares at the ceiling as her husband places his hand on hers; Why did you take my girl and not me?

Faded Photograph

I like to finish what I started, even if it is a month after Writing 101 ended. In the wise words of Ben Huberman, ‘Self-flagellation shouldn’t be part of the writing process — all of us have work, family, and other obligations to attend to. Our lives are complicated, which is why they’re worth blogging about in the first place. (It’s also why you should never start a post with “Sorry I haven’t posted in so long!”‘ With that said, I will be picking up where I left off with no apologies.

I first heard about six word stories whilst browsing through the archives of one of my favorite blogs here on WordPress, Stranger In a Strange Mind. I just love the way this diverse and exceptional writer captures a sense of thrill and fear in so few words. Check out his six word story here. It got me thinking about how sometimes the untold parts of the story are what makes the tale so thought provoking, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.

Whilst sifting through some of my belongings over Christmas in preparation for my move to Australia, I was prompted to write my own six word story.

Writing 101, Day 13: Play with word count

Beholding the faded photograph; she wept.

1

xx

The Red Jumper

Day Nine: Point of View
Today’s Prompt: A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

parcel

We are strolling through Stamford Park. The late September sun dares to linger despite the brisk breeze biting at our interlocked fingers – summer has reached an end. The park is empty, save for an elderly lady up ahead, who sits on a bench busying her hands with something in her lap. She is swathed in layers of fabric, and as she lifts a hand to tame her silver hair, I see that she is wearing fingerless gloves. She is prepared for the British weather. I need to take a leaf from her book. She busies herself in her pursuit again.

As we approach, Jenny is struggling to tell me something. “I was hoping to wait until after your birthday – but it’s been playing on my mind…and well – I guess it will only be temporary but…“ The sun pierces through an opening in the shifting clouds, bathing the old woman in a bright iridescent light – and then I see it. And in that moment my heart stops. In the distance: “…I’m moving to Brisbane.” Jenny’s words evaporate. My breathing narrows. Is my mind playing tricks on me again? My head spins and I can feel myself slipping…falling…
“Steven? Steven?!”

***

I can’t believe I’m telling him this two weeks before his birthday. Birthdays have always been painful… and here I am, burdening him even more. I turn to Steven. He has aged at an alarming rate in the three years since I’ve known him. The deep lines around his eyes trace a tale of ceaseless searching – always searching. Those eyes, though tired, are still as piercingly grey as the day we first met. My heart dances a merry beat at the memory – his pearly grey eyes, his accent. I remember feeling jittery and nervous as I took his order – a black coffee, no sugar. He’d jump each time the door opened, as though he was expecting someone he knew to walk in at any moment. I thought he’d been stood up and could tell he was new to the place, so I plucked up the courage to strike up a conversation. I’ve been besotted ever since. And now I’m leaving him. Two weeks before his birthday… I need to get this over with…

“I’m moving to Brisbane…” I say, and it’s as though I have punched Steven in the chest. He stops abruptly, his face turning pallid and ashen, his breathing shallow. Dammit – I should have waited until after his birthday. I didn’t think he’d react this badly. He looks like he might fall at any moment so I sit him on a mound of grass. Is he…crying? Oh gosh he’s crying. 

“Steven? Steven?! I’m so sorry – it’s not permanent…it’s only for a few months….” But he doesn’t seem to hear. His glazed eyes are looking through me. I turn to see if anyone is watching. An old woman sits on a bench knitting a red sweater and she looks over at us. I smile at her apologetically. She returns the smile, a look of concern in her silvery-grey eyes. She’s probably wondering why I’ve made my boyfriend cry… Her smile fades, and then she catches herself, busying her hands with her knitting again.

***

The temperature has dropped somewhat. But I don’t mind. It’s peaceful where I sit, despite the cold. I must finish this before the sun goes down. I’ll need to send it tomorrow – I imagine it’ll take two weeks before it arrives… I shouldn’t worry – they’ll only send it back again. They always do.

I see a couple approaching, walking hand in hand. The young woman has long, sun blushed hair and freckles. He’s rugged-looking, but handsome. In fact, he’s probably about the same age as my son. I wonder if he has a girlfriend…maybe even a wife? He’ll be thirty-six in two weeks – I could even be a grandmother. But I’ll never know that. That was always the deal…that’s why they keep returning my jumpers each year. One day, maybe they wont…

From the corner of my eye, I notice the couple have stopped walking – there appears to be a small dilemma. He’s silently crying, a look of sorrow on his face as she tries to console him. Maybe she has just broken up with him..? Poor soul – he looks so sad. For a moment I am struck – struck by his silver eyes. My son had beautiful eyes too – eyes that I will never see again. I was naïve to think I’d ever find him in Ohio. Ohio is a big place and so far away. But that was always the deal. They take care of my son, give him a new home far far away, and if anything was ever questioned…I died when he was three. My stomach knots. He looks so…lost. I realise I am staring and the lady looks embarrassed. I continue with my knitting. I must finish this jumper and mail it tomorrow…

Just one more day…

Day Seven: Give and Take
Today’s Prompt: Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!

sun

She smiles, awakening to the soft gentle hues of first morning light. Her face is bathed in a welcoming glow and the warmth on her skin signals a new day. Thank goodness. Another day. Thank you…

He coughs jarringly – a gravelly sound that rolls deep in his chest like a cement mixer. The sun perforates the blinds and he winces, his retinas contracting in the light. He yanks the pillow over his head. I should have bought black out curtains.

She lays still for a moment, captured by the cadence of birds singing their soft song outside her window. How did she miss this before? Before… She dismisses the thought in the same way that she dismisses the distant drum drum drum of the builders at work. I am so grateful to be here. God I’m going to miss him – my baby. 

Somewhere, unnoticed, birds are singing – drowned out by the mechanical da da da da da of the builders jack hammer which pounds the pavement below and penetrates his half medicated sleep. He groans. Please! …If only I didn’t have to take Dylan to school. Why does she insist on me having him on a school night? ‘It’s important he feels that Dad can take care of these things too.’ Yeah right. You mean you want to lay in with him again.  

She reaches for her glass of water and her medication. It feels peculiar to know that these pink pills keep her alive. Keep her here – with her son. She rolls the smooth, colour coated tablet between her thumb and finger, and a voice whispers: They won’t work forever you know…She places it on her tongue and swallows. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of Jacob’s feet, patting up the hallway. Her heart leaps as the door bursts open and she is greeted by the smiling face of her baby boy. God I love him so much.  

He reaches for the packet of Pall Mall on his bedside table, lights one and inhales deeply. A fresh wave of coughing explodes in his chest, eventually dissolving to a breathless wheezing. A silent voice whispers: Those things are going to kill you, y’know. “Let them.” He mumbles out loud. He sighs at the sound of Dylan’s small voice on the other side of the locked door. “Daddy? …Daddy? …Will we be late for school again?” He takes another long hard pull of his cigarette, takes hold of his half empty bottle of beer and washes down a combination of Doxepine and Prozac. “Go back to bed!”

Abstain and enjoy.

Writing 101, Day Five: Be Brief

You stumble upon a random letter. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

Brevity is the goal of this task, although “brief” can mean five words or five-hundred words. 

I wandered a little from the brief (no pun intended) – but I hope this has a similar effect.

She wakes, still wearing her jeans, her mouth dry and stale from last night’s alcohol binge. Her vision is blurry. What time is it? What time did I get home? Why do I keep doing this to myself? two-part mono cutout for pix daily tues It feels as though someone is driving an ice truck repeatedly into the back of her head. The room spins and she races to the bathroom, just managing to make it to the toilet before throwing up last night’s cocktail of beverages. As the stench of cheap wine and Vodka attacks her senses, she throws up again, her stomach creasing violently.

Nauseous, she stands and reaches for the door to the bathroom cabinet, wanting to take her toothbrush. She pauses. There is a note stuck to the mirror with chewing gum. Written on the note are Aesop’s words:

Abstain and enjoy.