“But that was yesterday. How do you still remember?”
This was the question one of my colleagues asked me. How do I still remember?
The incident to which she was referring had occurred the day before, at an event I had helped plan. Our work of seeking healing from the traumas of family violence has made a big splash in the village. One that will be lasting, but the road is still very difficult for many women. And a road that will lead many back into a reality they have worked hard to shield themselves from when they do not see a way out.
These stories, how do I remember these stories?
Several months ago I had a shoe emergency. I was walking through the market on a rather muddy day, when the strap to my left sandal gave up the ghost and I was left with only one working shoe. So I did the only thing I could, I turned to the woman selling shoes only three feet from me and bought a pair. In my relief that I had found such a quick solution, it took me the ten minute walk back to my house to realize something terrible, they consisted wholly of hot pink rubber and were adorned with three glittery stones on each strap. If you know me at all then you know that this was indeed a trying moment in my life and a challenge to my identity which up to this point had had nothing to do with pink sparkly shoes. Yet I put them on every day.
Since this first shock I have hardly thought of the offending color of my shoes, or how inaccurately my personality is conveyed by those three plastic diamonds on each one. They are quite a popular discussion topic at work when they make an appearance every once in a while on days when I expect rain. My boss even calls them my “pretty shoes.”
I was recounting the origin of my “pretty shoes” to my colleague the other day. After I had finished, she shook her head in confusion. “But you see them every day. How do you not remember how much you dislike them every time you look at them?”
How do I not remember?
After a celebration of International Women’s Day, we closed with the announcement of our new small groups. Groups that would, through story telling, offer a safe community to mourn and heal from the violence women carry from generation to generation. It was after this announcement that we discovered the woman weeping alone outside. After she had let out all that she could through tears, she spoke. She spoke with great courage about how she had been sleeping outside of her house for the past five nights. That her husband had kicked her out of the house once he started drinking and had not yet let her back in. She spoke of staying for her children. She spoke about how she didn’t know how she could keep doing this, but where could she go with all five of the kids? Who could she burden with that many bodies? Our announcement, that small bit of recognition, was all this woman needed to shed her layers of protection.
How do I still remember?
Other women encircled her and listened calmly, her story resonating with many of them as well. After a time, the group dispersed and the weeping woman rose, once again assembling her armor, and returned to her home, which she could not enter.
“I guess I got used to them,” I said as I looked down at my offending and arrogant “pretty shoes.”
How do I not remember?
How do we still remember?
This woman does not have the luxury of carrying her anger with her every single day, her load is already too heavy. Every day she puts on her own pretty shoes. And soon they are normal. They are functional. They are what is available.
So when we hear about the pretty shoes that others wear, we must help them remember. We must be angry. We must seek justice.
Many of us have a pair of pretty shoes. And it makes us want to forget the stories, because they remind us of how tenuous our own lives are, how close to despair we actually are.
How do we remember?
We must remember. We must remember that we are not a burden, that our stories do not take up too much room, that our tears are not embarrassing, that shared words make us strong.
If you must, then put on your pretty shoes. And tell everyone you can about them, so that they can remember for you, and remind you, that you are worth more.
Listen with love and reverence to stories that search for ears. Hear them well, tell them again if they need telling.
Remember. Only when we remember the absurdity and arrogance of the pink rubber and sparkly stones can we enact change.