The Harvey Weinstein scandal has started a new movement. Women adopting the hashtag of me too - an indication of sexual harassment or assault experienced in the past. The results have been nothing short of astounding.
Twitter and Facebook lit up rapidly with the hashtags, accompanied by women telling their stories. Trauma and pain that for some had been withheld for years and buried for decades. Acts that had happened for which they miscarried shame and embarrassment. The blame misplaced on the survivors rather than the attackers who should be overwhelmed in a sea of remorse and regret.
The number of people (women are not the only ones) who are survivors makes one feel that the problem is so endemic in every part of our society. From families to schools to the workplace - there are no exceptions. Retellings of events with painful behavior occurring during every age and stage in life - tales that serve as evidence of deep wounds and scars left in the wake of abuse.
It would be easy to fit the remainder of this space with stories of mine own gleaned from different times in my life; and, the people present for a chapter or more. One memory that comes to mind is of middle school. One large, long hallway in particular - leading to either the band room to the left or the shop room to the right. The shop teacher regularly stood prominently in the hallway, trying to inappropriately touch each girl that walked by as they made their way to the next class. It seemed to be common knowledge among the students in the school and was widely discussed, leading many to lodge complaints with school administrators and parents alike. Those in possession of the courage to raise their voices were accused of engaging in exaggeration. The message sent was that he did not mean anything - it was all harmless.
Years later - in what can be characterized only as a bittersweet moment - I learned that he had finally been arrested for assault. Outside the school, of course. In an ironic twist, one of the assistant principals to whom we had voiced our complaints was also arrested for indecent exposure and assault. Sweet that justice finally prevailed, bitter for those ignored when they needed to be heard the most.
There are no shortage of stories to tell and this one mild in comparison to many; yet, the great value behind sharing these tales is the sense of community borne out of the impressive avalanche of testimony. Of not being the only one. That affirmation carries more weight than gold. A sense recently experienced as Samuel and I traveled to the Phoenix World Burn Congress in Dallas, Texas. The Phoenix Society was founded forty years ago by Alan Breslau to create a community where people could safely come together, support each other, share information and advocate for safety. The World Burn Congress is an annual gathering of burn survivors and families held in a different geographic location each year. It is the largest gathering of burn survivors in the world and this year numbered at 1,000. While exciting, still a small number when considering 40,000 people in the United States alone survive burns every year. When calculating worldwide, the numbers are staggering. Certainly there have been many conferences and gatherings in my past so I guessed I knew what to expect. I could not have been more wrong.
To experience the warm welcome - an environment where there was no judgement - and the dauntlessness of the survivors and their crews were on full display. Remarkably after all this time, I had never met another burn survivor other than my son. One of my friends’ has a brother who is a burn survivor, but I had never met him. Since I have returned and discussed this experience with friends, I have not met anyone else who has either. Samuel's courage has been remarkable and his persistence in the face of adversity powerful. To listen to each powerful drama at PWBC, no one tragedy was more potent than the one before. One of the Phoenix Society’s mottos is Never Alone. Two small words that contain more weight than can be calculated. To spend four days with these brave warriors and their families sowed seeds of hope in my life. One simple truth that has made both the #me too movement and the PWBC so effective; mainly, that no one should ever have to walk alone.
To witness the bravery of these survivors and the stubborn love and determination of their families leads me to believe that a new hashtag is needed to fully encapsulate this unique aspect of human experience. None of us can take this walk through life without getting wounded. The heartache and ensuing scars are real and lifelong as is the pursuit of healing. To boldly tell our stories deserves more. #WeRise.