The foundation of my beliefs is the same as it was when I was 10. Non-violence. - Joan Baez
This Love Letter is written to a seventeen year-old with whom I have a special relationship. She is the younger daughter of a close, long-time, woman friend of mine.
Dear C,I have always been struck by your shining spirit, your ready laugh and the way that I picture you: smiling. You have radiated promise and hope, your innocence written across your face like a flush of warm light. Your intelligence and musical talent leap from you like wild ponies, unbridled and startling. How, then, did you become suicidal? I wondered, when your mother told me recently. Nothing should surprise me where teenaged girls are concerned. After all, I was once one myself and took reckless chances. I never cease to be amazed at the stories I hear of the things most of us as adolescents and very young adults do to stretch our selves radically away from our families, our upbringing, and our already illusory safety nets. But . . . you? From the warmth, support and love of your home – unlike so many millions of our sisters the world over who have nothing on which to fall back -- to sleeping on the frigid cement at a gas station. What devastation had happened to you? Over time, the story unfolded for me, as the truth reared its head to your parents, and your mother answered my enormous questions. I knew that your environment had changed drastically, but I thought it might be a welcome change. Although anyone who leaves New York and moves to a wide open space, as I’ve since done, risks culture shock. I did not know that one day at your new school, where you were already not thriving, you had come out as gay. I applaud your openness, but I also understand the dangers of revealing this in a hostile environment. That was when the abuse began, terrorism, really, on an intimate, highly personal scale. A group of kids began slamming your head into your locker on a regular basis, calling you obscene names, until they were sure your soul had been damaged. And it is frighteningly easy to damage – or destroy -- someone’s soul. How powerful we are! Then came sexual abuse from a boy who was convinced that he could change your mind. And all the while you began disappearing for longer and longer periods of time from your home, as your parents searched frantically and tried to understand what dark forces had overtaken you. I know that you’ve since experienced more than one stay in a terrifying psychiatric ward, which has only increased your feelings of total disorientation and disenfranchisement. My Dear C, because of this violence you have forgotten your utter magnificence. Like all the other young women who have suffered violence, you have lost sight of Who You Really Are. But you can repair your shredded spirit and regain your sense of self, because the one truth is that each of you, Dear Girls, Dear Young Women, is a unique, exquisite spirit, in the midst of unfolding, organically, like a strong, gorgeous, flowering plant. You exemplify love, you are the future and you have more courage than you know. Other troubled, wretched, misguided persons, who must resort to cruelty to feel worthwhile themselves, are pouring their toxic waste into the depths of your openness. This aimless violence has been with us since time immemorial. So what can we do differently and newly to make it STOP? How do we empower all women to rise up in the face of terrible ignorance? We own a different sort of defense now. And if we can’t own it, most of us can at least borrow it. All over the globe – in India, in the Philippines, and numerous other countries-- young women are using their technological prowess, from social media to women’s protection apps, to shout for help, to tell the truth, to make certain that their voices are heard. You, yes you, are joining together in solidarity to FIGHT BACK, to regain your souls, to insist that your abusers see you in a different light and unless they do, will have to answer for their appalling lack of empathy, for their narcissism, for their antiquated attitudes. So, C! It is time to join hands with millions of other young women the world over and shout to the sky, “WE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!” Then act on this emphatic promise. Let’s learn ways to stop abusers in their tracks. Stop them so shockingly that never again will they raise an uninvited hand to a woman. Let’s use technology in our favor.
- Sarah Whitten Grigsby is a World Pulse Vision Mentor and Interfaith Reverend who empowers young women and believes strongly in the healing power of animals, particularly dogs. One of the ways that “ C,” was brought back from the edge was with the unconditional love of a dog named Isabelle.