If I had to sum up today in one word it would be resilience: the resilience of an entire nation; the resilience of teens who are survivors of trafficking; the resilience of an organization to change the culture and bring light to dark places.
Our day began by participating in Victory Day, to commemorate the end of World War II and honor those that fought and sacrificed their lives. Victory Day is a national holiday in Moldova so there was a huge turnout of Chisinau’s citizenry, including the president and prime minister, to the Complexul Memorial Eternitate. Here, flowers were being laid at an eternal flame while somber music was being played by a live band and veterans of all ages were roaming the park in their decorated regalia. While this was powerful to witness, it also revealed further wounds that Moldova has endured over the past century. Despite suffering war upon war, the people of Chisinau showed true resilience and pride today as they honored the soldiers who fought on their behalf.
In the afternoon our team met up with the girls from the House of Change (a rehabilitation facility for survivors of sexual abuse, exploitation, and trafficking) for a picnic and cook-out on the banks of the river (don’t ask which river because I couldn’t tell you… Google Maps doesn’t exactly work without cell service… bummer). This gave our team the opportunity to simply hang out with the survivors and BOL staff. While some grilled, others played volleyball, others walked along the river, and others played cards – there was no agenda, no program, no checklist of tasks to be completed in this time. This atmosphere of freedom allowed the survivors to relax and have fun with the awkward strangers from America. While we were playing volleyball, it struck me that this idea, this overused buzzword of “resilience” was so much deeper than its definition.
Let me explain… as a social worker, I often encounter the idea that children who experience trauma are inherently resilient is becoming somewhat debunked in the therapeutic context. Yes, children can “bounce back” from trauma better than adults but do they always – no. So it should never be assumed that a child who experiences abuse, neglect, etc. will be “fine” simply because they are a child and we love to think of children as happy-go-lucky little humans. Trauma, especially complex and long-term trauma, can completely re-wire your brain. So, needless to say, the word “resilience” is currently overused and debated in my opinion. Initially I wasn’t too thrilled that it was the single word to pop into my head. What can I say; I’m a woman of many words.
ANYWAY – the girls that we spent time with this afternoon were more than resilient. The word resilient does not do them, their stories, and their futures justice. They have experienced the darkest, most deplorable depths of humanity and are still able to smile, laugh, and joke around like any other teenage girl. This served as a reminder for me not to put survivors of trauma in a special, sugar coated, Nerf-like compartment in my mind. They deserve better from me – better from my time – better from my profession. They deserve to be treated like I would treat anyone else – like I would treat Jesus. I shouldn’t stand on the bank of a river in the midst of a volleyball game and pathologize their behaviors through an unnecessary filter as if I’m walking around on sterilized eggshells. These girls want to be loved with a real love – not some textbook, manual-driven relationship. They need these real relationships in order to mend and correct what was done to them by their perpetrators. (Clarification: while advocating for a real, get-your-hands-dirty-type love, I’m still 100% mindful of being sensitive of their trauma and not in any way trying to minimize it. I, personally, require a reminder to get my nose out of the clinical books and take my sterile white gloves off in order to love them the way they deserve and need.)
This real, messy love is what all survivors of trauma deserve. We encounter these survivors everyday, we work with these people, we live with these people – we may even be one of them ourselves. We need to love with a correcting love. A love that can right wrongs, a love that can bring about freedom, a love that can bring restoration and healing.
How do you love the trauma survivors that you come in contact with? I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often too tired, too busy, too whatever to give more than 10 minutes – and no, do I want to get into the nitty-gritty of your pain? Pshhh, that just sounds messy, complicated and super awkward. Then I’m reminded of the words of C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the children ask Mr. Beaver if Aslan the lion (the Christ figure) is safe “Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” Getting into people’s lives is never safe – loving like Jesus is never safe. But it’s good. And if we want to see restoration and freedom brought to our world then we need to get into the lives of trauma survivors and truly love them with a correcting love.