I picked a fight with my husband on Sunday. We were in the car, driving somewhere we’d never been before, a situation that makes easy pickings for a fight. Wrong turns. Missed exits. A married fight is hardly news, but for us it’s not typical. My own angry words exhausted me. For days I was out of sorts. I cried for no apparent reason. In the evenings I reached for a glass of wine, then didn’t sleep well. One restless night I realized that the road upsetting me wasn’t the one we fought about last Sunday. It was the unknown road that lay ahead.
After spending years writing a book, I’m preparing to launch it. My readers know that the book is about a dark time in my life. To put it simply: my book is a rape memoir. “Memoir” means it’s a personal story about something that actually happened to me. That’s redundant, I know, but people often ask. In fact, they ask twice. Really? Maybe we’re all used to watching traumatic stories from a greater distance — stories unfolding on a screen, written by strangers, about fictional persons, witnessed through the impersonal lens of a camera. Maybe it’s inherently shocking to realize that a traumatic story is first written on the body of an actual person. Written on their skin.
So yes, the book was difficult to write. It took me a long time. Five years, off and on. I had to re-enter certain dark places over and over again. The manuscript was baptized by my tears. And eventually I was done! For the past few months it’s been a source of joy and pride to admire the pretty cover. I have revelled in feeling finished.
But now the book promotion has begun and I no longer feel finished. Instead I must surface from the seclusion of my “lonely writer’s garrett” (as Harry Chapin called it in “30,000 Pounds of Bananas”) and set out on an unknown road, a road of reviews and speaking engagements. There are missed exits and wrong turns waiting for me. What’s more, I will have to revisit the dark places.
For all the tears I’ve shed in the past, I’m realizing that I’m not finished. Maybe I never will be. My painful story will elicit other people’s painful stories. Which is a good thing, of course. Telling their truth is the only way forward. And I want to be present to hear those stories. But even truth-telling is not a magic bullet against evil, if you’ll forgive the metaphor. Trauma is not conquered once and for all. Terror has a long memory. Shame is never completely eradicated. There is power in this opponent of ours. Evil has a force that arises over and over again.
We progressive Christians don’t like to talk about evil. In this Easter season we talk about resurrection power. We might say we’re Easter people in a Good Friday world. We’d rather talk about broken systems or hammer at the hallmarks of brokenness — injustice and inequity — as if these states were merely the absence of some pure, whole thing — justice and equity — things we would surely recognize if we saw them.
But evil is not so present in our lexicon. Do we trust ourselves to recognize it and name it? Perhaps evil is stronger than we want to admit. Evil pulls at a person, both in memory and in actuality. Even after it’s been beaten down, it can rise up again. Who wants to admit that evil has a recurrent power?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m happy for you. That means you aren’t personally acquainted with evil.
Which is why I come back to Jesus. There are many things I don’t know anymore, but I know this. Jesus was personally acquainted with evil. He wrestled with evil in all of its forms. From the internal drama of desert temptations to the external systems that were bent on his destruction. Evil eventually killed him. Because that’s what evil does. It snuffs out the light. And Jesus had so much light. Thank God that’s not the end of the story. But let’s not pretend it’s not also a part of the story.
I’m trying to not be afraid of the tears. I’m trying to be ready for the twists and turns of the road ahead. I will get things wrong. Maybe I will get lost. I will try to lift all that to the One who finds the lost, who dries the tears, who heals the broken. That One is trustworthy.