Friday, January 30, 2009

A type of hero: a brush with greatness.

I think many people as they are children, as they grow up, pretending at heroes, or reading about heroes in comics decides they want to BE a hero. I think of the story of one woman who had heard so much about Abraham Lincoln and admired him that when she was finally shown him close up pass by the woman said, “Well, he’s not much to look at is he?”

There are different types of heroes. Yes, there are those who train to go into burning buildings, who we call upon in times of need, who are there for our medical and other emergencies. That is one type of hero. I have to admit I was attracted to the Welsh police for if not for the stupid hats the women are required to wear.

Then there are the types of heroes that change lives in quiet ways, those like David of the Japan Cat Project, like Tammy with her Cat Refuge and Shelter; like the teachers, parents, the pastors, the people who by day to day work make this world a better place. Those who change lives by reaching out, by noticing the quiet child or the acting out child and work to help them instead of label them a problem. These are heroes and a lot of us have memories of a teacher who made a difference, emotional, intellectual, the gift they gave change from person to person but those people are heroes too.

Someone today said that often people choose the easy answer over the complex one. That’s how we like our heroes, to be Supermen, or people with extraordinary ability. People tend not to think about what someone like Stephen Hawking had to overcome to educate and revolutionize the way we understand our universe.

In the film To Kill a Mocking Bird there is a scene after Atticus has fought hard, fought clearly in a trial against a black man sexually touching a white woman. The courtroom is empty except for the gallery where his two children young female Scout and her older brother Jem are with the black community. “Get up,” one man tells Scout, and she looks at him in puzzlement, and he just says, “Your father is coming.” And as Atticus walked out of the courtroom, empty but for the gallery where every person rose to stand as Atticus passed by. He was a man who spoke for those who were denied a voice; a person who would not relent or compromise himself to public opinion, a person who gave it all, even when the outcome was predetermined from the onset. He was a hero. A rare and special type of hero, and for once, while still living, he was recognized as such. He, for a time, wore the cloak of greatness.

I knew when I read that book and saw that film, what kind of hero I wanted to be. The hard kind. Don’t mistake me, the people who do all those things, day after day for 10 years and change the world, they are heroes, unacknowledged heroes. But to act, because you know it is right. Not because you believe it is right, but because you KNOW it is right, and everyone else knows it too, but no one else will act, and you do. That is hard. That is greatness.

I know the feeling because there is total terror inside. Because you have no idea what will happen next, and that is terrifying. And yet you still have to act. Perhaps, probably there will be violence against you, perhaps, probably you will be hated, spurned, rejected.

When I was a child and I was being hit, and cut, and tortured and raped, I waited, I BELIEVED that someone would come. That a hero would come and I would be saved. No one came. I have ached looking out over the city to be the person to break down the door and save the girl or boy who is lying there thinking the same thing. They have been told they will be protected, or that God is watching over them, or if there is trouble the police will come and yet no one comes.When I started to talk about my sexual abuse experiences, I talked to my therapist/counselor about talking about it, and I was warned, told that I could be physically attacked. I was told that it is not uncommon for mothers to try to shut up the voice that is saying what they don’t want to hear so badly that they try to strangle the person. That the family would rather believe the person crazy than it is the truth. That idea is EASY, the truth is complex and difficult. But for every man or woman who writes, or speaks, or publishes about this; 5, 10, 100, 1,000 – I don’t know how many children won’t have to lie there begging inside for a hero to come. That’s because one already stood up; they took the abuse for talking about it and the anger from the family and society about this taboo subject so that the world would change. They speak for themselves but also for those who have no voice. They speak to give fear and pause to those who would sexually exploit or rape, that what they do in darkness will be examined in the light.

Talking or writing about it gives you panic attacks; it makes you feel like vomiting as you do it (at least it does me). And when you realize that the people you are talking about would rather kill you than hear you it is terrifying. But it isn’t really for them. And yes, the parents, the protectors often would rather hurt you, any way they can, from abandonment, to gossip, to verbal and physical attacks in order to just SHUT YOU UP. There is ALWAYS a reason for ‘not now’ or to not talk about it. What reason is there for the children who lie tonight praying for a hero? What is so important, what reputation, or unpleasant, or social taboo subject is so important that a person really has a valid reason if 100 of them live without that hell, if 50 could, if 10 could, if 5 could, if just one life could be changed?But to speak, to write, to change the world, until there are no children or others to need to wait for a hero to come and save them from that particularly hell, that makes these people are heroes. They save lives. Yet no one will say, “Stand up, SHE/HE is passing.” But heroes all the same.

I have only wanted to live and die in service. To die knowing that the other person was safe. I learned late that simply living the truth, and refusing to give in to demands to shut up about it (whatever ‘it’ happens to be this time) or pretend otherwise can produce the most extreme reactions. Day upon day and month upon month of vicious attacks simply because you are still alive. I am finding that when my care agency threatens to remove all care because I call the police on a worker, that maybe there is another group which has no voice. That people seem to think ‘keeping my job’ is more important than ‘doing my job’ and when not doing the job causes potential injury or suffering to people, a person who speaks about that is hated by all those ‘keeping their job’. A person, like me, who opens up investigations by the government branch against their own care manager DOES feels a bit sick in the stomach. Particularly when the care manager tries four times in one meeting earlier this week to get me put into care; a care center where I would be younger by 50 years than others and bound to my bed and finally UNDER CONTROL. I mean, under care.

I realize that I am not exactly going to be killed leading the charge of the resistance, or saving a drowning child. That is not my fate. That for me now, staying breathing is often the battle. That degenerate diseases and disabilities have their own battles which are unseen, unimagined. Yet, oddly it is here, that I can honestly say I have met heroes. People who, in pain, affected by disease and impairment, go on, regardless and bring purpose and joy to others. It does not diminish the pain, the fatigue, the progression of the symptoms, the medical debt, the thousand little things that drain away energy. No, but they continue on, doing their jobs, or waiting lying in beds, building, planning for the days they emerge again, because they have a heroes spirit. Just because they are trampled, they are crushed under the weight of social alienation and medical conditions beyond bearing, not for months but for YEARS, for DECADES and yet they go on. Sometimes just surviving the day is going on, sometimes preparing just ONE MEAL for another is going on, sometimes they take care of others if only just for a day. Or for some days they have a job, they share part of themselves. They resist the call to give up. I find myself in a company of heroes, in wheelchairs, in braces, in scooters, in beds, in hands covered with bits of superglue.

No, you will not be recognized for your actions. Nor your resistance, your going on. Instead you will pitied, or looked down upon. But I can see who you are. And while you will not likely receive it elsewhere in your life; know this, that inside I am standing because I recognize that a touch of greatness is passing by.


Tammy said...

I wish some one had saved young Elizabeth. I wish that child abuse in every form was dealt with the most severe forms of punishment. Because of my past experiences, I have a profound sadness when it comes to innocence lost in a child, any child, every child.
You are my my brush with greatness, Beth. In so many ways, and I am forever greatful for you and your friendship.
It's a great, sad,and tear streaking post, but I'm so glad you wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Heroes are difficult figures. I've had heroes that lost my trust, though not in the same way you're talking about. it's hard when one's hope is wrapped up in a person.

Also...i just got a postcard from you, and I really wanted to thank you for it. The woodcut picture was beautiful.

wendryn said...

I can't write much - on my way to work. Will write more later. But I wanted to say this:

You and Linda and Cheryl each have a touch of greatness. I'm standing up as you pass.


Abi said...

And you show everyone how it is done.

You are so right - there are many different types of hero, and most are not recognised.

Also, that was a beautifully composed post. Your writing flows amazingly well. I kind of feel like complementing you on this is silly, because you do this most of the time (it can get a bit repetitive), but I just love your writing!

Anna said...

True there are all sorts of heroes.

take care

cheryl g said...

Thank you for this post. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. These are things that need to be said. There are people out there who need to hear them. I do believe that writing this will make a difference for others, that it will help them find the strength they need. I believe this because I know it has happened with your writing before. The honesty of your blogs, the way you expose your own experiences and the power of your voice do reach out. You let others know they are not alone and in doing so you provide comfort and strength. You give a voice to the voiceless.

You also wear the cloak of greatness. I see it and I honor you for it.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Tammy: Well, I am with you there, I wish someone HAD saved young Elizabeth but that didn't happen. And it didn't make me stronger, it make me wounded. I think sometimes parents don't want to know; when stats show that spousal physical abuse is 25% and sexual abuse is high (actually Victoria scored highest of all Canadian cities......the City gave itself a congrat on having so many great museums), parents want to debate on whether 7th or 8th graders should be given condoms; they CERTAINLY don't want to talk about if thier fifth grader is getting repeatedly raped or sexually abused, or if thier 7th grader will become pregnant from a cousin or uncle. No, nasty things, put those in the culture closet and lock it tight. Because it is real.

I hope that one day I can live up to greatness; I feel that I will have one last chance, that I can make a difference in a way that genuinely matters. But you, and the every day, day after day, cat after cat; every cat and every family changed, how do you count that change after a while? That is heroism.

Anon: I am glad you liked the postcard, sadly I don't have the slightest which one becuase of my memory issues.

I too have lost my heroes; people I used as life examples telling me they are glad they don't inspire me anymore, that they don't resist anymore. But what is right and good will rise, like grass through the cracks, it only needs individuals - the ideas are there, the people who need caring are there, it just needs a person.

Wendryn: Linda's gift is to see the person as they are in potential; she has the eyes of God, which is a rare gift. However due to trampling and abuse, that has almost been hidden. Cheryl and I both fight against the cynicism and the personal pain and way we are viewed in society. I don't know if we do great work, but I know that without Cheryl laying down her life for me, without Linda doing the same on a daily basis, I could not be much at all; They are more than people who help me into bed, they are people who fill me with love, to heal me in the ways medicine cannot.

Abi: I am glad you like the writing, this one in particular was difficult to write. I realized I never told the people for who I have respect, the people who go on, whether it is to learn and play music they don't know for a congregation that will rarely thank them or to someone who forces themselves to save thier energy in order to have ONE GOOD DAY. It is unrecognized, but it goes against the flow of "me, me, mine, now, don't care about others."

Anna: Thanks

Cheryl: These days it seems I have only a life in my words, so I should use them raw. Joy, laughter, sorrow, empathy, - I have waited and trained over 15 years to write and even as my mind is slowly turned to an interesting mush, I hope I retain enough to call out, in this blog "You are not alone." When things are bad, to know that you are not alone is important. To know it CAN be survived is important.


yanub said...

Another superlative post, Beth. I know that by writing about your experiences openly you are changing perceptions, galvanizing action.

SharonMV said...

Thank you Beth. You are my hero, the hero who recognizes & teaches other heroes. For a long time, I have seen my battle with illness as heroic, not epic, not great, not even an example for others (as no one really knew about it), but still a hero's journey. The journey of the hero to the underworld and back (still working on the coming back part). Reading all that Greek mythology & literature, one tends to think in these terms. But till you, no one ever acknowledged that I could be a hero.

I wish I could go back in time and save the child Elizabeth. I will never forget what happened to you & what could happen to any child. I think it will make me more aware & vigilent in recognizing abuse & acting. And also to support any laws or organizations that help victims or work to prevent abuse.


Laura said...

Sometimes Elizabeth the writing has to be raw in order to get through. I stand for you. You have made a great difference in my life just as I am trying to make a difference in a certain young mans life.

We did have some fun in the snow today!

In honor of unsung heros everywhere.


Lene Andersen said...

Can't write much because of the shoulder thing , but...

Thank you for that. Thank you for sharing your terror, I believe it will make a difference. Thank you for sending out the call to stand up for those who can't and for those who fight for them.

You are a brush with greatness in my life.

Raccoon said...

you better be careful, otherwise people might call you "inspirational" by mistake

Neil said...

Beth: you're a hero; you fight to live as much life as you can; you fight for other people; you care about other people. And you took all the time it took to write that incredible post.

I'm standing up as you wheel past. And I'm standing for Cheryl and Linda too.

Love and hugs,

FridaWrites said...

This post made me quite teary as I needed a hero too at several points. I also strived early to be like Atticus--whether or not I'd win, whether or not I have much influence, I'd stand up for others and do what is right.

I do know one young woman who told her parents and they just ignored it until she had a breakdown in her college years. They could have done something at the time--the perpetrator was an adolescent neighbor--but they did not.

You are my hero, Elizabeth. A little over a year ago I kept posting anonymously and you and someone else kept telling me to get a blogger ID. I don't think I'd have set up my own blog otherwise--I had read blogs for quite a long time. But I really feel included in the disability blogging community--you especially made me feel so welcome.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Yanub: to be honest, I'm saying goodbye.

SharonMV: I am glad, the voyage lost for years, to return, after facing adversities, yes, the hero's journey.

Thanks, sexual abuse of minors is something that society accepts where it does not accept others - there will never be a "war on sex abuse" because too many of people in power already HAVE charges like that in thier past. But that can change, 20 years ago, sexual abuse was a joke and college rape victims watched themselves being told 'you asked for it' in court while the person smirked and walked. Now, that still happens but people are more and more angry when it does, someone who is raped is no longer seen as 'asking for it'.

Laura: I agree, there are lots of unsung heroes everywhere.

Lene: You have been here long before me, and will be fighting at a tenancy level and beyond long after I am gone. All I can do it point out that there are those for whom simply breathing and TIVO isn't enough; who oddly think people in wheelchairs should be allowed to speak now and then. Not me, I am just passing through.

Raccoon: I'd probably point out they are looking in the wrong direction and second, is that 'inspire' the EASY word to feel warm, or "to inspire into action." In which case I wish I was more inspirational; people have done things and lived lives of greatness; sometimes just not giving into the darkness inside is a battle of greatness. They just need to see what it is they have and can do.

Neil: I think you have me mistaken with someone else; I breath in and out, and that's about it. Cheryl lay down her life, that's more impressive. As for Linda, her accomplishments are far higher than most would suspect but her time is mostly in the future.

rachelcreative said...

A beautiful post Elizabeth. I've had a bad few days mainly losing the positive spin and getting overwhelmed and emotional at the challenges. I'm doing better now but even so this is just the kind of post I needed to hear.

You're one of those great people.

Perpetual Beginner said...

It seems a peculiar blindness in many heroes that they cannot see their own greatness, however hard they have striven for it.

You, and Linda, and Cheryl are all models for greatness, and people of a kind all too rare in this world.

One Sick Mother said...


Excellent post. You have a rare gift to see and very eloquently verbalize truths that are usually overlooked.

Neil said...

Perpetual Beginner, you've said it perfectly. Beth just has a blind spot when it comes to herself. Mind you, most heroes are pretty modest, and don't look at themselves as doing anything special.

Fridawrites: She got me into the blogosphere, too. Pretty influential for someone who does so little, isn't she?

Beth, we love you. Just tell yourself that your swiss-cheese- omelet brain isn't letting you see yourself in an impartial way, and accept the adulation. You're better than you know; deal with it, dahling. :)

Love and hugs, respect and adoration,

Lisa Moon said...

Sorry for the late comments... took a bit of a blog break and I come back to this, for which I find myself lacking words...
Thank you for giving a voice to so many who have lost theirs, had theirs locked down; the young, innocent... it really does just need people like you to start standing up and telling truths.
People fear truth because perhaps it could incite change?
Standing for truth, as best I physically can, and always in spirit!

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