A Holocaust survivor and author. A man who endured unimaginable horrors and lived to tell about it made sure that he did. Wiesel once said “I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot.”
“Maybe there are no words for what happened. Maybe somehow … the cruel killers, have succeeded at least in one way, at least that it deprived us, the victims, of finding the proper language of saying what they had done to us, because there are no words for it.”
We honor an unusual man who worked to use words the best he could to never forget. We honor his brave telling about the ugliest of things, a bulwark of raw words for the prevention of future acceptance of evil. We honor that his honest speak has worked a path of healing for those frozen and silenced by haters. A way for the harmed ones to move forward.
And as we bless Elie Wiesel for saying what needed said, we daily shun and hush those around us when words are spoken that tell stories of having been harmed. Words of being blamed for the harm. Sideways words reminding another ‘you are nothing, you matter only in terms of how you benefit me’. The drip, drip, drip of ‘you don’t count, your story doesn’t count, oh, come on, it wasn’t that bad’.
The murmuring of these same messages run through our speech all day long:
Get over it.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Talk about happy things.
What a drag.
She’s such a victim.
As a trauma therapist, I spend more time than any other issue on trying to move my clients to a place where they realize they are not ‘living in the past’, ‘grabbing for attention’, being ‘negative’ or trying to shift the blame when they explore their whole story. Truth-telling and integrating that truth does create healing, however, it is very difficult for the one having been harmed to admit harm has been done. In reality, people who have been traumatized want desperately to find a way for what has happened to not have happened. They want to minimize what has happened, pointing to others who had it far worse. If there is no way around denying it, placing blame on themselves is next best. The reluctance to notice and admit what has happened comes not only from others around us and their words but from our own. The tapes we play in our head may have been formed initially by another, but we keep them going.
You’re such an idiot, poor you.
You could have stopped it and you know it.
You wanted it.
You got what you had coming to you.
Recognizing lying tapes and correcting them much like we would a sassy child is important, and does eventually assist in allowing for the truth to emerge.
The behavior of speaking truth was an action in direct opposition to the way things were done in Germany before millions were herded off into packing plants and burned whole. It’s not like Hitler stood up one day and said: “OK guys, here’s my idea, let’s round up all the Jews and kill them.” No. The opposite of honesty and openness are lies. When the goal of a world leader is sadistic, the monster knows it will never sell to the masses at face value, which is where manipulation and sideways speak comes in. The climate of disrespect, jealousy, and spite had been brewing and had been acted upon in many little ways. Hate was hidden, explained away by what seemed to most as unrelated intellectual ideas that sounded very rational if one happened to be feeling less than. Less than leading to class envy, and at its heels prejudice. All of which was hiding what really fueled the ideas. Murder. A culture of open truth-telling might have uncovered that for years people were being treated wrong. Emotional safety would have allowed those harmed to say out loud what had been going on, and those who heard would have been safe to be outraged and speak out against the behaviors and attitudes that were absolutely not OK!
When we smother any speech that belongs to one who has suffered for the pretense of ‘Oh, you don’t have it that bad” or in worse cases forbidden speech, we fortify the hater, turn aside the one harmed, and become an unsafe world.
The Bible is God’s inspired word. There is no pretense in the Bible. Stephen was stoned. The Bible doesn’t cover up what really happened to Stephen and who was responsible for it. If this happened today, I could hear most Christians say ‘there is no good reason for smearing Saul’s name by telling the story’. “Telling it won’t bring Stephen back” they’d say. Might lessen the good name of Paul who did straighten up and become an apostle. No, that’s not how God in the Bible deals with evil. One story after another tells the whole truth, the bad right along with the good, and is put into print because evil must be voiced for good to prevail. Evil doesn’t go away when we ignore it. It doesn’t go away when we ‘just get over it’. Evil goes away when those harmed by it become strong, find words for things that have no words and say what has happened.
When will we become the people that support truth-telling?
When will the entire story our lives be owned?
When will we choose to not remain in foggy world of pretense?
but instead, agree with what has happened
what should have been?
When I speak my truth out loud, I am giving you permission to speak yours. And united we say “ENOUGH!”. Thank you Elie Wiesel, for speaking up, challenging me to speak my truth. Your life tugs, it calls to speak of my own pain as a way of giving voice to the pain of one whose words have been taken away.