I recently re-read Cider With Rosie – a wonderful, evocative reflection of ‘how life used to be’ before the automobile came and changed everything. It was fascinating for its’ portrayal of houses, schools, community, seasons and the grannies who live upstairs, and it was of course beautifully written – but something really struck me negatively and I’ve not been able to forget it.
One of the chapters a good way in describes a man who’d left years before, for New Zealand, and then comes back for Christmas, appearing in the local pub and lecturing everyone about how well he has done and how they have wasted their lives. Not great. One by one, the listeners leave; he is the last to leave and it is snowing and dark, and he is drunk. He comes across the young men on the corner and they take turns to beat him up, then toss him over the wall where in the morning he is found dead.
The news spreads all around the village and not one of the people will talk to the police. A Very Bad Thing happened and it was just covered up, and it reminded me of what survivors face when we talk about the bad things that have happened to us. In the face of gross and obvious bad things, people clam up and stick together, the wrong is denied and the innocent affected person is just left and there is no justice.
Then there is a second story, where a young woman lives alone (these days we’d say she maybe had learning needs / additional vulnerabilities) and men go round to see her. We don’t really know too much about her but we can surmise, and then one day the young postman finds her floating naked, dead in her pond. The news spreads fast, he is invited into every household to tell his story – and then they shun him. He did nothing wrong but be touched by a sad troubling story, and yet he is the one who is shunned. It takes him ten years to work his way back to some sort of normal standing in the village, through absolutely no fault of his own.
These two stories got me thinking about humanity and Bad Things. Do we routinely brush them under the carpet? Do we treat those affected as ‘tainted?’ Do communities just close ranks and shut people out? Can wrong happen and no-one care?
I think at times these things do happen. I think about the responses we get when we speak out, the abuse, the denial, the nay saying, the attacks, the turning of the other cheek and closure of the door. I don’t think this is right at all. But I think it happens.
I had cut my family off for many years when I entertained some contact and got my fingers royally burned as a result, and talking to people about it has been the same as it ever was, and I’ve decided to reaffirm my belief – that I treat my wounds with care, but I don’t parade them around in front of people who would sooner cut me off than listen, and I hide my truth from the general public for fear of it not being handled kindly.
As a charity worker who’s spent a great portion of my life working with survivors, I also believe that survivors need somewhere to go with their truth, and that is us – charities, professionals etc. Not the pub. Not social groups – somewhere where trained people will help, and I’ve dedicated my life to that. Yet I still think the issue needs handling with care.
It makes me sad that it has to be this way – why did those people kick that man to death and then cover it up? I get that he acted like a nob, showing off about his life, but if that challenged the villagers then get out there and do the same – don’t cut off the mouthpiece to your discomfort!
Could it be that? Could it be that we are the mouthpieces for other people’s discomfort when we bring up Bad Things? Well how much progress will we ever make then?!
We make progress as a body of humanity, but perhaps roots are still firmly embedded and social behaviour hasn’t changed that much. We fight for wrongdoing to come to light, but people still don’t like hearing about it.
I reaffirm my belief – I don’t talk about it, I do work privately when I need to and I seek support when I need to, but I choose that support carefully. I don’t give the layman tools to hit me with and I monitor my PR.
I also do speak out when someone needs me to, and I listen to survivors when I come across them, but I know not everyone is the same, rightly or wrongly. It disappoints me to know this, but groups of people can be wilfully ignorant and harmful, especially when threatened.
It is this that I think the most – Bad Things threaten people and we represent those bad things. I think this is desperately sad and wrong, because survivors didn’t cause the bad things, they just suffered them. I am a person who has had to help people find a way today, not in a perfect future, and often that means compromise. Why should we have to ‘not talk about it’ for fear of suffering something unfair? I work to overturn that and be the difference, but I think it is there – people don’t like to know about bad stuff because it challenges and threatens them, and the hurt and bleeding survivor needs a specialist kind of help. Cider With Rosie helped me see that afresh.