Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
Over the past couple of weeks I've gotten a new kind of exposure. It's the kind of exposure that makes my chest tighten and heart race. Yes, 4.4 million people watched my story unfold on the new ABC series, In An Instant, but the kind of exposure I'm talking about is the re-enactment of my lived experience which up until now has only been replayed in my mind.
I've listened to most of the episode and watched parts. Just like all the other exposure therapy I've done over the years, I know that this too will be a gradual, but important process.
The process. That's the piece the show skipped over. One minute I'm physically and emotionally traumatized and the next I'm walking in to my nonprofit, laughing and on the path to healing others. I'm glad they told the story of the collapse, the reason I keep telling it is that there is still a crisis at hand. It's a story that needs to be told and re-told until something changes, but from my perspective, the most important part of my story isn't the collapse, but the path I took to heal.
Water was this everyday thing that had become my enemy. Exposure started by looking at pictures of tranquil seas, then listening to babbling brooks and soft waterfalls. Eventually we took a trip to the site of the collapse so I could smell the river and then, eventually, I worked my way into a pool. See it, hear it, smell it, feel it.
(Lucky for the water, I had already gotten used to tasting it so I didn't die of dehydration.)
All these interactions with pleasant water experiences helped me find a new relationship with water. I no longer gasp for air in the shower, but it's still been 7 years, 7 months and 21 days since my head and body have been fully submerged in water. I don't curse the river quite so often anymore, but I did have my first panic attack (5+ years later) when the boat sank during Life of Pi. The thing about healing is that it's a process - it doesn't end, it just changes.
Watching the Rush Hour Disaster episode is just another form of exposure therapy. First I listen and watch a little. Then, eventually, I'll watch the whole thing (with my eyes open, the whole time.)
On Monday, I was working my volunteer gig at my church when this lovely Upworthy compilation came through my Facebook newsfeed. Any other week, I would probably have rolled my eyes with irritation and felt a mild sense of hopelessness and inevitability about the state of our infrastructure. Any other week, I would have pushed share, said something snarky, and moved on- it’s already been my problem, someone else needs to take it from here.
But this isn’t any other week.
On Saturday, my story - our story - is going to air on ABC for all the world to see. Just like in the video clip from John Oliver, In an Instant, is going to seem like a movie. In fact they are billing it as a "movie premiere event series." Occasionally I’ll show up on screen to remind viewers that it’s not a movie, that it was real life-- but where will it go from there?
I don’t know how many times over the last seven years I’ve heard the stories of others who were almost there... who had just driven over it... who drove it everyday except that one... who worried from a far about loved ones living in Minneapolis. Those stories matter, just as much as mine does- because it could have been anyone. My story could be your story. I wish it wasn’t so easy for me to say that in the present tense, but it’s as true today as it was then.
An insensitive guy from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) once chalked up the actual cause of the collapse to a butterfly flapping it’s wings in China. From his perspective, there was just no telling what caused its ultimate demise at 6:05pm on Aug. 1, 2007.
A design flaw was the official culprit. Which, in my world, is also known as a politically convenient excuse to do nothing. Even in our own state, just six months after our collective trust was shattered, the governor thought it was a good move to veto a gas tax increase that would pay for infrastructure improvements. Luckily, our legislature overrode his veto by a slim margin.
As I watched the John Oliver piece this week, it wasn’t mild frustration I felt. Nope, instead what I felt was a primal form of rage simmering just beneath the surface of my skin. I wanted to scream and get it out of my body- but my surroundings wouldn’t allow for that- so I took to twitter, sending notes to my senators and representatives urging them to watch the show on Saturday night and use it to make things right. To remind people that it's not a movie- that it was real life, and will be again if we don't act.
There are lots of other things I want to fight for - would rather fight for - but until this wrong has been righted, I will continue to fight this fight by telling my story. Because it is our story. Few things unite us, but bridges (both literally and figuratively) do just that. No one is exempt from the consequences of a crumbling infrastructure- no race, no creed, no class, no orientation.
There's no getting around it, my story is horrifying. No one should go through what I and others went through. So if you watch on Saturday night, funnel your horror into a letter to your members of Congress. Not sure who they are? Search for them here, then write them a letter, give them a call, or send them a tweet. Nothing will change unless you tell them to change it.
About the blog:
This space holds thoughts and ideas generated from my personal journey of healing and recovery from trauma, co-dependency, and white supremacy culture. Opinions are entirely my own.