How often we proclaim “I would have…” and then launch into a fantasy narrative in which we shine as the brave, bold, outspoken hero in a situation that demands action and justice.
The reality is that it’s easy to say; not easy to do – we’re often blanched and quelled in the face of adversity or confrontation.
There was a particular situation years ago in which I was frozen with inaction… I’m still working on forgiving myself for not speaking up; I’m still working on releasing myself from the subsequent shame.
I was in the private banquet room of a restaurant, dropping by for a few minutes to see a young man who was going to be married that weekend. All of the guests were men except for myself, a collegiate woman, and her mother. I didn’t know the groom or anyone else gathered there – I wasn’t even introduced to them. I was the “plus one” of the groom’s cousin, so I only knew him, his parents, and his siblings. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, an outsider stuck within this raucous fray.
When the group of men discovered that one of their friends wasn’t coming to the lunch, they called him on speakerphone and when his voicemail picked up, they all chanted Bitch! Bitch! Bitch! repeatedly before hanging up and laughing proudly at their brazenness.
I was stunned..
Incredulous. Disgusted. Furious.
I looked at the young men’s fathers – they were laughing too.
I looked at my date’s parents – they shrugged their shoulders.
I looked at my date’s young siblings – they looked uncomfortable, but said nothing.
I looked at my date – he was composed, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
We left shortly afterwards and I felt sick.
My date told me sharply not to say anything; that I was hypersensitive and overreacting.
So I swallowed my feelings and my words.
The disgust I felt about the behavior I witnessed turned inward, as I berated myself for not speaking up with the group and not speaking up with my date.
I felt so dirty, so disappointed in myself.
I continued to smother my thoughts and feelings in other situations with this man and his family, repressing and burying my truth, dignity, and self until I could no longer bear the weight of the mask and armor of feigned normalcy – the day this man told me he was “a victim of the matriarchy” was the end for me, and I severed all connection and contact.
Though all of this happened years ago, my silence haunts me – I failed to act, and that absence became a gaping hole of shame.
I discussed this recently with my partner, exploring the deep roots of my aversion to feeling passive, submissive, weak.
I’m working to wash myself clean; to forgive myself for being complaisant and complicit in situations when my spirit struggled and my integrity ached to be actualized.
My partner kindly suggested that I “acknowledge the Being within that is doing good now” – and that filled me with tenderness and warmth.
I have learned from this experience, and through reflection and self-compassion I can unshackle myself from the past to focus on the person I am today – strong, steadfast, never again to be silenced.