Have you read the letter? Not the newspaper stories about the letter, but the actual letter? The one the young woman wrote for the sentencing hearing of Brock Turner, following a searing criminal trial that found him guilty on all three counts of felony sexual assault?
If not, you must. It's a true American story, heartbreaking and inspirational. Gritty and authentic. Infuriating and but oddly liberating. Painful and yet promising.
After reading her statement I am shocked, awake, human. Sobbing.
That's how breathtakingly powerful the words of this 23-year-old are - like a plunge in a frigid lake. My mind and soul are flooded with a consciousness that's been numbed lately by the day-to-day grind of making a living, making dinner and making my way through the presidential election.
Turner faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, but because of his swimming skills and privilege, he got off easy. Turner's father lamented his son's potential punishment, calling it a "steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action," and suggested to the sentencing judge that his son exhibited the appropriate degree of contrition because he had lost his ability to enjoy a good rib-eye steak on the grill.
The judge's six-month sentence on top of the heinous acts by Turner and the tone-deaf letter of his father would be impossibly depressing for parents everywhere, if not for the extraordinary words of the victim. Her letter presents an alternative script to the frightening play streaming in our minds - a play in which our kid is the sister, one of the Swedes or the writer.
There are actually two sisters in the story. The younger sister persuaded her older sister to attend the Stanford University party where she was brutally raped behind a dumpster. But the two together are sisterhood. The love and selflessness the sisters have for one another is so deep it hurts.
"My sister picked me up, face wet from tears and contorted in anguish. Instinctively and immediately, I wanted to take away her pain. I smiled at her, I told her to look at me, I'm right here, I'm okay, everything's okay, I'm right here. My hair is washed and clean, they gave me the strangest shampoo, calm down, and look at me. Look at these funny new sweatpants and sweatshirt, I look like a P.E. teacher, let's go home, let's eat something. She did not know that beneath my sweats, I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my vagina was sore and had become a strange, dark color from all the prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to continue to speak. That I was also afraid, that I was also devastated. That day we drove home and for hours my sister held me."
And then later, the writer tells Turner:
"I want to say this. All the crying, the hurting you have imposed on me, I can take it. But when I see my younger sister hurting, when she is unable to keep up in school, when she is deprived of joy, when she is not sleeping, when she is crying so hard on the phone she is barely breathing, telling me over and over she is sorry for leaving me alone that night, sorry sorry sorry, when she feels more guilt than you, then I do not forgive you. That night I had called her to try and find her, but you found me first. Your attorney's closing statement began, 'My sister said she was fine and who knows her better than her sister.' You tried to use my own sister against me. Your points of attack were so weak, so low, it was almost embarrassing. You do not touch her."
The sisters are love.
The Swedes are the two graduate students who were biking and discovered the rape. These young men chased Turner and caught him. They saved the writer by apprehending her attacker, and they saved her by feeling deeply pained by his actions. One of the Swedes "was crying so hard he couldn't speak because of what he'd seen."
The writing about the Swedes saves us, too. We want our sons to be brave and sensitive, and we need role models. We are grateful to the Swedes, but not nearly as grateful as the writer.
"Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me, who I have yet to meet. I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget."
The Swedes are heroes.
And we will never forget the writer. To be so incredibly eloquent and brave in the face of adversity and injustice is remarkable.
"Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining," she wrote.
The writer shines and saves us most of all. She is a lighthouse.
The writer is courage.