Last night I couldn’t sleep, at war with a reality that I did not believe could exist.
I can’t breathe, I can’t speak. I don’t want to wake up.
The trauma felt by many women across this country right now is very real. If anyone honestly believes that violent words do not mirror violent actions, then they live in a very different reality than we do.
It is not mere words that upset us. It is hearing in those words all the trauma of a lifetime spent living in a culture where sexism is casual but danger is very real. Where far too many of us have had to learn that lesson the hard way ― from strangers and loved ones alike.
It is being told and treated like we are worth less when we know in our hearts that we are full of endless beauty, wisdom and power.
There is a bitterness borne of silence and swallowed anguish. Now, other emotions well up: a fear that we or our loved ones will be hurt in the backlash. A deep sense of longing and loss, a powerlessness.
I want so badly to believe in something better: to believe that we are better than racism, misogyny and xenophobia. But I feel like I just watched my country burn down.
How can we possibly go forward from this?
Five years ago, I sat in a therapist’s office, a mess of desperation and grief, and listened to her explain the concept of post-traumatic growth. From chaos and crisis, something stronger often blooms. It sounded to me like nothing more than a platitude said to those who cannot see a way out of what feels like a nightmare.
Ashes turn to dust, and where there is no light, there is no way forward.
One hundred and five years ago, a young woman in a different time and place heard screams and saw smoke. She rushed outside to watch helplessly as a New York City factory building filled with garment workers ― mostly women and girls ― went up in flames. There was nothing she or anyone could do.
The factory building owners had locked all the doors.
Her name was Frances Perkins and that fire changed something in her. In 1933, Perkins became the Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt and the first female U.S. Cabinet member. To this day, we have her to thank for a litany of social policies, including the minimum wage, child labor laws and safer working conditions. Our nation bears the scars of what happened on that day, but also the legacy of what she decided to do about it.
My hope is that a million Frances Perkinses were watching today, their mettle being forged. Allow yourself to be in flames right now. For in them, there is a power you cannot yet see.
You owe it to no one to explain the pain, fear or anger you feel from a traumatic event. Do not hold back your torrent of emotions. Every single one of them is valid, real and necessary. There is purpose in your fury, in trying to make sense of the senseless.
More importantly, do not let your faith in humanity, or belief in your own power for good, be a casualty of this day.
When they write your story, years from now, let them say that on that fateful day, in you grew a spark.
When our history is told, let them say that we burned with the heat of a thousand years.
Until we were cast in stone, until we were made of fire.
Let us rage. Let us shatter.
And then let us become who we so desperately long for.