Last week I gave a short presentation at Auburn church about the crisis center I went to last year in Peru. The crisis center is for girls who have been physically and sexually abused. Their ages range from about 11-24. I get achy every time I think about them. But it's a hopeful achy, mind you.
After Bruce and I were done talking, a woman came walking towards us. She had one of those carts that helps you walk, but also helps you keep all your earthly possessions together. Though disheveled, you could tell she had taken time to look nice this Sabbath morning. She had glitter all in her hair with plastic butterfly clips keeping the long grey locks piled on her head.
When she came closer I could see tears pooling at the bottom of her beautiful blue eyes... and then she began to share. You see, her dad was an awful man. When we talk about the sexual and physical abuse these girls went through, she gets it. All her life she was told she was stupid--that she'd never be anything better than a whore. And so he took from her. He took everything he could. Stripped her clothes, her dignity, her self-esteem, and her chances of living a normal life. She has multiple personalities now, and no one will hire her. Because, you see, her dad was an awful, awful man.
In the middle of her story she began to cry and Bruce moved to hug her--she swiveled and put out one arm. "You'll notice that I hugged you sideways. I still can't hug anyone straight on. I just can't do it," she said.
I left church that day feeling heavy. I kept thinking about that swivel--replaying it in my mind. There's so much fear attached to that motion. Fear of being vulnerable, open and embraced straight on with your heart smashing up against someone else's chest.
And I hate it. I hate that at some point that becomes instinctual. You start to shield, you know?
I've been hugging sideways so much lately, and I see other people doing it too. We're all swiveling and twisting and protecting and distancing--because we're hurt and broken and scared and so tired of getting let down. And honestly, sometimes throwing your arms wide open and leaving your heart exposed is just too dang vulnerable.