Begin at the end


A Rohingya refugee girl in Bangladesh (KM Asad/AFP/Getty Images)

I want to start at the end. At the part when she’s laughing at her graduation.But I cannot tell you about her split-face smile, the way it shakes with raw and unreasonable nerves, restless pride swelling, the seams of her dress stretching to expand with her heart that is skipping beats when she’s standing at the edge of the stage, next in line. I cannot tell you about the wild anticipation in her chest with her name about to be called, or how she’s embarrassed that her hands are sweating but forgets that she’s embarrassed the moment she reaches out to shake the dean’s hand. I cannot tell about how someone is hollering her name while the dean says, “congratulations,” and she is a college graduate, walking offstage in her high heels, and still smiling, and still shaking. I cannot tell you she is standing there, yet, because, right now, she’s only twelve.

Right now, she’s in a public middle school, and in her middle school, her teacher is writing to me for advice. “One of our girls was sexually assaulted,” my friend writes. “I feel paralyzed.” At moments like these, I want to start at the end, at the part when everything has been fixed (or at least where success is palpable) and not at the beginning of survival, the moment of trauma. I like to imagine the end, when I begin. It helps me feel like anything is possible.

I have never lived or worked in the city where my friend is based, where this child is, but I start to look for resources. I extend calls to my network of social workers, to alumni of my program on LinkedIn (I’ve never met), and to the director of career development at the social work school, asking for references to alumni who might be in that city to help. “What resources do you have for programs?”

I then write to my friend, the teacher, a page worth of thoughts from my own experiences working with 12-17 year olds who have been raped, abused, and trafficked. For a moment, in the middle of law school, I feel like I have purpose. My purpose is to imagine her purpose, the child’s, what she will stand for and what she will be. I am imagining the end of a story where she is helped in the moment and survives; where she is not destroyed by her experience but is empowered; where she goes to high school and then to college and then graduates. I see her in the future. But for now, she is a child, and her teacher just wants to know what to do.

I always want to start at the end. When I read the news, I imagine the fresh burns and bullet holes in the Rohingya children in the refugee camps in Bangladesh have already turned to healed skin, and I imagine that trauma workers are there, helping them draw pictures and talk about the pain, as much as I want to hear politicians say they will do something. I hear my friend Mariam talk after she comes back from Iraq this summer, where she danced in villages in the dust, and she is telling me a story about a child rescued from Da’esh, but I only hear the part where she says the child, who was silent for weeks, started to talk. The child started to speak again. I imagine Mariam playing soccer outside with the rescued child’s siblings (this is the way she tells the story) while the child inside was meeting with the therapist and speaking again for the first time, her voice soft and untested. I imagine we all have a part in making the ending better than the beginning.

But the thing is, I cannot imagine the end if I do not do something right now. If no one does something right now. And, right now, I only imagine the end because it makes doing something feel like it is worth doing at all. And I can only imagine the end because people have gone before me and proved that the ending can be better than what I’m living right now.

Trauma and disorder and war and pain are crises, and we live surrounded by them. We often are paralyzed. We often feel paralyzed. Because we feel, and maybe we know, that things are not going to be alright for a lot of people for a long time. We know a lot of people are hurt by different things, by many things, and if there is any ending at all, we wonder if that ending will just be more of the same.

I like to believe that there is more than “more of the same.” I like to believe that if I raise my voice enough times at the right times that someone, somewhere, will have the future I want for them. There is a future I want for them. I want people to have futures better than I can imagine. I want to love enough happy endings into existence, so I can say my own life was worth it.

I know that fight is long, and hard, and never enough. I know I have a crisis of confidence every time I speak up. I know that I worry I’m not enough of a leader, or enough of an ally. I worry I do not put myself out there in all the ways that I can. I worry that sometimes I wither on my values. The truth is, I will tell you later what happened: if I did enough (or didn’t), that I was a leader (or wasn’t), that I made a difference (or didn’t). But I cannot yet tell you how it will go. The life I am living now is only trial and error. I am just trying to hold fast to what is true and good, not to fall into complacence, or fear, or heartache, or dismay.

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