Catharsis

Child abuse makes me sick. Physically sick. And no matter how many news reports I hear, how many conferences I attend, how many instances I read about, nothing really ever prepares me to hear a student share their personal story, tearfilled eyes, pain etched in every glance.

I spent my lunch yesterday having both the unfortunate and fortunate privilege to hear Emma’s (name has been changed) story, thanks to a poetry assignment.

Poetry assignments, oh how I both love them and hate them. This year, the feelings are amplified. Emma told me about her abuse in a poem. I wrote back that I wanted to talk. She found herself sitting in my blue butterfly chair, complaining of a headache, but ready to share her heartache. I listened as she told me of 6 years of sexual abuse she has endured at the hands of a family member. I was amazed by her strength, impressed by her maturity, and proud of her courage. I asked questions, I listened, I held her as she cried, and did my best to keep my own tears back. With as much gentleness as I could muster, I tried to offer Emma the push she needs to tell the adults in her family what has been happening since she was 10 years old. She knows she needs to, but its hard. It’s hard to talk about. Which, while this has been painful for her to share and me to hear, this is why I am thankful for poetry.

At 3:20 yesterday afternoon, after Emma had been home for less than an hour, she emailed me and told me she was thankful for the poetry assignment because it gave her a chance to talk about the devastating circumstances in her life. She also told me she was thankful I’m here for her to talk to.

In the past four years of teaching poetry, I’ve heard about kids with alcoholic parents, students who just found out they’re pregnant, teens addicted to pot who wish they weren’t, and isolated incidents of abuse. But the confession described in this one poem has by far been the most extreme and extensive. And although I dislike filling out mandated reporter forms more than just about anything else in the world, I will continue to assign poetry for this very reason. It’s catharthic. It’s a chance to talk. It’s a chance to confess, to heal, and to move forward.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this post per se, except that there’s something in it that’s cathartic for me too. But I do know this, people want to talk. They want to share. They just need a forum. They need a voice, and they need a listening audience. They need another human being who will take the time to read the details in a poem, in a phone call, in an off-hand comment, in a sweatshirt worn every day. The question is, will we answer these cries for help? Will we fight the statistic that says 1 out of every 4 people in America have been victims of abuse? Will we grant them the opportunity for catharsis, and from that, a true cleansing, one that can only be found in the blood of Christ?

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