Oh. That’s right: I’m rather competent at some things. I forget even the feel of it in the middle of the shiver and snap of suffering – and of my memories of suffering. I lose the quiet assurance of strength gently used. And the inner mystery of both living equally real under the same skin was not lost on me as I raised my hand to emphasize a theological idea – the same hand that has marked the other arm with scars. The same hand that carefully marks pages with notes; the one that slid a knife across my throat.
I can almost hear it in my own voice, like some scar living in the sound of elegance matched with pain. I am able to speak very beautifully. I know. And I know what it is like to scream, hands over ears, unable to tell the difference between then and now.
There was a stillness, though, this time. The steadiness itself more real. It wasn’t lost on me as I spent time with some of my favorite scholars, listening to papers, avoiding papers, giving my own paper. (Theologians like papers.) I liked my paper, mostly. I thought it worked. A good beginning for a much bigger thing. A book. I actually liked my own damn paper and I wanted other scholars to hear it, to help me with it.
Some of it employed trauma as a metaphor. I explained it to fellow scholars, describing but never referencing an experience that of course I know all too well. Still, only small tokens of its elements arrived in the context of ideas much larger. Plural and in their place. Helping rather than hurting. Not like trauma usually is, looming and omnipresent as on a bad morning after nightmares, or in the middle of a triggered dissociative moment. Sure, later that night I heard a goddamn beep – I hate them so much – innocent in an ice cream shop. And instantly I vanished to awful places and I did not like it one bit. Sure, that happened. But I remembered the softness of the strength from before and held on to it.
Sometimes the very hard things are one voice among many and it is simply miraculous. I cannot help but smile – even at contradictions. I am a perfectly capable scholar and I speak well and I’m a little broken in the mind – the mind that works wonderfully and does not. As if the word and could mean a redemption of some kind. It does, though. Sometimes the trauma and its kin, those awful places etched in neurons and nerves, are not the only sound in my head. And the gathered choir makes meaning of unspeakable other things, even meaning without them.
My hands shook a little since my medicine still gives them tremors. I felt annoyed and sure my audience could see it, and that they’d interpret it as nerves. But I was fine, dammit. In fact, I thought I was good. My two favorite scholars really liked it and that seems perfect to me. A place among many. Or two.
I’m grateful to be able to hear more than one tone of feeling – even if the hearing isn’t always there. I like being able to listen and remember. Really remember what someone else has said. I have been to unspeakably dark places, but there are many more.
And probably tomorrow I’ll brood and struggle all over again. We can be in more than one place at the same time, I suppose.