In the film “A Dry White Season,” a well-off teacher named Ben du Toit finally sees what he did not have the eyes to see. The setting: South Africa during apartheid. The opening scene: the slaughter of hundreds of weaponless, innocent children, women, and men. It takes a painfully long time for the privileged educator to realize and accept the truth of what is happening to the black families of Soweto and even that of his own gardener. But there comes a point when he can’t deny any longer the lies and brutality of his society, and he risks everything to change it. In one scene, he writes down on his typewriter all the horror to which he has been witness. “I have been so blind,” Donald Sutherland narrates in a sad voice.
I sat at my desk, crying silently, and recalled du Toit’s confession. Blind, blind.
I wish I could go back and eat those words that I spoke in my high school graduation speech. “Nearly everyone has a moment in their life when everything is perfect,” I recited nostalgically, recounting the glory days of my childhood. I can just see my glowing, wide-eyed self.
Or that I could take back my lack of understanding of the invisible forces pulling a friend back into an abusive relationship, again and again. Or my ignorance about the tragedy of having an addict for a father.
Or those times when I thought angrily, “How can that mother treat her daughter that way?! I can’t imagine a white woman doing that.” Or…or…or.
My parents did a beautiful job raising me in a warm, loving home, but also trying to gently expose me to the realities of the world. Somehow, despite my parents’ wisdom, there was a disconnect between the brokenness I saw in the movies and what I saw in my wealthy, white classroom — a lot of straightened hair and toned bodies. Today, I know even in that classroom there was a lot of silent suffering.
Now as I’ve ventured off to a first-rate college in a first-rate city, the violence, self-loathing and injustice that had always been a part of my societies, whether I had chosen to see it or not, came to the surface. Depression. Suicide. Addiction. Abuse. I could choose to stay unaffected by it, or I could love and sacrifice and show up. I wish I had chosen the latter more often.
I’ve been reading and writing, studying and fighting for the anti-trafficking movement, but so often I feel I’m working for a nebulous “cause.” Who is this making a difference for? Somebody, right?
And then something clicked when my assignment was to read and summarize the most violent cases of our clients for a special project. Later in the same week, I was asked to read “Girls Like Us,” a thick volume about the domestic trafficking of girls in the U.S. I’ve heard some of this before, but this time every word stabs. I have been one of the people in the book wagging my finger at the prostitutes (literal and figurative) of society: “You shouldn’t have made that bad choice.” I’ve been a Pharisee, and Jesus has crushed my whole world: “Well what are you waiting for? Throw the stone if you’re so holy.”
And that’s where the hope comes in. He doesn’t just rip the scales from our eyes and expect us to suck it up and deal with the shock. We’ve been healed. We’ve been given true sight. Or maybe we’re still in the process (we’re all in the process, really). But with every faithful phone call, kind word, inconvenient favor, feeble bit of understanding, desperate prayer, we are part of the healing — maybe just a tiny, tiny part — for someone else. Oddly enough, that action, those people, often end up healing us. And our bones will be strengthened, the desires in our scorched places will be quenched. Those are words I can trust.