What is the value of standing witness? Atrocity and inhumanity and evil–is there a moral imperative to record it?
Today I picked up a book in the library titled, The Healing Wound by Gitta Sereny. She writes of Nazi Germany and genocide with first-hand experience, but all I could think of was that title: the healing wound.
How a wound can heal. A trauma can change society for the better.
And I thought, too, of Marc Antony’s statement towards the end of Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra—that “by a wound [he] must be cured.”
But still, this paradox that a wound can transform and even heal—what does it mean? How does it happen?
“Pain is important.” Audre Lorde writes. “How we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.”
Transcendence is key.
And I wonder if these stories of survivors are really–when told well–less about evil and more about resilience.
And the truth about who really wins in the end.
Because survival is an act of defiance.
And maybe there is a right way to suffer, and a wrong way to suffer. If we have to feel the pain—and we do—better to experience it as something that unites us. Common to us all. Suffering–living it and witnessing it truthfully–deepens our empathy for others.
So the wound that heals is a wound that forces us to recognize our inherent flaws, our mortality, and our failings. It breaches the skin and leaves a scar—and in so doing, indicates the true nature of life. All of us are permeable and fragile and mortal. All of us will die. All of us are capable of terrible atrocities.
But we are also capable of great good. And small kindnesses.
It is a choice.
And the “never forget” that follows the stories–it is not the never forget, never forgive of the vigilante. Of the avenger.
It is the “never forget” of the wise crone or sage. Who knows that wounds are not about our own pain. Our wounds can be our greatest teachers–and the wisdom gained from them can benefit others. To remind us all that every day, it is a choice. How we treat others. And whether we transcend our own pain.