“It doesn’t matter how your story started out. That is not who you are. What matters is who you choose to be”
-From Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda inspires me. He seems to see clearly the nexus between peace and justice. Or rather, he learns it along his journey. Plus he is one of my boy Luc-Michael’s heroes, so it’s special bonding time for us
Many think that peace and justice are at odds with each other. My journey has conscientized me to the belief that peace absolutely cannot exist without justice. But I see justice very differently now to everything I learnt in Law School.
My life had a few rocky starts. At 11 months while away with my Mom and two older brothers (our Dad was overseas on business) I contracted encephalitis. 7 babies in the locality contracted the disease, 6 died one lived. That was me. But I was left paralyzed from the neck down. Two weeks later in a display of early signs of thug tendencies, I started crawling again. But dragging my legs behind me. The next 9 years I had daily physio and used a wheelchair. A series of surgery and by age ten I abandoned the wheelchair, the “special” school as was called in those days and I went on to accomplish in academics, public speaking and school leadership positions. Whilst still in a wheelchair I managed to accomplish in swimming-competitive swimming and also I was the youngest kid in the then Transvaal to complete lifesaving training. I think I was seven. And in a wheelchair.
After school I went on to complete two law degrees, practice as an attorney and conveyancer for ten years before going into Alternative Dispute Resolution, Access to Justice and Human Rights.
But there were some intervening years that I barely survived. Without going into specific detail, the context that myself and my daughter (now 14) were in until she was three and a half was violent. Even after exiting the situation, it has taken me years to digest that anyone would want to hurt me physically, emotionally or psychologically. And I was subjected to too much of it all. My baby girl- I don’t know, and I will never know what really happened to her, what she went through or the full extent of what she witnessed and endured. But I do know, looking back, that I exited the context far sooner than she. And that to a degree still leaves me shattered. But she is an incredibly beautiful, intelligent and brave young woman and I think she carries a mandate to be a world changer.
We are both safe now in most ways. But there is a haunting that I guess will never leave either of us. There is a struggle to understand our own individual needs and our tendency to apprehend our own safety, even in some ways that may leave others feeling violated. A hyper-vigilance and a profound sensitivity that may bare response that leaves others confused and mystified. We have had to understand that even we have violent impulse. Neither of us would wilfully physically harm another. Neither of us would wilfully verbally abuse or demean another. But we have to watch carefully for signs where we feel unsafe, vulnerable and liable to apprehend our own needs at the expense of others.
The crazy thing is I often feel safer at a negotiating table surrounded by men armed with Assault Rifles than I do in day to day suburbia. I guess there is a lot to be said for knowing exactly where someone stands. Its comforting to be able to actually see the threat and know what you are dealing with. The most terrifying thing that our experience has left me with is not really what is going on, on the inside of everyday seemingly caring, hard-working “descent” individuals. Not knowing what may lurk in the shadows of another’s life and not knowing until far too late that you are actually in a situation that can or will damage or destroy your life. That someone with a legal and moral duty to cherish and protect you, can be the biggest danger to you is just beyond terrifying.
I think the toughest thing for me was having the father I had. He made mistakes like everyone else, but he was literally one of the kindest humans I ever knew. I grew up thinking male strength was gentle, and fair, and just, and compassionate. That was my Dad. He was a brilliant swimmer, athlete, provincial rugby hero. And he was a remarkable business man. But he was so humble. And so gentle. He was beautifully spoken with an amazingly gentle voice and he was the best storyteller we ever knew.
I don’t think I ever got over the shock that there were men in this world who were not like that. That there were men who were simply not strong like that. But there are such men. There are many. Not all.
The most serendipitous intervening event of grace in my life was meeting my husband, Mike. The night I met him I thought he looked so much like my Dad as a young man. That was ten years ago. My father loved Mike. Last December my father lost his life. Mike wept at his funeral. I had never seen Mike cry.
This year has been the toughest of my life. Learning to do life without the guy that my Dad was in this world. Its just been really, really hard. But I know he left a legacy of kindness in my four brothers. I know that same kindness has been in Mike all along. And I know my kids and my niece get it.
I also know that because of who my Father was, I am able to embrace God as a loving father who rescues, restores, redeems and heals rather than a punisher who waves the threat of fire and brimstone. This fortifies and advances my belief and work in Restorative Justice and Access to Justice and my commitment and unshakeable belief that the Law can be used to protect, heal and restore.
Today marks the start of the 16 Days Campaign. We are encouraged to partake in activities that will stop the violence against woman and children.
For me we have to go bigger, we have to work to dismantle violence full stop. Violent thinking, violent speaking and violent systems. I spend a lot of my time working to find creative alternatives to the redemptive violence that is at the heart of our criminal justice system and our safety and security mechanisms (our police “force” not services)
My faith continues to be bigger than all I can see. Guns (as a symbol of redemptive violence) have never made this world a safe place. We have to work to exclude the use of violence as an answer to the problem of violence. It has never worked, except to perpetuate violence.
I dream of mass action turning symbols of violence into useful stuff. Converting systems that harm into systems that heal. Until we work to address violence, full stop, the vulnerable will always be vulnerable.
And the way things are is not the way things need to be.