Bitter or Better? We Choose.
Originally posted on 02/07/12
Some of the outrageous stories of abuse, trauma, and tragedy that I see on television and read about in the news stick with me forever. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. The human capacity for cruelty is mind-blowing. But it’s slightly less mind-blowing than the human capacity for resilience.
I couldn’t tear myself away from watching a recent show about a little girl who was kept in a closet from age 2 until age 8 at the hands of parents who took her out only to abuse her in unspeakable ways. I won’t even try to do the story justice, as I don’t think there is any way for any of us to understand even a fraction of what that little girl endured. And we can be thankful that we’ll never understand it, because it would be a burden to bear.
The real story for me isn’t in the titillating details of abuse. The real story is in seeing the little girl, now age 18, say that she feels the experience made her stronger. And that she’s thankful that she was rescued because she knows God has a bigger plan for her. And that her dream is to become a counselor who helps other people who have suffered abuse. And in her adoptive mother’s statement that going through this could make a person hate people, but that unbelievably her daughter loves people. And in the awe of the police officer who opened the closet door and saw the little girl smile, and in his wonderment about “where she pulled that smile from.”
Earlier today I listened to a guy on the radio talk about how his nephew was serving a few months in jail for being in a car with a friend, and some marijuana, and some open alcohol containers, and a weapon, and stolen goods. He didn’t bail his nephew out of jail because he felt this young man needed to suffer the natural consequences of making bad choices and choosing bad company. The man’s family thought he was “cold,” but he insisted that he was helping the youth. He said, “The experience can make him bitter or it can make him better, and it’s his choice.”
Surely the kid’s family wishes he were anywhere but jail. And jail isn’t a fun place. But you know, it isn’t a filthy closet.
I hope the man’s nephew comes out of the experience with resolve to live a good life. I hope he decides that he wants more for himself and that he is going to use his free agency to choose productive activities and wholesome friends. I hope he comes out better for having been there instead of bitter about the time he lost.
And if he get out of jail and complains about how brutal jail was and how heartless his family was for leaving him in what he’ll probably describe as a hell-hole, I hope he catches the show I saw. Then he’ll know what a hell-hole really is. Then he’ll see a girl who isn’t complaining even though she has more than enough reason to. Then he’ll see that 60 days in jail is nothing compared to 6 years in a closet. Then he’ll understand that if she can survive that horror and come out smiling and willing to give to others, that the least he can do is be grateful for his mistake and the lesson he needed to learn by making it. Then, if he comes out bitter, he’ll see how she came out better.
My trials are my trials, and your trials are your trials, and they are real and they hurt. Perhaps yours, like mine, feel harder than 60 days in jail, but easier than 6 years in a closet. We don’t need to hold our pain up to each others’ and decide who has suffered more because no one wins playing that game.
It’s good to be reminded that no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse. And that we have a choice about what to do with ourselves in the aftermath. Do we grow bitter? Or do we grow better? When life has kicked your butt for a while, you might feel like you can’t use the experience to grow better. But I know a little girl who could probably help you put that butt-kicking in perspective.
Bitter or better? WE choose.