I went to John School last Saturday, to teach (And C. I think I might have met your friend from EPS).
I taught my bit, and then sat and waited until the break. And then I decided to stay for the rest of the afternoon. From an honest but maudlin point of view, I didn’t want to be alone, and there was no one around who seemed to want me – Mr. Spit was out of town, my best friend was out of town, other friends that I might have called were in another city. Woe is me.
There are only three things that happen after I speak. There is a video called Stolen Lives: Children in the Sex Trade. Then a survivor speaks about getting out of prostitution, and the sorts of horrible things that happened to her. (And trust me, they are horrible) Finally, two mums speak. And I have thought about those mothers in the last months. I thought about what their lives must be like. I asked a few, tentative, hesitant questions about life after the death of a child.
Both of the mothers say this – that their daughters became caught up in a world that they didn’t understand. And they were powerless to get them out of. It was a world full of pain and sorrow and agony and drug addiction. Their daughters went from bright young women, to women who became old, long before their time. And these mums became old. Worn, tired, pinched, devastated at the lives their precious children were living. Unable to comprehend how this happened. Sure, we can have a debate about whether prostitution should be legalized. (And I’m happy to tell you why I think it shouldn’t). But this, this life of horror, these young women weren’t out their willingly. Please understand, they didn’t choose this life.
Someone asked me how you could tell the prostitutes in my neighbourhood. And it isn’t their clothes. These women don’t dress like Julia Robert’s in “Pretty Woman“. I could give you a sarcastic answer, that someone who chose to do this wouldn’t be out there on Christmas day, in a blizzard, at minus forty, in the pouring rain, covered with blood. I’ll tell you how you know if she’s a prostitute. It’s not the drugs that mask their pain, the deadness seeps from their soul. when you look in their eyes you realize, that these girls, they are the walking dead.
The first mother, I’ll call her Arete for her life’s work, she speaks of the last photo she has of her daughter. It was on the front page of our local paper. It was the medical examiner’s office, taking her out of a cold, lonely field in that terrible time in fall, when all is grey and brown. Taking her out of this field, where she had died at the hands of a serial killer, taking her out of that field, far from her family, in a white body bag.
The other mother, I’ll call her Elos. She speaks at John School because she wants to talk about humanity. She wants to talk about who her daughter was, before she became, forever branded as a mere sex trade worker. I’ll call her Elos, because she wants to look at these men who come to John School as human. Elos talks about her daughter, and how she came to be in the sex trade. She talks about addiction as a disease, and wonders what kind of a world that we live in, that these men at John School are old enough to be her daughter’s father, but they didn’t see her as a person. No one cared to say “Look you are sick. Where do you live, let me take you home. You belong with people who love you“.
Elos doesn’t know where her daughter is. And I heard her story, and I thought about where Gabriel is. I know. He’s in heaven. His ashes are between an angel of courage, and an angel of remembrance. His tree is in my backyard. His photo is by the front door.
Elos doesn’t know where her little girl is. Not if she’s warm, not if she’s safe, not if she knows she is loved. Not if she’s still on this earth. She comes to remind us that everyone is loved by someone. Everyone belongs to someone. My little boy was held by family. He was sung too, cried over, prayed for. Loved by everyone who touched him.
It’s raining tonight. It’s wet, it’s windy, and there is a child, who is not at home. And we don’t know where she is. I needed to remember: I walk a hard road without Gabriel. Arete and Elos, they walk a much harder one. When I need to know about courage, about pain, about perspective, I will remember these women. Who live each day with sorrow and sadness that surpasses my understanding. Who out of their brokenness, teach others a better way. Who quietly stand up for truth and justice and mercy and compassion. Who see everyone as a person, with inalienable rights. Who turn on their porch lights every night, hoping their children find their way home.
My lesson for this week was this: courage is not a big bold act, it is not defying statistics, or living in spite of statistics, it is this: It is the hope that turns on the porch light – and waits. It is the act of saying “I love you means forever and always”.