"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Robert Kennedy via BrainyQuote
I left jail in 2015. Not a physical one, but a jail I had been in since 1975 – or possibly since birth. An incident happened that December, instigated by my mother and seized upon by some South-African cohorts of hers, that was, for me, after many years of abuse of all kinds, the final act of abuse that I was going to try to withstand and come back from. It was the end for me. I was never going back for more, despite the circumstances at the time; though I tried, until my mother died to bring understanding between us and I did not give up hope until she died. When I left the jail my mother had fashioned for me, I knew that I had to separate forgiveness from justice. I accepted too, that forgiveness does not mean restoration, and that my situation with my mother certainly seemed untenable.
Like unchecked anger, unforgiveness is a consuming fire. Without forgiveness, bitterness results and poison is consumed. But what my mother and others did to me as a child was partly a dark gift (up until I stopped enabling what was going on, simply by being there and, given I loved my mother, I was constantly managing my painful relationship with her.) From my perspective as an outsider I was able to see more clearly what had happened to me and to begin to heal properly. (I was ever the outsider but I was breathing the toxic air of an insider and thus unable to see clearly enough as to what was going on, though I had experienced much physically already, and knew a lot of what my mother said about me). By leaving my jail, I was able to look more fully, from a place of perspective, at the horrible truth, to sort through it, and then to look resolutely away: I am not like them. I will not be like them. I will not hate, no matter how much evil they perpetrate against me. Most people prefer not to look, so they continue to act out of their festering wounds (and who doesn't have wounds?), rather than expose those wounds, however painfully to the light of healing. As Nina Simone said, "You've got to learn to leave the table, when love's no longer being served."
I am still angry at the injustices and cruelty perpetrated by my mother and others that she allowed to abuse me in various ways. Throughout my life, when I began to push back, she began to silence me. Some of these ways I was aware of, some I have recently discovered through the process of the court case that I have brought - more exposure to the painful laser light. My anger at what happened will remain. I remain angry enough to speak out. Angry enough to bring a court case given my mother's final act of cruelty regarding my maternal uncle’s estate. And rightly so, though that anger will be harnessed by me, and on behalf of myself and others. When people are cruel to one another; when people abuse or lie and cheat and steal, the emotion of anger is the appropriate one, though the intensity of the emotion must be worked through and defused; the heat and the power of it can be channeled.
On the 29 Jun 2016, having suffered another breakdown triggered by my mother and other relations actions towards me, and having struggled as a result, through 6 horrific months of depression that for me looked like no sleep and medication for deep depression, I wrote this: Anger is an important emotion when it is controlled and channelled in the right way. Let anger lead to activism, creativity: transformation. Even empathy and healing. I think the skill is to control the anger rather than have the anger control you. My mother had planned much worse for me, but I was already in the process of breaking free and in the process I was grappling to harness some very dark feeling. However justified, I knew I could not let feeling get the better of me, given I was determined to act in the long term. It has been a long hard walk to freedom and I am still shaking off the shackles. Liberty can and will win out.
There has been good: Working through what happened to me as a child has made me a stronger person and a mother more determined to fight for and protect my own children. Discovering who my mother really was released me from my prison of torture and suffering (I always gave her the benefit of the doubt, even when she consistently lied to me and about me Does she realise what she is doing? Does she believe what she is saying? Is she on the scale? Why does she hate me?). I don't think I would have become an activist in my own way without my family conditioning. I was an activist in South-Africa during apartheid in that I faced up to the police regime in various ways there – for instance, interfering when the police picked up black children off the streets amongst other episodes; one of which involved tear gas.
I have remained an activist – one who acts in the face of injustice - in that when I see injustice, I instinctively react to it. Perhaps given I never felt safe or protected as a child, that I can easily be triggered out of any 'comfort' zone. One night in Brixton, during the 90’s, I ran out of the flat I lived in, into the middle of the deserted road to help a woman who was being smashed in the face as she was being mugged. The mugger ran off. As I took her upstairs, I noticed all the people watching from the windows. Later, the police, having reeled off a number of knife related muggings in the area from that week, commended me but advised me not to interfere again. The point is, I didn't think, I just acted. I had been conditioned. How? Where does this, impulse, this compulsion, perhaps this need, even, to act, come from? I guess via my own conditioning. I relate these things not to look like a heroine, but to understand myself. The truth is, I act without thought, not to look good. But perhaps to feel good? To give my life meaning beyond myself?
I began to push back when I was 17. I left apartheid South-Africa, underaged and alone. It was an obvious choice. I did not want to live in apartheid South-Africa and I was not attached to the family my mother had created with my stepfather. In the mid-eighties in the UK, I came to know the family of my grandparents on both sides, and in whom I recognised myself. Later I (re)met my father who I had not seen since the early 70s, and my Portuguese family. Maybe it was because I had no sense of belonging, that I was quick to recognise the underdog. Not sure. But does it matter, from whence it comes? Love, empathy, conviction, should lead to action. No? Perhaps I needed to align myself with others who were/are hurting? I would not have got involved with helping the Karen people of Burma and I would not be taking this #1975Inheritance Act case, were it not for the injustices of my life that began in 1975 - uncanny huh? The year it began for me was the year the case was made to help me: I speak of the #1975InheritanceAct. I did not learn empathy from my mother or my father - my mother wiped my father out of my life - heck, she wiped me out of her life too, that was her way (and that of others close to her) with anyone who crossed her - nor anyone in my living family – they would not know empathy if it knocked on their door dressed up as all the ills in the world. I learnt it from the injustices experienced and observed during my own life, and deciding: no. I will not be like these people. Further, I will do something about the suffering I see.
Perhaps identification has something to do with it. My grandpa, who was my father figure, fought the Japanese in Burma in the second world war; he was scarred by it. As a civilian, he worked tirelessly for the poorest and most vulnerable in society. As a lifelong member of Toc H, he often took me along as he went to children's homes and other places to show films - he had a film camera with which he recorded family life - as well as reels of the classics: Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks and so on. He was colour blind in a country with an enforced colour bar. I know he agonised over the political situation and what to do for the best. He was always sympathetic to suffering. When I began work for the Karen people of Burma, as the chair of the former charity, Hand in Hand for Asia, my grandmother told me my grandpa (who died when I was 17) would have been proud of me. Those words meant so much, given he was my childhood hero, and particularly since I came from a family that put me down at every turn and actively despised me. It wasn’t all bad. My grandparents and their siblings and the children thereof have been my family happiness and security. My friends have always been my family. My 'parents,' in the way they treated me, gave me the ability to stand apart. In their lack of empathy for me and for what I had suffered at their hands and others in the family (and worse, the denial thereof), I was able to stand in opposition. I resisted what went on in my family and in my country. I stood apart. That was my beginning as an activist. There is still much to be done and I remain determined to act.