Je m’appelle Marie I whisper softly bending over her.
You do not open your eyes or move a limb. You lie on the hospital bed inert as if dead. But you are not dead. Your heart is beating and your organs are functioning. It has been several weeks since you were brought to my care. I have been visiting your bed every day. I hold your hand, kiss your forehead and talk to you. But you do not respond. Something in me tells me that you hear me but have decided to remain still. Stillness remains. I know you are making me wait for you. I know you will return in your own time. I will be here when you return. I will wait for you. Your spirit has receded to a quiet place inside you. You are letting your spirit heal in silence and solitude—safe from further wounding. Silence remains.
Your youthful body carries scars, bruises, and gashes. Your body is weak, vulnerable and worn-out. You look distraught. You are not unconscious or comatose. You are in deep sleep perhaps recalling the fragmented parts of yourself. I want to give you time to recuperate, to remember, to gather yourself before you look at me. I want you to know yourself before you decide to know me.
I don’t know what to expect. You may refuse my help. You may decide to leave me forever wondering what you could have shared with me. I want to listen to you for you are the sole witness to your suffering, to your wounding. If you decide to talk to me I will also bear witness to your terror. I admit I am curious: Did you try and escape? Did you run? How did you endure? What did you feel? Did you pray? Do you still believe in a God who loves you? Or are you wandering in a world of godforsakness? I don’t want to lose you. I want to know you. You are my reflection for we are female. Your body is my body. Your spirit is my spirit. We share more than you know. I wish for you to know me. Questions remain.
Je m’appelle Marie. Je suis là pour toi. I whisper softly, coming close to your face that is gentle with sleep.
You look younger than your age. Your fears may have stripped you of all that constitutes time. You may have returned to a place where nothing is familiar—wandering in wilderness searching for yourself. Your memories stolen from you. Your parents killed. Your sisters sold. Yourself sold to many strangers. You may not know yourself anymore. How to find oneself without the affinity of kinship? What is a self without a connection to spirit? I want you to help me understand where your spirit is right now? How much further down have you repressed it? Will you ever recall your spirit to your body—be inspired by the same light that you once did? Through my tears I give you water. Through my kisses I give you breath. Through my touch I give you presence. Through my words I try to reach you. I give you my waiting and my patience. I wish for you to know I am your witness. Your spirit has to trust me to bring you back to me. I will not let you down. Hope remains.
Je m’appelle Marie. Je suis là pour toi. Je suis ici pour t’aimer.
Every day I bring you flowers. I hope you inhale the beauty of these petals: it may refresh your soul, it may revive your spirit. The poet says, “it is okay to know only one song.” What is your song? Let it reach the world. It rains on mountains, lakes, trees, and grass until the earth begins to hum and sing. The tiny seed in the ground stirs with longing for the sun. The sweet scents of mulberry, almond and apricot trees of your childhood still linger. At night the stars and the moon are most attentive. Why don’t you pray to the watchful heavens? The way you used to pray on your visits to Lalish, hidden between the mountains of Dohuk and Mosul.
Earth is awake, draped in moonlight and sunlight. The birds at dawn and dusk cover the immensity of the sky. They fly for their joy. I want to remind you of the joy of flight: the joy of freedom. I hope you hear me speaking to you. It is still possible to trust the sky and its radiance. I ask of you to pay heed to how the world’s beauty beckons you to join. Leap toward the beauty of the world that awaits you. Beauty remains. The world is waiting.
I wonder if you punish yourself on behalf of those who betrayed you. Betrayal remains. I wonder if you see yourself as a sinner—someone beyond God’s love. You cannot grieve the loss of a God you once loved, for God is always here to be loved. You can find God’s presence in your body—battered and bruised—humiliated and terrorized—your body still lives with the hope of God. I want you not to separate yourself from the Divine for it is present here in your breathing body. The spirit lingers, persists, remains, dwells in your tormented body. Loss remains.
Je m’appelle Marie. Je te comprends en tant que femme.
I understand you as a woman. I am still waiting for you to trust me. You must reach out to me as a woman, as someone on the threshold, at the edge, on the verge: someone suspended over an abyss. You must cross this very difficult chasm and reach me as I am trying to reach you in your depths. I ask you to hold my hand and I will gently bring you out of this abyss where you may be alone. I pray desperately for you not to be alone. I hope you are with angels of your own body gathered to restore you to your original beauty. I hope for that encounter. You have to know the sacredness of your skin, the holiness of your body still remains. You have to know that the angels don’t depart. When the body goes mad with naked pain the angels don’t leave. They hover over every wound. They are witnesses to body’s shaming. They will not let go of the healing they promised when you were born. They know your secret self. They are secretly mending it for you. While you sleep they are awake, attending to your body. Angels remain.
Mehr, mon enfant. Je m’appelle Marie.
Your name means love. Your name invokes Mithra, an ancient divinity of light, of truth—a guardian of harvest and of the waters. You my dear symbolize everything that must go on, persist, and continue. The world needs your love and your light. You are not meant to disappear, disintegrate or fade. Come back to me and to the world to which you belong. I wait for you. Time waits for you. I am holding space for you. You must return to time and claim yourself wholly and fully. The fractured self is only an image. It can be restored. You must continue to move through time and space with all that remains in you and what remains is spirit. The spirit of love, the spirit of healing, the spirit of the angel who always sings of a different place—an ethereal place of veiling with unveiling, visible with invisible, darkness with light, wounding with healing, godforsakeness with God. Be with it. Be with this togetherness of with and without and you will not separate, you will not fragment.
Mehr, Je te promets que je t’aiderai.
Today I will play music to you. I hope it stirs you to open your eyes. I have been waiting all this time for you to look at me. This violin song is full of joy and mirth. I have always found it life-affirming. I will play it for you.
The music spreads in the room like fragrance. The tune is an invitation to life, an ode to spring, a celebration of things to come.
Mehr opens her eyes and looks at Mary.
Hello. I am Mary.
Mehr’s eyes shift from Mary’s face to the window where the sunlight pours through the slats. Her eyes light up and she murmurs, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen…
She looks radiant as if cherishing something valuable. The next moment her head twists backward and her eyes roll back in her sockets. She looks like a ghost afraid of itself. Her body is swept up in paroxysms of pain. Her head shakes violently. Her arms are not weak any more. Instead, they are strong enough to fight anyone who attempts to subdue her. She fights with all her might the caring hands that reach to help her. She screams and howls words that sound angry, protesting, scornful and sometimes pleading, beseeching, imploring. Gradually the ferocious energy dies down and she drops on the bed exhausted— moaning and whimpering. She looks exactly the way she did the first day I saw her. The specter remains. The haunting remains. The shattering remains. What does this remaining remind us of?
I lean over her and gather her hair away from her face. I wipe the sweat from her forehead. I dab beads of blood from her lips. She looks lost, defeated. She has withdrawn to a place of anonymity and silence. Gently I straighten her contorted legs and pull her gown down to her knees. I stretch her arms beside her and open her clenched fist.
Dors ma chéri. Prends ton temps. Je t’attends.
Your story is yet untold but I assure you I will listen to you. I trust you and will not doubt your truth. Your sorrow is safe with me. It is my sorrow too. Sorrow remains. I am with you in your silence and in your abyss until you are ready to leave it. This is not the end for you though it may feel like an end. Your story is in the middle. It is incomplete. Incompletion remains. The abyss is a passage. This abeyance is temporary. Work your way through it. When you wake up the fatigue and ache of the passage will still be with you. It may never leave you. The traces of this mournful journey may stay with you for the rest of your journey. Traces remain. Don’t be afraid for all of us carry the wounds of our journey. Don’t die of your wound. Live with it. The wounding remains. I am here waiting for you to share with me all the secrets of your journey. I will gather them in my heart and never forget them. Secrets remain. You are not forgotten. You always remain in me.
On ne t’oublie pas. Tu restes toujours en moi
I address you as you journey through the abyss. I am witness to the invisible, inaccessible and unknowable depths of your suffering. Le témoin reste: the witness remains. One day you will address these depths for yourself and for me. Together we will give it words—give it voice—give it dignity. The world will get a glimpse of your depths—a place where you were alone waiting for love to enter. In this moment I stand for that love. Love that listens, understands, witnesses and trusts. Love that waits. Je t’attends. The spirit in me honors the spirit in you. All is not lost. Spirit remains. Your body is tired but it lives. You breathe, you move, you bleed, you moan. L’ Esprit passe à travers toi.
Your fullness awaits you. The fullness of a woman tested through violence of the body and soul, a woman who has endured seething pain in her young body, whose memories of humiliation are too much for her body. The testament remains. It will not go away. It will remain in time and in memory of the world for it testifies to the violation of innocence, violation of the feminine, violation of the female body, violation of love, violation of the sacred word that means love. This violation testifies to reducing the sacred to ashes. Ashes remain. They testify. They burn with embers—that suggest light, life, spirit.
Your ripeness awaits you. Ripeness of being fully human—a human within whom the divine abides, not unfruitful or unfulfilled, not empty or half full, not plaintive or dispirited, not mute or wordless, not without knowledge or wisdom, not without beauty or desire. Ripeness remains. Your wounding delays your ripeness. Your bereft silence defers your fullness. Your in-between state of being postpones the fullness. For how long will you be in suspension—in abeyance—hovering—breathing tenuously in the abyss?
Stay! Reste! Perhaps your liminal state will birth a blessing. Why else would you still be with the shadows? Maybe you are working alchemy, a transmutation, unravelling a mystery that will reach us on this side of the abyss. Maybe you are hard at work in creating your own blessing to sustain you when you decide to return to those who wait for you from a place unknowable and distant to us. We hold our breath till you breathe again a full breath . . . Breath remains.
Le souffle reste.
This piece is written in honor of the Yazidi women who were ruthlessly violated by ISIS in 2014. A number of Yazidi women were rescued and treated in hospitals in Germany and France. My piece is a fictional account of a Yazidi girl being treated by a French woman who could be a doctor or a therapist. I have deliberately kept her identity ambiguous so that the text is open to interpretations.
I am indebted to Shelly Rambo’s work on trauma, and Farida Khalaf’s moving account of her abduction and escape from ISIS.
Oliver, Mary. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. Penguin: NY, 2017.
Khalaf, Farida and Andrea C. Hoffman. The Girl Who Escaped ISIS: This Is My Story. Atria: NY, 2016.
Rambo, Shelly. Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining. Westminister John Knox P. : Louisville, Kentucky, 2010.