While living in Philadelphia I experienced several violent acts. I was assaulted, but not severely injured, by teenagers, as I wandered the corridors of 15th street station. At that moment, as the object hit my cheek, I kept my composure. I kept going because I did not want to give them the satisfaction. My composure did not last long however, because the moment that I stepped off the platform, and into the train car, I began to surrender to the pain. I cried as the train carried me home. While on the train, no one, not a soul, confirmed my existence. I was alone. That event eventually turned into a callus.
That incident occurred in 2016. It was my first year in the city. It did not deter me, but I was certainly hardened. A couple of years later my husband and I moved to Southwest Germantown. Germantown is in Northwest Philadelphia. It is not the best neighborhood, but I lived on a so-called good block. The area is diverse, and we really loved our neighbors. We became friends, or acquaintances with most and built a community. We exchanged vegetables with Abdul and Anna. Chatted with Barbara and her son Tony, and played catch, over our fence, with the kid who lived behind us.
These people are beautiful humans and I treasure the moments of connection that we created. These beautiful moments, however, are eclipsed by the violence. As I mentioned above, Germantown was not the best neighborhood. It was, and continues to be, a place plagued by gun violence. While living there I would fall asleep to the sound of gunshots. Sometimes it was fireworks, but one really had to listen for the crackle to know for sure. This quandary became a disturbing game that my husband and I would play every night, after we secured the alarm, and settled into bed. I suppose this was when the callus began to grow.
I will never forget the sound of a bullet as it leaves the chamber. That unforgettable pop pop pop, the sound of my body as I hit the floor, or the crime scene investigator asking me if there are bullets in my bedroom, “because the perpetrator was shooting in my direction”. The chalk lines, the markers, the death, these are supposed to be the things of Hollywood, not my life.
Yves Tanguy, The hand in the Cloud, 1927
I no longer reside in Philadelphia. I was lucky enough to get out, but there continues to be countless ‘mass murders’ that are not reported. People continue to die, and trauma continues to embed itself in the lives of the residents.
After leaving Philadelphia over a year ago, I seem to be healing, but I'm still reminded of the power of hate, revenge, humiliation, oppression, and death. Recently there was a mass shooting in Maine that crippled its population. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is igniting a viciousness that is blazing across the globe. Even here in the idyllic town of Ithaca, calls for violence are occurring with increasing frequency. All of these situations have the power to create trauma or trigger a traumatic response. For me, the aforementioned has triggered memories of assault and gun violence.
We are all human, blood, flesh, breath, and bone. We have histories, narratives, and hopes. We are also all vulnerable. Unfortunately some individuals refuse to recognize these human traits as common or valuable. They refuse to recognize themselves in the Other. They refuse to choose a better way and to take responsibility for themselves and others. So is there a way out of this ever perpetuating cycle of trauma and violence? Simone de Beauvoir would say that violence is required in instances of oppression. That the oppressed must act violently against an oppressor in order to achieve freedom. I have trouble agreeing with Simone de Beauvoir here, because it, for me, perpetuates violence. So what then? No one ever seems to agree on what promotes peace and what actions to take.
Judith Butler suggests that by acknowledging the vulnerability and interdependence of our condition we can begin to conduct ourselves in nonviolent ways. They believe that we must not perpetuate violence because it undermines the self and breaks a bond with the other. I understand this to mean that we must not infringe on another’s ability to be free, and that we must also remember that we too are free. That violent acts reduce the freedom of all involved. If we are to act as Judith Butler suggests we must acknowledge our vulnerability and interdependence. We must take responsibility for our choices and actions. This is not easy but perhaps by embracing our freedom and taking responsibility we can reduce violence and trauma?