In honor of the tenth anniversary of Red Tent Living, we are featuring a monthly legacy post written by one of our regular contributors from the past decade. Jan Meyers Proett is one of the original ten writers. The presence of her words, both here and in her books, has been life giving and restorative to the women in our community. This post originally appeared in March 2015.
In the Near East, a person suffered total degradation when slapped by someone’s left hand, the hand that no Hebrew would use to touch another because it was the hand for wiping at the toilet. To be slapped in this way was a statement that you had no value whatsoever. It was what we have come to know as treating someone like a piece of shit. Jesus knew that in order to offer the right cheek, you’d have to get up off the floor and stand up with dignity in the presence of your degrading tormenter–you’d have to stand in order to offer the cheek. Jesus knew the posture required to turn the other cheek is one of dignity, one that says, “You have taken what you have taken, but you cannot have my dignity or my heart. If you really want to try, go ahead. You have been destructive, but my dignity is indestructible.”
An Indian friend of mine, from Kolkata, lives the power of turning the other cheek, and she knows the kind of creative, extravagant giving that can flow from it. Years ago, through the encouragement of a friend, she sought counseling and began a process of healing from sexual abuse from an uncle. She told the story for the first time–named it as abusive and damaging–and she began, tentatively, to admit how powerless she felt to stop the abuse because of her uncle’s threats.
She felt her dignity returning as she named how evil had tried to destroy her beauty.
Around the time this healing was occurring, this woman heard a guest lecturer reveal the staggering number of Nepali girls who were being trapped in slavery in Mumbai after being drugged and taken into India across the Nepal border. She felt an immediate affinity for these girls, which caught her by surprise. She was overwhelmed with the thought of the futility of these girls’ lives. Something about their lack of control and their inability to change things haunted her.
This woman determined to do something bordering on ludicrous. “I just didn’t know what else to do,” she said, as most of us would in the face of an unmanageable problem. She and her girlfriend traveled to Mumbai and entered one of the bars that had a reputation as a front for prostitution. As their eyes adjusted to the dark entryway, they saw six young teenage girls in the regalia of seduction–painted, frosted, and shining from gloss. Their eyes were hollow, straining to engage the customers as they paraded and curved their limbs and bodies around the poles on the platform.
Without thinking too clearly, this courageous, crazy friend of mine jumped up on the platform, fully clothed, diverting the eyes of the patrons from the working girls. The customers went silent from shock for a fraction of a second, but the silence quickly gave way to rage. They began pulling at my friend’s jeans and demanding that she stop interrupting the show. As the steaming mad anger descended from the loft, my friend climbed down and looked up at the sixteen-year-old next to her on the platform (whose mouth was gaping over what she had just witnessed). My friend whispered to her, “I know what I just did is crazy, but I wanted you to know what it was like to not have consuming eyes on you for just a moment or two. You are worth more than that.”
You are worth more.
An excerpt from Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me.
Jan Meyers Proett has been a counselor for over thirty years and is the author of The Allure of Hope, Listening to Love, and Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me. She has been involved in trauma-informed care in the U.S., Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines, and across Africa. She is happiest when her hands are in the soil, and happier still at harvest time. It is good when she can be on a mountain, hiking or skiing. She loves sharing life with her husband Steve, three daughters, and their grandchildren. Follow Jan at her Facebook author page and her blog.