It's taken decades to write this. It's not that I didn't have the words; it's that I didn't have the strength to release them. It's been said that art is a window into one's soul and if that is so, there has been a window I have kept shut keeping the contents of a chamber in my soul confined for reasons I have been afraid to admit because if I do, I'll set myself free. My mother is a woman of faith and she raised my siblings and me charismatically. Scriptures seemed to roll off of her tongue as though they were the bread of life. These passages have always stayed me. I vividly recall a recurring verse she recited that spoke of laboring into rest. As a child I found this to be puzzling. Why would anyone put forth effort, if any, to rest? Why not simply rest? The answer is simple when you arrive at it, when it comes to light, and when it does, the actualization can be profound and overwhelming.
It was the summer of 2001, the year before my senior year of high school. I had kept myself busy with a lawn mowing business as I had done in summers before. These teenage summers were fun and full of spontaneity and a myriad of misfit memories, but this particular summer would leave a very distinct mark among the others - one that I could never be erased. I was mowing my neighbor's yard across the street on a hot summer day. I had finished the front yard and had just begun to work on the backyard when I saw my father walking through the grass up to me. My sister wanted to go to the pool that day and he was looking for a son to chaperone her. I had told him it'd be another hour before I was done but she was ready with her bike by her side ready to make the trek to the local pool. He told me not worry about it and gave his blessing for her to head out. She would be meeting with other girlfriends so it wasn't like she'd be alone anyhow.
I finished mowing my neighbor's yard and went on with my day hanging out with my friends. Everything seemed chill and Zen. It seemed like a good day. As the day wound down and bedtime came, I went into the study room to say goodnight to my sister. There was an eerie feeling I subtly felt as I opened the door, a sort of silence that seemed louder than usual. I wrapped my arms around her, told her I loved her, kissed her on her forehead, but before I could say goodnight - she turned around and buried her face into my chest, crying. It felt as though she released a flood gate, all that was suppressed was flowing in a strong current of tears that seemed to be without relenting. I held her closer as my heart mirrored her torment, asking her what was wrong.
She gathered herself long enough to muster up one short sentence, "I was raped," and was drawn back into the deluge of pain. I felt a match strike within, and a fire burn into a blaze as I held her closer. She told me his name and the fire grew... I knew him. He was a friend - but I saw that word became smothered by the flames and turned into ashes. I was on fire, burning not only with vengeance but with guilt. I was her brother. I was supposed to protect her. I was supposed to be there for her and I wasn't and now her world has fallen apart and this hurt she feels is one that will echo continuously in her bones.
My parents sought to comfort her. They took action and reached out to the police. An investigation took place but the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. Although it was legally closed, it would remain open to our family, and I would hold the file close to my chest with a vice grip. The sound of my lawnmower, the blades of grass it cut and its smell triggered guilt and pain. I kept playing the memory like movie scene, pausing at the moment my father asks me if I can take my sister to the pool. And it's there that jump out of the director's chair and walk over to my character, telling him this is no longer a movie, this is real, and his sister is more important than this summer job. I tell him this. I look him straight in the eye and slow my words down and pronounce the urgency in every vowel and syllable....but he doesn't listen. No matter how many times I reset the scene, regardless of how many takes, the moment I call "action!" the scene ends the same way, with my sister in my arms....broken and in pieces.
As time moved forward, she seemed to fall into harder and harder times. My heart ached as I witnessed her progressive struggle. I kept drawing a direct line back to that day and the guilt would repeatedly come over me and cover me. I kept this to myself for years but had reached a point that I was finally tired of hurting and tried to release this, but I couldn't. I was really blinded with how it affected me until I attempted to become certified as a lead climber. In this style of climbing, you use a rope but it's not attached to an anchor at the top of a climb. The climber places protection (quick draws) into bolts that have been drilled into the rock wall and clips the rope through these pieces of protection. A key difference is between top rope climbing and lead climbing is that the anchor point is not fixed above, which means the climber has the likelihood of taking a much bigger fall ultimately increasing the risk of serious injury. A great deal of the climber's wellbeing is in the hands of the belayer.
My friend Stacey was passionate about lead climbing and was looking for a new partner. We had made a solid connection on a climbing trip we took to Bishop and reached out to me with the invitation to become her lead partner. I was excited at the idea. I had wanted to take my climbing into new areas and this was just the opportunity to do so. As I began to train for lead climbing, I felt increasingly uncomfortable to the point of being overwhelmed. Every attempt to move forward knocked me back two steps. That's when I realized this pain had become my identity. My struggle wasn't simply about understanding the risk involved with lead climbing. The climbing aspect didn't scare me as much as the belaying aspect because the reality of my climbing partner putting her life in my hands had a direct line to my sister's rape.
I struggled to believe that I was safe, that I could be trusted with someone's life. My friend Stacey encouraged and supported me throughout the process, unaware that she was also helping me overcome a major crux in my life. I didn't want to let my friend down and I didn't want this to hold me back any further in life so I decided to reach out for help. My mother, without fail, comforted me with her love and told me it wasn't my fault, I was good brother to my sister, and that I couldn't have seen the danger that loomed. She shared with me the hardship her and my father had wrestled with because they above all, were her parents. "Labor into rest," she said - it was then I finally understood what had puzzled me as a child that rest does not simply happen on its own. I began to labor, understanding its purpose, and finally bringing myself to that place of rest that once seemed to be but a myth. Becoming lead certified was an achievement that went beyond climbing. The experience brought me to a deep understanding that rest is made with labor, and in laboring with your whole heart, you find that the place of rest is not an accident- it was made, and with it comes healing and restoration.