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Surviving Victimhood


It occurred to me recently that I don’t like the word victim and don’t want ever to be called one, unless I’m not around to argue the point, in which case you can call me whatever you want. I hear and read so many stories about incredible people who I would prefer to call survivors or maybe alpha victims, though that’s not quite right either. You know the ones I mean, the ones who fight back, who stand up, who won’t let the bxxxxxxs get them down, etc. The bicyclist who stages a sting to get his stolen bicycle back, the rape survivor who braves a trial, a daughter who tracks down the man who shot her father, parents, family members and friends of survivors who figure out how to make the world a better place after the loss or injury of someone beloved, and so many other role models. We’re not to know what we’ll do on the other side of tragedy, but I’d like to think, if I had a choice (and not all tragedies give us one), I’d be one of those incredible survivors, rather than a victim, put upon, defeated, traumatized, passive. We need a better word.

Two very different books come to mind when I think about this, in addition to the stories I hear and read in the news. One is “Revenge,” by Laura Blumenfeld, an incredible story (I first heard Blumenfeld on Studio 360). The other, oddly enough, is “About Alice,” by Calvin Trillin. Among the other well-known joys of reading Trillin and his ever present, delightful puzzlement over the ways of the world, is his telling of some new Alice stories. The most extraordinary is the one he tells of a letter Alice wrote to a friend’s daughter who was raped. Trillin writes about Alice and her letter to their friend’s daughter (and please forgive me if I suffered confusion over quotation marks).

This was a dozen years after Alice had been operated on for lung cancer, and among the things that she wrote to our friend’s daughter was that having lung cancer and being raped were comparable only in that both were what she called ‘realizations of our worst nightmares.’ She said that there was some relief at surviving what you might have thought was not survivable. ‘No one would ever choose to have cancer or to be raped,’ she wrote. ‘But you don’t get to choose, and it is possible at least to understand what Ernest Becker meant when he said something like “To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything,” or to begin to understand the line in “King Lear” – “Ripeness is all.” You might have chosen to become ripe less dramatically or dangerously, but you can still savor ripeness.’” (Trillin, “About Alice,” 2006, pp. 8-9)

How could you not love the person who feels and writes like this?

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