Someone once told me the story of Judas Iscariot slightly differently.
‘What if, we choose our own roles in this life before we start it?’ he said, ‘Judas might have been a man who agreed to be the most hated man in history because to play out that scenario Jesus needed a scapegoat to fulfill his own ends.’
It would mean that in this life, Judas became the hero, and Jesus the villain who used him. It was probably the only perspective which could contradict a story we’ve all learned about such archetypes of good and evil. It was an idea which if true, might upend everything I knew… and it challenged me. That we choose our roles for better or for worse, that we have a prescribed destiny. That everything we think we know, that we feel, is simply a role. But destiny and the roles played by good and evil in our lives has been retold in many stories since then.
In the film Unbreakable Samuel L. Jackson plays Mr. Glass. A man whose bones shatter like glass. A man who was constantly mocked as a child. He is sick, angry and broken. He believes that it is his destiny to search for his polar opposite, the man who is good, courageous and ‘unbreakable’. In doing so he chooses to become the villain who kills thousands of people in order to find the hero, even if in doing so he assures his own demise. He is desperate to realize his purpose… if only through tragedy. In Unbreakable the roles of hero and villain are fixed. Mr Glass unerringly follows his own self-destructive path and in the process destroys countless lives around him because he is angry and hurting. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
We spend a lot of time trying to see the silver lining to our incomprehensible pain. Wondering why. Why did this happen? There has to be some meaning to it. It can’t be simply senseless, can it? There are those who believe that we can take great lessons from tragedy, but that the time we spend rebuilding our sense of selves from rape, abuse and pain is pointless. That we were always that strong, that beautiful and we didn’t need tragedy to find our purpose. That as much as we can reframe it in a different light, all that time you spend recovering from that tragedy, living in fear is time stolen from you. The strong, beautiful you.
But that’s not me. And I can’t see my life like that. Or rather I don’t want to see my life like that. I refuse to be defined as the victim of life or my experiences. Because whilst being angry and expressing that anger is a valid part of the healing process, I could not stay in that position of blame, hurting, if I wanted to heal (even if for years I did). Those experiences had power over me and my anger was generated from powerlessness. In order to move past them, I had to let go of my anger and my hurt.
I believe that who I am, what I have become is a direct result of what I have gone through. Every step. Every experience. If my voice hadn’t have been suppressed for so long, if my mother hadn’t taught me to read so early, if I hadn’t experienced so much pain… I never would have become a writer. If I had been comfortable in my life instead of a misfit, if I hadn’t lost my mother, if I had been loved for who I am… I wouldn’t have searched so long and so hard to establish my own sense of self, my own purpose. At 18… I was not beautiful. I was cruel to those around me. I was not strong. I took the easy way out. Sure I had friends, but we cleaved together out of our wounds, not to bring the best out of each other. Rather the opposite. We dug our claws into our wounds time after time, and bled in sympathy with one another. Some of us do that for our entire lives.
I am proud of what I have achieved. Of the person I have become. So how can I be anything other than profoundly grateful for the experiences which made me, me? Rape, abuse, divorce. They weren’t pretty. But I will not do anything less than embrace me and celebrate all of my experiences. Period.
So what if we all chose our roles in this life beforehand? It would mean that some agree to bear the most unimaginable pain, some agree to inflict it. If there were a God who was simply the director of a play and who said to my rapist and I for example –
‘You will take the role of the rapist taking advantage of a young girl in the foreign country and you will be the naive girl who plays the victim. As the rapist, you will have to inflict some violence and ignore her cries. And as the victim you will have to endure pain for years afterward. You will both take lessons from this. As will the people around you.’
‘Okay’ we said.
Then in playing them we forgot that they were simply roles. We lived through every moment of violence, pain and hatred. Bearing every battle scar of our lives as if it were real. If we knew that they were roles we all chose beforehand, it would be easy to forgive, indeed there would be nothing to forgive. It would be easy to move out of anger and hurt. But it’s not easy. Unimaginable pain, is not easy.
Yet I don’t have to be acting in a play or have chosen my role beforehand to choose how I operate in my life. I don’t have to know whether my rapist was playing a part, or someone simply inflicting pain… to be grateful for my own experience. Because whether we die and turn into worm food or we transform into another state of one-ness, the lessons are here to be learned now, in this life. Those of compassion, those of responsibility, those of courage. You choose them every day. But it’s not easy.
I act in this life according to the resources I have and the values I believe in. I don’t know whether we have another. So I take action to stop abuse of any kind. I fight for human rights. I act according to what I know and what I see around me. But I also have aspirations to be responsible, courageous and compassionate. And the compassion I feel for myself undergoing trauma does not exclude those who have inflicted it. I choose not to be angry with them. I choose not to blame them. I choose not to hurt. But it’s not easy.
And so when I come across stories like the one about the re-framing of Judas Iscariot’s narrative, I like them. Because they help me to feel that compassion I need to heal, more easily. It helps me to imagine that there might always be another story; one probably beyond my own finite mind, life and memories. It means that I will not be crying at the end of the movie of my life, trying to justify my destructive actions born out of pain as a prescribed destiny by saying
I should’ve known way back when… You know why, David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr Glass.