It's been almost ten years, but I'll never forget. I was a TA in graduate school and working in my office. A student who was in my class knocked on my door. She had a piece of paper in her hand and asked if she could talk to me. I agreed.
She told me she had brought her excuse for why she had missed class. (We required all students to have a doctor's excuse for absences.) And in her hand was an excuse from the ER. She told me she had been raped and that was why she wasn't in class.
I was speechless.
What words fill that space.
I stumbled through words and offerings of help.
She left and and I sat in the heaviness and helplessness of not being able to do something.
And then the student stopped coming to class. I didn't see her. Just another drop out.
The story stayed with me. Heavy. I was told by a well meaning person that I felt too deeply and needed to learn not to take everything on me. And yet I was angry. Angry that I couldn't do something. Angry that I felt so helpless. Angry that I couldn't stop feeling so much.
Violence towards women is a common story. A story that fills the news, both in countries far from us and stories that we come across in our own lives.
I sit here writing. Knowing that that well meaning person in my life was right. I do feel too deeply. It's a strength and weakness I grapple with. And I've often wondered what to do with this part of me that feels so intensely.
I wrote The Heart of Shahrazad because my heart is heavy with the stories of violence towards women. Because I wrestle to know what forgiveness means when I see the weight of violence on someone's body. I wrestle with my own desire for revenge against those who create violence.
The Heart of Shahrazad is a made up story. A fairy tale. But I have found fairy tales to be a place where wrestling happens. Where good and evil come to fight. A place where our own choices and stories are lifted up to the light and challenged.
I wanted to tell Shahrazad's story, because I want to step into the courage Shahrazad had. The courage to tell stories. Stories of light. To step towards life rather than death. I wanted a place to put all the intensity I feel. And put it towards something that creates life rather than feeds the cycles of more violence.
Thinking back to my student I don't know if I would have better words now. But I'm learning the power of witness. Of listening. Of being present. Of allowing stories to help us see one another. To find "On the other side of pain there is still love." Madelene L'Engle.
Creating, like helping others, is not easy. There is no quick fix, easy plan to end violence. It's messy and we make mistakes as we try to bring help.
But I also know that I have a choice to do nothing or take the risk to do something. For me, The Heart of Shahrazad is my love letter to these women. These women who have poured their stories into my life. Who have allowed me to be witness. Ordinary women who have shown me their vulnerability and in that their incredible strength.
It is my hope that I can honor their stories. And that I might walk the path of forgiveness and life. And perhaps in some way, this part of me that feels too deeply can be used for good. That I can mourn with those who mourn. Not perfectly or neatly, as most mourning isn't. But with the knowledge that we are not alone in our mourning. And that we might honor those who walk alongside to heal.
This is part of my story. Part of the story that brings you The Heart of Shahrazad. I do hope you will come and bear witness with us as we tell this story. - Sarah Carleton