Grace and Forgiveness – What I Learned From Jaycee Dugard

No one knows the weight of another’s burden…

In under a day I inhaled Jaycee Dugard’s implausibly visceral memoir, A Stolen Life, about her kidnapping at age 11, and the subsequent 18 years she spent held captive in a squalid backyard in the dull, delta town of Antioch, CA. Watching her interview with Diane Sawyer days before, I was heartened to see how cogent this young woman was, how determined to turn the insanity of her stolen life into salvation for herself, her children and others who suffer. I felt the same horrified yet awestruck tug at my gut I’d had half a dozen years or so ago when I saw the Lifetime movie, “Human Trafficking,” and later when I heard the incredible Somaly Mam recount her childhood in a brothel in Cambodia. The human spirit can prevail over anything – with the help of those who steel themselves to not look away.

Jaycee has been graced with a fast learning curve in her rehabilitation, aided by creative psychiatrists and animal assisted therapies. During her television interview she resonated true Buddha nature. I am hopeful her heroic heart and growing self-knowledge will serve her and her daughters well on their surely serpentine journey toward that evasive concept of “normal.” (Whatever “normal” is – similar to the term “perfect,” I have found it a confusing, possibly dangerous, aspiration.) One must root for her success, with gratitude for bringing her horrors to the light so she and others might be set free.

Though a survivor of an entirely different sort, I identified with many of Ms. Dugard’s struggles. Naïvely recoiling ostrich-style from tough or tiresome situations in the hope it will just “go away.” Trying to douse the burn in my soul with pints of ice cream. Wanting (and deserving) to hate those who have damaged us, but realizing the act of hating turns around and consumes the hater as well. Struggling to find forgiveness for the unforgivable. Plagued by the maddening desire to hear a true answer to, “why?” The fear of asking for help, compounded by an incongruous guilt — (Why can’t I deal with this myself? What’s wrong with me?) The cancerous violation by the media and their incessant overexposing and compounding of tragedy –- don’t any of them care that they make horrible situations truly unbearable for those left behind? I wonder if the general public would really want to read such stories if they too found themselves and their families dissected, misinterpreted and often straight up lied about?

There is a turning point of acceptance one must reach on the path of grieving and recovery from trauma. One must learn to ask for help again and again and again, and to be buoyed when the chance comes to turn it around and offer it in return. We will all be survivors eventually. You cannot judge what you would do to survive until you’re trying to breathe through those wretched moments live-and-in-concert. Trudging, slowly trudging we go, and yet… there is magic and kismet and serendipity to give us hope, joy and raucous laughter even at the darkest hours. With compassion we must try to sit back and know that those who judge are simply naïve to the fact that they are yet to walk through the fire. Yes, my pretty, one day you too will realize Hell exists here on Earth. So be brave when it’s your turn to stand by those who are suffering, just as others have stood by you (or you wish they had). Don’t look away. It’s the most essential karma you can build up.

About the Author

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Liberty Bradford is an artist, educator and social justice advocate. Her website, is launching in July 2011.

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