Courtesy of Janet Donofrio
For the next six months, I retreated to monasteries to be silent and still and to heal. Then I remained in a Carmelite hermitage in Colorado as a lay member of the community for three and a half years. All this time, I kept asking what I was to learn from being raped, and wondering what, if any, good would come from the horror.
I meditated and prayed, read Scripture, studied mystics, took hikes 12,000 feet up the mountain to a pristine alpine lake, watched an ermine play in my birdbath, saw a bobcat pounce on a baby bunny and a hawk lift a rabbit into the air by its shoulders and then lay it on a patch of snow and tear at its flesh. I understood that in this world I'd come to believe was made and sustained by a creative force of love, beauty, and violence, good and bad were inextricably bound, as were peace and terror.
There's no denying that when tragic things happen, they rob us of the life we would have lived and of the person we might have been. One of my greatest fears when I was raped was that it would ruin me, that I'd never again be the same woman who'd gone innocently to sleep that night. Then one morning, years later, I was struck by a lightning bolt of insight: Why on Earth wouldn't I want to be changed by a powerful experience?
Is there ever change without loss? Is there ever not pain before recovery? I find life infinitely more interesting—and tolerable—when I believe I may find some gift in tragedy. As theologian Richard Rohr says, "Faith is not for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them." Pain may provide the greatest incentive to grow, and perhaps picking ourselves up, moving on and learning is what we're called to do with our lives.
Beverly Donofrio is the author of the best-selling memoir Riding in Cars with Boys (Penguin). Her latest, Astonished (Viking), released in March, continues her story.
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