When Rattana told me the events of her life, it took me a week to feel it. Rattana was living at an NGO for teenage survivors of human trafficking so I should have expected as much; but frankly, I hope to never to be so cynical as to expect what she has endured.
A week after Rattana opened up to me, I was on my yoga mat at home and city workers resumed their mission to rid Phnom Penh of all “oversized” trees—100 year old temple trees and jungle trees that had survived urban expansion up until now. That day, they started on the one that faces my apartment and the wheezing power saws and the groan of falling branches penetrated my home. I pulled the curtains but the sound of destruction forced its way in, destruction at the hands of men with bandanas over their faces blindly following orders, blind to the things that make life beautiful. It was to me the sound of the boys in this country raping my girls.
I learned the meaning of cynicism that day: I did not want to leave my house, I wanted also to be blind. My girlfriend came over and sat with me and held my hand. She didn’t say things to make me feel better, because there is no feeling better, there is only closing your eyes and not feeling, or keeping them open and living in pain. She led me by the hand back to her place after dark so I didn’t have to look at any human beings, or the raw, gaping sky.
Many girls since Rattana have told me their stories. I used to think that something could heal the pain girls suffer for being born into a poor society, and now I know that these pains never completely heal. As their teacher, I no longer try to heal them. Instead, I work with them and hold their hands until they feel safe enough to open their eyes, to venture out into the dark, to cry and to see their pain. And through their tears, they rediscover beauty and growth and the things that make life.
The tree outside my window is growing back, and the girls in my yoga therapy program are spreading their branches, also. And like the temple trees that persist upwards, these girls too will touch the sky.