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The Lake News Online
  • Guest column: They’ve gone to hell and back, but still strong

  • Last week, the miraculous sight of three young Clevelanders who had been held captive for more than 10 years was a heartening respite from an otherwise stressful summer.
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  • Last week, the miraculous sight of three young Clevelanders who had been held captive for more than 10 years was a heartening respite from an otherwise stressful summer.
    Unlike previous seasons, there's not been time or space for stories about lemonade stands and shark bites.
    It has been a summer of constant discontent.
    Dogfights over immigration and health care reform, climate change, student loans, abortion rights and gay marriage have been as intense as the weather, not to mention deadly wildfires, plane crashes and Egyptian revolutions.
    So the smiling faces of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry were a gift to a country that has been waiting to exhale.
    That they survived speaks to the immeasurable resilience of the human spirit, and to their refusal to surrender their dignity to Ariel Castro, the man charged with kidnapping, raping and abusing them for a decade, a man with a history of violence and abuse against women.
     
    UNFATHOMABLE
    Their collective indefatigable determination to survive can be heard in the words of Michelle Knight: "Thank you, everyone, for your love, support, and donations which helped me build a brand new life. I want everyone to know I'm doing just fine. I may have been to hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground."
    It is unfathomable, this idea some people have that they can seize and abuse another human being.
    Where, exactly, do you dispose of your conscience in order to commit such an act?
    How do you get to the place in your head where there's no such thing as wrongdoing — only that which you want, the rights of others be damned?
    It must require a belief that your victims have no rights, that they don't count.
    And that if they don't count, then it doesn't matter.
    We know most women aren't as strong or fast as a man. We can't wrestle bears, or clean-and-jerk 500 pounds, and it's OK with us.
    We measure strength differently.
    Strength is survival.
    It is courage.
    It is persistence.
    It is looking down the barrel of the impossible and not blinking.
    It is unflagging faith, not only in oneself but also in the basic goodness of humankind.
     
    BEST PART
    Before they disappeared, there was nothing about the lives of Knight, DeJesus or Berry to suggest that they were anything but ordinary young women.
    Page 2 of 2 - But now we know better.
    Not chains, not beatings and starvation, not rape, not torture, not fear, not sadism were sufficient to crack their resolve to emerge from the depths.
    They didn't just walk through hell, as Knight put it, they conquered it.
    This is not to say that their journey back won't be fraught with emotional detours, anger, even depression.
    Every now and then, there must be flickers of doubt and a fleeting fear that their rescue was little more than a cruel dream.
    But the best part of this saga is that Knight, DeJesus and Berry — not Ariel Castro — get to have the final say over how their lives turn out.
    There's no better story than that.
     

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