Patience, Not Punctuality, in Healing Trauma


“Punctuality is one of the greatest gifts a person can give to a friend.”

One of my grade school teachers stated the aforementioned claim during our Worth the Wait unit, a sex education program that preaches abstinence as the only sure-fire way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs. But I now understand that statement to be as cruelly false as the idea that avoiding consensual sex prevents pregnancies (because as we know, abstinence does not prevent rape, a sad but important lesson my educators failed to teach me and my peers). 

Throughout college and grad school, I am learning that patience, not punctuality, bolsters relationships with others. Patience gives scientists the prolonged concentration in each tedious but worthwhile step of experimentation and re-experimentation. Special education and early childhood teachers rely on patience, an insistence to praise rather than reprimand, and they extract communication the nonverbal and growth from developmental delay disorders. When people respond patiently to behaviors and actions that initially seem offensive to us, we give ourselves time to imagine the perspectives of other cultural lenses and see past superficial differences that drive people apart.

Despite the importance of patience in my budding career and social growth, my grade school education instead taught me this: tardiness is a punishable crime. Chronic tardiness to class warranted humiliation and detentions. Assignments were better submitted partially completed but on time rather than fully completed but a day late. My grade school experience trained me to fear tardiness, to dread the routinely “time is up, pencils down” announcement that concluded long exams and timed essays.

Though not as formally as testing and assignment policies, my education also to some extent penalized me for my tardiness in answering verbal cues. Some teachers calmly waited for shy students to peep out a self-questioning answer in class. Other teachers seemed to assume silence meant a failure to pay attention, a lack of knowledge or whatever low-key misdemeanors they could chastise in front of the class. I internalized this chastising of tardy answers and I berated myself for my silence during some unwanted sexual events in recent years. I kept silent during the events and still kept silent, passing up opportunities to file reports after the events.

On December 13th, Salma Hayek publicized in the New York Times Harvey Weinstein’s assault on her body and dignity. Her statement surfaced roughly two months after sexual assault anecdotes and #metoo hashtags flooded social media outlets. Hayek described events nearly as demeaning and harrowing as the horrors her character Frida Kahlo experienced in Hayek’s 2002 role in "Frida." The events she described had occurred 15 years prior to her statement, but were nonetheless validated and retold by other major media outlets like CNN, the Guardian, and even Fox, which famously tends to defend the white male characters of events.

Hayek’s statement and other #metoo anecdotes evidence that the validity of experiences does not have an expiration date. It is possible to encourage changes that prevent similar incidents, even if reveal the incident years after it happened.

I wonder if all survivors of sexual violence have been asked or ask themselves, “Why didn’t you say no right then and there” or “Why didn’t you tell anyone sooner?” These accusatory questions seem to me as default ways to deflect survivors from bringing awareness to their experiences. Our society teaches people to punish ourselves and each other for tardy answers and tardy allegations but simultaneously, we stifle an individual's ability to answer and speak out.

Vulnerable individuals such as women and children are often robbed of the option to say no to sexual offers without sacrificing something vital and crucial like a career or citizenship. Our censored education system fails to give youth the vocabulary to understand sex and consent, so that sexual violence becomes so foreign that our immediate response to such violence is to freeze in confusion rather than to resist. We teach children and women to obey, never to say no to an authority, yet we demand that they should have just said no when a person or people assume authority over their bodies.

As I’m on track to student teach in public schools in several months, I’m aware that a school district in my hometown has a 15 day maximum for students to report formal complaints about school personnel. I’m sure this district is not alone in limiting report time to such a small window. 15 days after a problematic event is not enough for a child or teenager to discern right from wrong— people spend their entire lives trying to discern if an event was wrong or justifiable. 15 days doesn’t mean the event doesn’t leave scars or is too late to intervene. Time does not erase validity and time does not erase the possibility to make positive changes in response to problematic events. 

The #metoo movement inspired me to take action and report an event even though it occurred some years ago, and to feel certain that fewer people will suffer from what I and other women go through because I made the report. Moreover, I never made public the details or the event I reported or the report itself, because for once I didn’t need to wear my trauma on my sleeve to prove that such events happen. I didn’t post any #metoo hashtags because it seemed too obvious that I too would have experienced what seems like a rite of passage for women, especially women of color to experience. 

The massive participation of the #metoo movement gave me an opportunity to recede into privacy and introspection, feeling like experiences like mine already were in the public eye and receiving collaborative aide from advocates and activists. So many people pushed for people to believe that this phenomenon exists that for once I felt believed without tearing myself open with all evidence for the public domain to poke and prod. 

2017 has come to a close but many wounds still stay open, waiting for an appropriate time to expose and treat them. Time alone does not heal all wounds but time does allow for us to decide how we want to try to heal our wounds. The #metoo movement and other outspoken women have given us the knowledge that everyone deserves time to process their trauma and prepare for a way to confront their trauma. The #metoo movement gave women and others the valuable gifts of patience and community, and I hope in the future we educate upcoming generations to continue giving patience and community to one another.

Amy Gu is an aspiring teacher and an unyielding advocate for underdogs. Between graduate school, daycare work, and volunteering at the animal shelter, Amy sips coffee and Chinese green tea with her cat-children in Austin, Texas. 

Photo by maxime caron on Unsplash