The human heart is a miraculous thing for many reasons. It is a complex epicenter of emotions and connections that we, as living, breathing beings make – either by choice or because of outside relations. The people who make up these outside connections are often co-workers, acquaintances and neighbors. They may not be as close as kin, but one must bear in mind they’re still connected to that person – regardless of who they are, or where they or the other individual comes from.
By the same token, we’re often bound to others by the impact of an event, no matter if it’s good or bad. If it’s good, it’s likely to radiate through one’s life in a positive way – and perhaps do the same for others automatically. If the experience is bad, however, one has to dig down deep to find a way to make it positive.
It’s a process of the human experience that we all go through, but it’s one in which no one arrives at a place of solace and comfort at the same time. There’s a choice to be made with every person and event that connects us. That choice is whether to walk away or to stay. The memories of that person or event, as well as the emotions attached to them, will always be a part of one’s life. The things they choose to do with those memories, however, will determine if they are able to forgive, and will ultimately shape what kind of individual they become.
In their unprecedented, soul-searching memoir, “South of Forgiveness: A True Story of Rape and Responsibility”, co-authors Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger retrace the moments that lead to the darkest moment of their separate lives as victim and perpetrator. The book explores each of their paths and sheds light on the life-changing day they converged – when Thordis was 16 years old.
After eight years of exchanging hundreds of brutally honest e-mails, Thordis and Tom make the joint decision to speak face-to-face – but not without having their own concerns and reservations. Thordis kisses her family in Reykjavik goodbye as she prepares to board a plane and travel 7,000 miles south to meet Tom, who’s on his own emotional journey in Sydney, Australia: deciding whether or not he’s worthy of meeting the girl – now a woman – whom he raped.
The two meet in Cape Town, South Africa — a far corner of the world where violence runs ramped, as does the healing power of forgiveness. It is here, at this very point, where the reader gets an intense look at this meeting and why it’s so essential to the rebuilding of Tom and Thordis’s separate, uniquely different lives.
Not only that, but the book is written in such a genuine way that the reader can feel the courage of these two individuals to tell each side of this story – in their own words. It’s almost as if with every word that’s read, the reader is injected with a dose of Thordis and Tom’s strength and courage – as if those attributes were a shield of armor or a superpower.
There’s something to be said about that alone. The fact that Thordis and Tom chose to write the book together, and not have it be two separate stories, is remarkable. It puts the human ability to mend fences on display, even if the broken places aren’t completely stitched up. It shows that the healing process is a two-way street, particularly in a situation like this. That is, if both parties are willing to work together in a manner that works for them individually, like Tom and Thordis do in this beautiful but chilling body of work.
Their decision to collaborate also shows the bare bones of responsibility as well as vulnerability, and what they’ve personally chosen to do with each of them. In turn, it sets an example – and perhaps even inspires – others to “come clean” about whatever skeletons they may have in their closet.
With this display of outright courage and honesty, Thordis and Tom give readers a reason to put their full faith into humanity, and most importantly, into the power of hope and forgiveness. Both authors are willing to explore the darkest moment of their lives, so that someone reading this book might find a silver-lining – not only in the pages of this story, but in those of their own story as well.
If it is the responsibility of humanity to “own up” to its actions, there has to be a starting point for healing and rebuilding to begin. By the same token, there also has to be room for a story to be told properly – if that’s the chosen route. In this case, the publisher has given that space to two individuals who are forever bound by a number of powerful decisions, to come together and reconcile with their demons.
“South of Forgiveness” isn’t just a story, nor a collective confession of brutal honesty. It is a call to anyone who’s willing to put judgements and preconceived notions aside – perhaps willing to even throw them away. It’s also a call to anyone who has been on either end of rape – to let them know there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.
If anything, the book serves as a reminder that we’re all human – and the way we deal with our flaws and mistakes can empower even the most vulnerable, near or far.
Feature photo credit: Skyhorse Publishing