The Toronto Star Heather Mallick: Meet the woman who counsels torture victims.
…In the course of her intensely lived life, Bamber, who helped found Amnesty International, once put a torture hood on her head to describe to a court what it feels like — the suffocation, the gagging and the panic in the dark — and has spent decades counselling people who will never recover from the bodily and mental insult.
You don’t get better after torture. It is the most isolating experience possible, and this is what the torturers intend. Every day, Bamber dresses with precision and elegance — it’s a form of armour, she agrees — and goes to her London office to sit with and listen to people who endured it.
Bamber campaigned for codifying medical ethics in Britain, helped build the now-thriving Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and now operates her own Helen Bamber Foundation, offering clinical help. The waiting room is worrying, with people who look simultaneously dead tired and alarmed. They are very, very thin.
What I’m trying to find out from Bamber is where she gets her strength. How do you see the worst that humans can do and then confront it over and over again in a lifetime?…
(First published in AlbertaViews Jan/Feb 2010, this won a Silver Medal in the 2011 National Magazine Awards and was a finalist for the Jon Whyte Memorial Essay Prize in Alberta. This is a slightly revised version of the original publication.)
The Turquoise Sea
What are we whole or beautiful or good for
but to be absolutely broken.
As though nostalgic for his Manitoba boyhood, my father points to his beloved hunting rifle. Transforming his fingers into a silent trigger, he touches his temple and says, “Sometimes I want to take that gun off the wall and blow my brains out.”
My father’s eyes are hooded and dark as he shows me how the skin peels off the back of his hands. “Stress,” he explains modestly, his face lined with sleepless fatigue. I feel awkward in an unfamiliar living room. On this my first visit to the suburban house where my father lives with his new love and her two children, I enter his new domestic life like a visitor to a foreign country. Lost in the limbo of in-between, my father is caught in a long look back. It has been two years since my parents’ separation after decades of intermittent misery. Confused and ambivalent, he refuses to grant my mother a divorce.
Later he’ll call to tell me he loves me, but this morning he’s enmeshed in what ails him. New American owners have bought out the Quebec manufacturer that supplies snowmobiles to his Ontario distribution company. He predicts this change will shut down his business since local distributors become redundant when ownership is transferred south of the border. My father doesn’t tell me he has become a useless middleman. But I’ve studied political economy and know he’s another statistic in branch-plant Canada. Continue reading “Janice Williamson writes “the turquoise sea”: a personal essay on suicide and survivors” →