This isn’t something I would normally post on my blog, but the story of Rehtaeh Parsons has made my heart hurt in a way I can’t describe. Because I don’t know what else I can do, I’ve decided to share my thoughts here; to honour the life of a young girl I never knew, but who I know was good, and who I know was loved.
What solidified my decision to write this was reading Rehtaeh’s father’s reflection about her death. If you haven’t already, please take the time to read it. Don’t gloss over it like you might with other news stories. Digest it. Feel it. It is a beautiful, honest and brutally painful acknowledgement of a father’s love for his daughter, the value of her life and the gift that she was to the world. You don’t have to be a parent for his words to have meaning. You don’t have to be a parent to understand his sadness, or to empathize with the anger, the rage, the frustration – the complete disbelief – that comes with watching someone you love suffer so deeply, and slip away from this world so tragically. As people – as human beings – those are feelings we can all understand.
I am not going to go down the path of trying to understand why things like this happen; or try to wrap my head around how people can be so incredibly vicious. Frankly, no ”explanation” will do. This should never have happened. Full stop. A young girl like Rehtaeh should have been safe in her community, in her school…in our world. The system should have protected her; it should have punished those whose senseless act of inhumanity caused her to feel such anguish. But instead, it failed her so greatly – so efficiently and effectively - that she took her own life. How can anyone justify this? How can any of us look in the mirror and feel good about the world we live in when, in fact, we are failing so momentously at simply keeping people safe? Personally, in light of Rehtaeh’s, story, I’m struggling with this.
Her dad says: “You have the opportunity here to do something good…” His statement is directed at the Justice Minister of Nova Scotia, but in some ways, I feel like he is talking to each one of us. Because we all have the opportunity to do something good, every single day. No matter how big, or how small. I know it’s lofty and it’s a total cliche, but the truth is that we can all leave this world a better place than when we arrived. It is our responsibility – our duty in life – to take care of each other.
Stories like Rehtaeh’s can feel overwhelming. We read them, we ‘like’ their Facebook memorial pages, we chat about them over a glass of wine or lunch at work, and then we move on; not because we don’t care, but because we don’t know what we can do. And what can we do? Can we change the outcome of this story or any other one like it? No. As much as we would like to, we cannot.
But we can choose to honour the lives of those like Rehtaeh, whose pain was too great to overcome. We can do more than ‘Like’ a page on Facebook. We can choose to live consciously, with our eyes and hearts open; with clear values and morals and standards of conduct. We can be kind and just. We can teach our kids to know – very clearly – the difference between right and wrong; we can teach them to speak up and stand firm against the hate and ugliness in our world. We can hold our governments and leaders accountable for their decisions and their actions (or lack thereof). We can actively participate in the pursuit of goodness, rather than passively watching as hateful and vile things take place in our world.
We all have a choice and we all have a voice.
This is what I have taken from Rehtaeh’s story. I hope in some very small way, that my public commitment to trying to be better, kinder and more solidly grounded in my values, will make a difference in this world and help to honour the lives of people like Rehtaeh who deserved more – deserved better – from life.
May you rest in peace Rehtaeh. Your story will live in my heart.