By Anne Reeder Heck
“Ms. Heck, this is Detective Newsome,” the voice announced clearly over the phone. I hadn’t heard that name in years. “You may want to sit down.” Pause. “I’ve identified the man who raped you.” I didn’t have words to reply.
Fourteen years earlier, I had been enjoying a morning bike ride on a rural road in Northern Virginia. A man in a red car stopped, got out and walked briskly towards me asking for directions. It was a violent scene—the blows to my face, the blood, being dragged into the woods, forced to perform oral sex with teeth hanging by threads, penetration and then silence. He was gone.
Clad in torn clothes and covered with blood, I flagged down a truck. The kind man behind the wheel wrapped me in an old blanket and drove me to a nearby rescue unit where I was transferred to an ambulance and delivered to the hospital. I cooperated with police, providing all the details I could recall. The story made local news: TV and papers. I even appeared on America’s Most Wanted. But the perpetrator remained unidentified. I had been in healing mode ever since.
My experience of sexual assault permeated all levels; its invasive nature left me with tiny shrapnel scattered throughout my being. Somehow, through grace, I found within myself a determination to move beyond. I ascribed tenaciously to the belief that it was possible to heal this—all of it. I’ve heard “time heals all wounds,” but 14 years later, I was still nursing the ills of this tragic incident.
Most of the trauma resided in my pelvis and hips, making it difficult to walk in balance and comfort. Just two days before the detective called, I stood in my living room and declared out loud and with conviction, “This is my year of strength.” And Providence moved in its magical way to offer me yet another path to address what pieces remained unhealed.
That year, I was asked to appear in court, to face my perpetrator, and to make a statement of the impact this event had on my life. Doing this was not so much a stepping up as it was a stepping in. I’ve learned that the way forward often requires me to step into my perceived darkness and to embrace its lessons.
As I wrote my statement for the court and examined each painful experience resulting from this tragedy, I asked the question: What did I learn from this? Through this process, I came to know that each of my challenges held something valuable. [Anne’s Victim Impact Statement was printed in the October 2004 issue of WNC Woman.] Those places where I experienced the most resistance and pain required me to dig deeply into what I knew to be true, and in the depths, I discovered beautiful gifts.
Opening myself to this exploration gave me the understanding that the man who raped me—Terry Leon McDonald—had given me much to grieve, and through the subsequent years of inner work, I unearthed much to celebrate. Just as a rite of passage, this grueling experience cracked me open; it enabled me to grasp what is essential in my life and to trust my inner knowing as the core power of my being. For this, I developed deep gratitude for Terry—a man who touched my life briefly, but powerfully—who initiated the profound connection I now hold with myself and with life.
In November of that year, I appeared in court. Once we were seated, the judge asked Terry if he wished to make a statement. Terry stood just two rows in front of me, turned to make eye contact and said, “Ms. Anne, thank you for forgiving me.” These were, for me, the most important words spoken in the courtroom that day. Through this experience, I was taught the magic that happens when we open our hearts and lovingly accept an individual or situation that challenges us. The potency of this acceptance becomes known without words being spoken. Terry requested and received life in prison that day. He also gifted me with an inner strength and a knowledge of the power we all hold to embrace our perceived obstacles so that we can step beyond them.
Being willing to step in is important and life-changing work. For me, it involves opening my heart and listening intently to my inner guidance. I’ve come to rely on the truth that’s available to me in this inner domain. Stepping in provides healing: it effects the world I live in and the way others respond to me. And occasionally, I’m gifted opportunities to see how this work touches someone far beyond my expectation. I’m often reminded of Terry’s gratitude and the confirmation that love permeates all things. During some of life’s darkest moments, it’s been essential for me to know that I step in for reasons beyond self.
Anne Reeder Heck is an Interfaith Minister, Healing Practitioner, Speaker and Facilitator of workshops and circles for women and girls. Anne is stepping in once more this fall as she prepares to speak at TEDx Asheville on November 4. More of her writing and events can be found at www.anneheck.com