Yesterday a women’s strike took place in Mexico. It was called “a day without women”, to bring awareness to the murders of women in the country. The intention is that—by removing themselves from daily life—it is possible to understand the effect of their absence. When I was asked if I supported the strike I answered: mostly yes, with some reservations. When asked what were my reservations I couldn’t express myself clearly, so I set out to write an essay about it.
When I was in high school student in Mexico I worked selling scratch lottery tickets for the Red Cross at a nearby supermarket. I met a girl who worked there too and we started dating. She was a bit older (she lied about her age even though I couldn’t care less) and had just entered university in her early twenties.
At university she met another freshwoman about her age and they quickly became best friends. She was a very pleasant, attentive and shy woman, very much into her studies, which complemented my girlfriends outgoing personality.
Some months went by, and one night the mother of her friend called and asked if she was there, because she hadn’t arrived home yet and it was late in the night. My girlfriend’s intuition told her something very bad had happened, and after spending a sleepless night she raised early in the morning to search for her at the city’s morgue.
She described her friend to the attendant. Yes, he said, a woman with that description arrived last night. Would you like to identify her? Yes. It will not be pretty. Her face was disfigured from a blow with a hydraulic jack. I need to know if it’s her, show me.
She recognized the body laying on the stretcher as her friend’s.
Her friend lived far away and was left alone in the bus with the bus driver and his chafirete (assistant). They raped and murdered her. The police caught them disposing of the body but they couldn’t recover her handbag which had her id, so she was a Jane Doe.
Though I only experienced the funeral, it was harrowing. A terrible sadness was felt in the air, with ocasional screams: how could you have done this to her, bastards!. The experience of trauma is collective, and I found myself deeply affected by the event.
A week later my girlfriend told me that we should split up: a group of evil people had set a curse upon her, and all the people close to her would die. She had already lost another friend, and her intuition told her I was next.
I understood the complexity of the situation was beyond my meager experience at the time. I was in high school, with little understanding about life, and it seemed my girlfriend had gone crazy. Our relationship was already unstable as it was, and I took the easy exit. I told her that I wasn’t sure but I trusted her intuition and that it was best that we parted ways and not communicate with each other, for my own safety.
I dealt with the situation as cowards do: escape from the messy situation. But you have to be a strong swimmer to drag someone out of turbulent waters. I was not that person, and her outcome in life was positive, so I do not regret it. It had to happen that way.
However, the coward’s way could also be called psychological debt in honor of the technical debt found in complex codebases. Consistently not dealing with the situation will lead to an immature life, a form that does not want to crack open from his or her comfortable shell.
But life has its way of cracking shells open.
Two years ago I had notice of a female passenger had gone missing in a Cabify (the company I worked for) in Puebla (my hometown). I didn’t have to see the journey or gain any additional information: I knew what had happened. The driver had raped and murdered her, as I had experienced in the past. As my emotions cooled down I decided on some sanity, and not to pass judgement until I obtained further evidence.
The next day her body was found, proving my intuitions correct. She was raped and killed by one of our drivers, in my hometown. The event struck me like a lightning which nobody else saw, leaving me curled up in a corner reeling with pain. I felt echoes of my girlfriend’s psychotic break: I was tainted and carrying disgrace in my spirit. It was not her who was cursed, it was me.
The company seemed lethargic responding to the situation. In cases like this, the company’s priority is containing damage to their reputation, and the reaction is defensive rather than offensive. The attitude is not one of “how are we going to fix this?” it is “How are we going to minimize the effect of this tragedy”.
But nothing could contain what came next. Certain traumatic events seems to happen at a time when society is ripe to face them. Where decades earlier the murder had gone practically unnoticed by local media, this time the murder blew up at a national level, stirring demonstrations throughout the country.
I considered heading a charge to modify the containment attitude, and even sent an email stating my intention, but again, backed in cowardice at the moment of truth: I had to admit the circumstances were beyond my capabilities, and as things cooled down I hunkered back into day-to-day work.
The price: slipping into depression, coasted for a while, received bad peer reviews, tried changing teams to see if things went better (they didn’t) and finally admitted to myself and to the company that it was time to part ways in good terms.
I’m still living through the ripples of this event. Like the opening move on a billiard table, the white ball hits the rack of balls and sends off balls in all directions, the momentum of a single event cascades into a chaotic chain reaction in which the white ball is no longer moving, but other balls are in movement because of that first hit.
The mind seeks prescriptions in cases like this: what should I do so that this doesn’t happen again? How do I deal with this irrational guilt? How do I protect those close to me from these threats? In the thousands of kilometers I walked after I quit my job I came to the conclusion this kind of thinking is folly. I cannot save the world, or even those close to me. Restoring life is impossible, and anything I can do about this event pales in comparison with the loss. But then again, inaction seems to be the cowardly way.
I understood this one day while I was riding the subway in Madrid. An attractive young lady with a generous cleavage was in the semi-crowded car, distractedly checking on instagram. I observed a man oogling at her breasts, inching closer and closer for a better look as his peeping went unnoticed. I debated what to do: the situation was ambiguous enough so that raising a scene was out of place, yet I felt that if I allowed more time to pass, the scene would happen anyway.
What happened next was not out of my own will, thinking or courage, for I was not the doer of my actions: in a moment I found myself between the lady and the man, looking at the man into the eye, sternly. The man hunkered down, turned around and left. No other passenger witnessed the event that took place, not even the lady who was still very absorbed in her social media account.
The understanding was that I did not have to be a paladin of the cause to have a positive impact in this aspect of the world. In fact, in all the guilt-wrangling and inner conflict for being part of a company that allowed a tragedy to happen had been useless. We give ourselves impossible, gargantuan tasks because we dare not to address the immediate problems. Thinking big when it’s impossible to act big is also the coward’s way, because the responsibility of action is transferred to the government and then the solution becomes “the government should do this or that”.
This is the equivalent of the sports spectator, shouting at the coach to follow this or that strategy to produce a desired outcome. Wether his advice is sound or folly is irrelevant, because no amount of shouting will change the outcome. But we are not spectators of the world, we are players, and when the ball lands on our feet we must be swift and clear minded in our actions.
One must read the situation and act accordingly. Pretending the problem does not exist makes it resurface in different expressions. Blowing up the problem to proportions where one feels helpless about contributing to it leads to inaction. Rather than escaping through the excuse of immaturity or ineffectiveness, it’s better to take responsibility for fellow human beings, men and women, in whatever form and scale our current circumstance allows.
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.
Chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching