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A Conquering Kind of Love

ON local television here in Boston the other night a woman in her 40s was describing an extremely brutal childhood in which her father and mother sexually abused and tortured her over a number of years. Her face, slightly boyish and dusted with freckles, filled the television screen. The description of the horror was quite beyond anything I had heard or read before as a newsman. Yet the woman was calmly telling her story, not dwelling on details, but telling it softly as a prelude to her triumph.

Although she admitted that she still carried scars and sometimes struggled with terrible memories, she said her triumph was evidenced in a successful 11-year marriage with a good man along with her ability to hold a responsible, professional job.

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Those of us who never had our childhood darkened by abuse need not try to imagine the struggle to free one's self from such wreckage. It is enough to listen and go on to find the resolve to help prevent abuse in other families, as the woman urged the TV audience to do. In today's world, she said, a growing number of children do not survive the brutality. Who among us will help?

When the woman was asked why she thought she had not only survived but triumphed, she answered, ``I had more love than they had hate.''

She said it just that way: direct, firm, and with chin tilted up just a little - ``I had more love than they had hate.'' Here is a woman speaking no casual conclusion learned from the hazy naps of a lovely childhood. Pardon the melodrama, but this is a far-reaching voice of truth speaking from a private Auschwitz.

For those who think love is still strong and badly needed in the world, you're right.

This woman confirms a kind of love that at first seems a little mystifying, almost unreachable. To be so terribly abused and yet to find and hold within one's self (as a child and an adult) an indefatigable power that cannot be prevented or snuffed out, here is love that transcends normal definitions but can still be relied upon.

I'm guessing here, but perhaps out of the appalling starkness of what she experienced, there should emerge a new word to describe the love within her that saved her. The usual definitions simply don't apply in her case.

But just think: Rotten as her parents may have been, they failed to destroy their own child. The woman did not say she loved her parents no matter what; she said that love was hers as a life-saving resource no matter what.

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I have no doubt that this woman is the kind of person William Faulkner had in mind in his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He said, ``I decline to accept the end of man. ... I believe that man will not merely endure: He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.''

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