Aqiulino Gonell

U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell wipes his eyes as he testifies during the House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/ABACAPRESS.COM/TNS)

It was supposed to be the Summer of Recovery.

The summer we declared independence from the coronavirus. The summer we finally basked in the global glory of a delayed Olympics Games. The summer we rebounded and rejoiced and moved past the grim winter of our discontent.

It is, instead, the Summer of That’s Not How This Works.

The Summer of Reminders: That recovery takes a long time. That it shows up in fits and starts. That it rarely arrives without a reckoning.

The reminders have come courtesy of brave, generous souls who keep telling a singular truth that some folks don’t want to hear: I am not OK.

U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino A. Gonell —  an Iraq War veteran, a husband, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who dreamed from a young age of becoming an American citizen —  reminded us on a sweltering Tuesday morning. He was testifying in front of a U.S. House of Representative committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“For most people,” Gonell testified, “Jan. 6 happened for a few hours that day. But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended. That day continues to be a constant trauma for us literally every day, whether because of our physical or emotional injuries, or both.”

He wiped away tears as he spoke.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn testified after Gonell. Dunn was repeatedly called a racial epithet, even as he risked his life defending the heart of his nation’s democracy.

“More than six months later,” Dunn said, “Jan. 6 still isn’t over for me. I have had to avail myself of multiple counseling sessions from the Capitol Police employee assistance program, and I am now receiving private counseling therapy for the persistent emotional trauma of that day.”

On the same day of their testimony, on a very different world stage, gymnast Simone Biles acknowledged her truth, which many didn’t want to hear.

“We also have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day we’re human too,” Biles said after withdrawing from her Team USA Gymnastics events, citing her mental health. “So, we have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

After watching her defy gravity and reshape her sport and perform at superhuman levels and break world records, we watched her redefine grit as the wisdom to know her boundaries and the courage to live within them.

She opened the floodgates for a long-overdue discussion about what we value, who we protect and how we arrived at a place where human bodies are treated as sacrificial offerings at the altar of Olympic medals.

She also, unfortunately, opened the floodgates for scorn and ridicule from folks who, I suppose, would prefer she remain unscathed by the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of team doctor Larry Nassar, the simultaneous traumas of a pandemic and a worldwide racial reckoning, the unique pressures of competing at an Olympics stripped of its usual fans and family supports.

But she refused to play along with a fantasy that would deny her the right to feel things. So did Gonell and Dunn. So do the others who are helping us know the truth about what they endured on Jan. 6 and beyond.

What they’re saying instead is exactly what we need to hear: I am not OK. What I’ve been through is not OK. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to humanity — mine, yours, all of ours. To pretend otherwise doesn’t heal us, and we don’t recover until we heal.

I hope we can mostly receive these reminders — these brave "I am not OK"s — as invitations. To listen. To learn. To grant ourselves and our people the permission and grace and time to recover at a pace that feels true, rather than scripted.

Particularly when the coronavirus, the tragic thread woven in and out of every event of the past year and a half, is still very much with us. Some 164 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But that only represents about half of the population, and the delta variant is blazing an awful trail through the unvaccinated and, on occasion, those who’ve received their shots.

Recovery is in our DNA. Resilience is in our DNA. We want to rebound from our traumas, and we should and we will. But we can’t abandon our humanity in the process. We can’t leave each other behind in our rush to a better place. People don’t heal when we’ve decided they should. They heal when we address what’s harming them.

That can be a slow and emotional process, but it’s an essential one. And aren’t we lucky to have brave, generous souls, speaking the truth, leading the way?


Heidi Stevens is a Tribune News Service columnist. You can reach her at, find her on Twitter @heidistevens13 or join her Heidi Stevens' Balancing Act Facebook group.


©2021 Tribune News Service. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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