#METOO

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Yesterday was my 24th wedding anniversary, but this won’t be a love story. Plenty of those have been told and plenty more will unfold, but yesterday, as I sat down and logged on to social media for the first time in 48 hours, I was struck by the #metoo posts.  Some included just the words, large or small. Some included instructions – what the #metoo signified, a personal experience with sexual harassment, or assault, and how one could participate. Some included stories from long ago, or as recently as last week. I scrolled and read, unable to turn away from the vulnerability of the posts and the obscenity of the numbers.

My first impulse was to type in “Of course #Metoo ” but something about that didn’t feel quite right. My dad would read that post, my brothers, my husband, their friends, my friends, my mom. Would they ask for details? Would I want to share them? Would I be more offended if they didn’t ask? And worse yet, would I have to explain myself, frame my story with the caveat that “Yes, I believe in personal responsibility” and own the fact that some of the incidents could have been avoided if I had planned better, been more careful, less young and dumb? I’d like to think all that goes with saying, but I couldn’t type #metoo without saying it all.

That’s why I came here.

I know many of my readers aren’t on social media and may not even be aware of the hashtag and what’s trending on Twitter and Facebook, but I think it’s important enough of a conversation to have a greater length, because it is complicated, painful, shameful (for many of us) and requires more nuance and vulnerability than we can usually muster, even in face to face conversations. It is difficult to sit with someone in their pain and truth and not want to explain it away, cheer them up, or defend our part or participation in it. This isn’t just about Hollywood or Washington DC, Weinstein, or Trump. This is about you and me, our sons and daughters, our grandchildren and the world we want to live in and we only get to live in the world we are willing to create.

When Tim walked in the door yesterday, I wanted to feel romantic and grateful; instead I felt sick to my stomach, awash in memories I had put away for decades.

Here are some of my #metoo experiences – not all of them by any means, just some of the early ones…

A quick heads up: the language I use in this essay is graphic and may be uncomfortable. I’m sorry about that, but I didn’t edit my language now, because none of the language was edited for me at the time.

 

Freshman year. 14 years old. Mater Dei High School. Spanish 2 with Ms. McCracken. Group work with one other female and two males, both sophomores.

“Do you like cocks that are long, or thick?” I ignore the question and look away.  I’m sure I blushed. I try to get back to the task at hand, conjugating preterite verbs. “C’mon, freshman. If you don’t know yet, you’re going to need to figure it out.” They keep asking, seemingly unable to concentrate on the “-o” or “-aste,” or “-aron” endings until they know my preference for something I am completely ignorant of, something I am in fact terrified to even think about. I finally blurt out an answer, my best guess, just to get them to stop, which they promptly tell me is wrong, apparently because of their expertise with the female orgasm (and I’m guessing the shape of their own anatomy). I pray never to be in their group again, but occasionally am, where questions like that keep popping up over the course of the year.

Why didn’t I say anything?

Because I was a 100 lb girl-child being spoken to by “good, Catholic boys,” supposedly my brother’s friends. Maybe this is what “friends” do in high school? Anyway, why bother speaking up? Up until that point in my life, every report I had ever made to one of my beloved authority figures about bullying, or teasing was met with redirection, straight back to me. It was always my problem, something I had to figure out, a fact of life I had to deal with. But even in a best-case scenario, IF I had been believed and IF the teacher had chosen to engage and IF the boys had been called out to speak with the dean, or principal and given some consequence, I still would have embarrassed my brother, and become a social pariah, a girl who couldn’t take a joke, a tattletale, a prude. High school was way too long to sideline myself so early.

 

Sophomore year. 16 years old. Homeroom class, sitting next to a good friend. 

My friend keeps asking me if I have an “itchy snatch.” I’ve known this person for years and we’ve never talked like this, so it catches me off guard. Why would he talk to me about the biological state of my vagina? I ignore the question. He asks again. I change the subject. He goes along with my new topic.  The next day, the question comes back. And the next. Finally, I ask him what the hell he is talking about. Does he really want to know if I have a yeast infection, because yes, I’m a swimmer. It happens, but no, I currently do not have an “itchy snatch.” Oh, he looks offended by my answer. I just meant did you want to get laid, you know, like an itchy trigger finger. I still don’t know if he was offering to help me “take care of it” if my answer was yes. We were just friends, or at least I thought we were, but I learned that’s what it meant to be “just friends” with a lot of guys. You never knew when your body, desires, activities and undergarments were going to be up for conversational (and sometimes physical) grabs.

 

Senior year. 17 years old. Religion Class.

The priest who is teaching our class on family life and morality makes a big speech at the beginning of the semester about how the “ladies” in his class are supposed to sit. Required to wear skirts that reach our knees as part of our uniform, in his class we are also required to take special care with the placement of our knees and hemlines. It is offensive when we aren’t careful, so we must keep our knees pressed together, or legs crossed at all times. Also, keep your skirts pulled down to the tops of your knees. It’s not fair to your male classmates to have too much of your legs showing.  We are seniors. This is our fourth year at this school, where close to half our teachers have been male and this is the only teacher who has ever delivered this speech. He offers it confidently as a man, in front of his fellow men, to the women sitting before him, who are sure to fail him in his endeavor to keep the male minds from undue temptation. More than once that semester, he comes up behind me and whispers in my ear that too much of my leg is showing and I need to cover myself. I sit in the last row. In the back corner. He is the only one who could even see me.

 

Summertime. 16- 17 years old. Huntington State Beach.

I am one of a handful of female lifeguards in a big-time boys club, mostly men between twenty and forty. Baywatch is popular on TV, so even though I am a trained first responder, my blond hair and red one peice is the most compelling thing about me. I am photographed on duty in my tower. I am approached by men, chatted up and asked for my phone number. Their favorite pick up line: “If I go pretend to drown, will you save me? Can you give mouth to mouth?”  I know how to deal with that kind of nonsense. Part of the job, I guess. I’m a little older now.

What surprises me is the interactions with my co-workers. I like most of them. They are cute, funny, athletic watermen, but they are older, so I am satisfied with my fantasy crushes. Some of them like me too, I think, complimenting me by saying, “Aw Bush, if you were 18, I’d ask you out in a heartbeat.” Bush: The double-entendre is not lost on me. I’ve been hearing it since I hit puberty. Boys love calling me by my last name, perhaps as a reminder of the part of me they find most interesting? I remember thinking, Why not ask me out now? Why wait another year? But deep down I know. They won’t go out with me if they can’t sleep with me. Whatever else we have in common, however much they like me, it isn’t enough to overcome my sexual unavailability.

But my age doesn’t stop others from trying. I get propositioned more than once to have sex in the lifeguard tower. “C’mon, don’t you ever think about it?” they ask.  Nope, I don’t, I answer, but ask the lifeguard in the next tower. He might give you a different answer. I am told by one of my supervisor’s that his doctor recommended regular sex to loosen up and ease his lower back pain. Would I be interested in helping him out? I decline and laugh it off, but I’m confused. What am I supposed to do with that? I thought we were friends and that he liked me. In his mind, we probably were friends; that’s why he asked. He could have hit up someone else if he didn’t think I was pretty enough. In those years, I am frequently asked by “friends” to “help them out” with all sorts of things from back pain, to being “backed up.”

Why didn’t I say anything if I was so uncomfortable?

There are so many reasons.

The “tattletale” syndrome, the fear of spoiling “everyone’s good time,” the “no harm/ no foul” mindset, the “locker room talk” excuse, the “you should take it as a compliment” explanation, the “what did you expect” question, the “tough it out” coaching approach. And I knew that even if I did bring it up, call them out, make a fuss, it wouldn’t matter. Nothing would change.

But there was also the very powerful influence of my religious upbringing which taught me that male temptation was a female problem. I was the cause as much as the victim. Though I have heard it my whole life, I never could totally work that one out, even as deep down, I believed it. How is it that just by being me, by making it through puberty, by being in the room, by wanting to be a part of a co-ed crowd, I had somehow given these guys permission?  And these #metoo moments I’ve shared are just the awkward conversations. I’m still not ready to talk about the hands that went places I wish they hadn’t, the things I wish I hadn’t seen and the dangerous and life-altering situations I found myself in.

The world we live in is changing, but those scripts do not. They ran through my mind as I processed the moments I wrote about, as well as the ones I didn’t. And they almost kept me from publishing this essay. Why in the world does telling these stories matter? It’s ancient history. You’re fine. You learned. You grew. Let it go.

But ultimately, I couldn’t. I don’t know what the tangible outcome of this viral movement will be, but I do know it is raising our consciousness and that, at least, is a start.  Thank you to all the women who have courageously shared #metoo and all the men and women who have shown up to support them.

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Days for Grieving

Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.

I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.

I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.

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In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.

I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.

…..

September 22, 2017

The  reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.

……

How can we make nonviolence a way of life?

[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.

This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change? 

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.

Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”

[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.

….

Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.

As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”

One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them. 

What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?

 I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;

  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;

  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

…..

This last line is the key, isn’t it God?

In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence  –

from the hands of our fellow humans,

by the forces of nature,

in the war of words we constantly engage in,

and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,

do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?

Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.

This week? Not so much.

My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.

…….

If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!