Beginner's Heart

Today my state House of Representatives passed two bills that will cause only grief & pain for as many as 1,000 young Oklahoma women. The state House has seen fit to make judicial bypass — the avenue by which minor women may petition to have an abortion w/out notifying their parents — far more difficult, even in cases of incest.

A young Oklahoma woman — and yes, I think a ‘girl’ of, say, 17, who has been raped, qualifies as a woman — who has been sexually assaulted now has to have the permission of a judge from her county. And only from her county.

Perhaps you live in a large city, where there are many judges, and you have the protection of anonymity. But in, say, Perkins, Oklahoma, there are only two municipal judges. And there are  three district judges in Payne County, where Perkins is located. Around 2,300 people live in Perkins. The chance of someone NOT having a family, church, school, or professional connection to the judges is remote.

Let me tell you a story about one of my sister’s childhood friends. Let’s call her Audrey (I know no one named Audrey, so that’s safe). As an adult, Audrey revealed that her father — an elder of a large Tulsa church — had sexually molested her for years. She didn’t want him to have access to her child. He sued for grandparent rights. His church supported him, insisting she was ‘on drugs’ or the victim of an unscrupulous therapist.

We’ve known this woman since she was young, as well as her sister. Both show symptoms of sexual abuse, and have since childhood. But the church refused to even consider that this man might, indeed, be a child abuser. Had Audrey been pregnant, as a minor, to whom would she have turned in a small town? Her father was a pillar of the church in a large city — she almost lost custody of her child because of her father’s connections. Would one of a small town’s two judges have given her a judicial bypass so she would NOT have to notify her parents she was pregnant by her father?

Please note: of Oklahoma’s 6,000 or so annual abortions, only about 17% of them are underage. For these fewer than 1,000 young women, we have passed laws that will make ALL choices the property of the state. But our (primarily male) legislators are acting, they say, as  Christians. Their private religion has become highly political.

In a piece of related  news, Oklahoma also passed an income tax cut. The lack of revenue expected — millions of dollars — will heavily impact education and the public safety net. This is what makes me flinch when I hear the words ‘pro-life.’ A friend refuses to use the term, citing ersatz ‘pro-lifers’ as ‘pro-birthers.’ Great love for the unborn, no help at all for the living. She notes that all the financial support for a single mother trying to raise the child that legislation required her to bear & raise is being cut. I agree. It doesn’t seem that there are many ‘choices’ to me.

We’re against birth control being available (Remember the huge political ruckus over that?? It continues…), which significantly impacts the rate of unplanned pregnancies & abortions (a study of almost 10,000 women, over a four-year period — not magic dust). And we don’t want ‘free lunch’ (or breakfast, or early childhood programs) for the children born as a result of these antediluvian policies. I’m not sure what denying children food & medical services, or women access to prenatal care has to do with the Christian faith of the Oklahoma legislature. That part wasn’t in my Bible, where I seem to recall ‘feed the hungry.’

So tell me: your 16-year-old niece is raped. By her mother’s boyfriend.

I’m sadly short on patience. I kept thinking that age & maturity would make it bloom in the totally inhospitable garden of my now! now! now! personality… Well, I’m older, but NOT a  lot more patient. Sigh…

There are certain to be great benefits to being patient. If you are one of those wonderfully patient people, let me know what they are. I’ve been IMpatiently awaiting the advent of patience, to see what it will change in my life, but so far? Zilch. No patience. No changes.

But I’m not giving up. Like the cartoon, I’m just working harder on being patient NOW. Somehow, that makes sense. Maybe it’s a mindfulness exercise…?

I hurt my husband’s feelings tonight. In return, he hurt mine. None of this was intentional. It was, in fact, an object lesson in avidyā, the misunderstanding of reality, or even the self.

It doesn’t matter what actually happened. Suffice to say I wasn’t precise about what was happening, and my husband — who doesn’t hear well — misunderstood my already flawed communication. Things kind of went to hell after that.

N.B. (or ‘pay attention,’ as nota bene means): we  know each other well. We were having a nice evening. And yet this kind of ugly miscommunication can still arise. Can still derail.

If this happens to the well-intentioned, to two people w/ only each other’s best interests at heart, then what hopes do we have of actually reaching strangers? Or even friends??

Buddhism is wise to illusion, delusion, confusion. Of all ethical systems, Buddhism feels most aware (to me, at least) of how fallible is human interaction. With the best of hearts, we break those of others. With the softest voices, we wreak havoc. Even when we are careful to our strongest capability, we mess up. It’s who we are, as human beings. It’s a kind of human destiny, I suppose.

But it hurts. The doer and the done-to. The perpetrator and the victim, both (often) innocent of wrongful mind. It is as ugly to hurt someone as it is to be hurt, sometimes even worse…

I have no answers to this age-old question ~ how can we reach other? All I know is how to say I’m sorry, and how to try, next time ~ and there is sure to be a next time ~ to be more careful. More precise. With even more lovingkindness…


Music, poetry, art ~ they have (at various times) saved me. Sometimes quite literally (really). Kept me from driving my car off the bypass. Kept my heart from breaking and my breath from stopping.

Now that my life is gentler, kinder (& infinitely better), music is mostly about inspiration & enjoyment. I can’t imagine a world w/out music… Could I live now? Certainly. But how would I know the inner workings of various friends & family? My sons, for instance, like very different kinds of music, with little overlap. When they share music with me, I learn more about who they are inside, what they love & fear & value. Music does that for us.

I’m pretty eclectic in my own musical tastes. Right now I’m listening to hip-hop, not the usual soundtrack for a Buddhist Unitarian blog post. And yet… The lyrics to this particular song talk about dreams dying in the inner city, about the waste of lives sacrificed to drugs… Aren’t these the very heart of Unitarian social justice? Engaged Buddhism?

There is also the Brazilian music shared with me by Misha, the music I pick up on Spotify from Todd. There’s the jazz my friend Ben nods his head to at work, and the heart-searing music our department accountant sends me from YouTube. Every time someone sends me a music recommendation — even more than a book title — I learn about them. I feel closer to them, more ‘in tune’… 🙂

So here’s a toast to the albums I filled my album with when I was sent home from Thailand (who needs clothes when you have music?). Here’s to the CDs I packed when I left Saudi Arabia before the war. And here’s to the threads of melody & the riffs of jazz & the beats of hip-hop & the lyric a capella notes that have, time & again, lifted me on wings. Given me voice.

When people ask me what there is to celebrate in our messy fragmentary lives these days, I think of music. Not only the music of birds, but the polyphonic harmonies of us. Human beings. Messy, fragmented human beings. How amazing is that ~



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