Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Yes, America, there IS a rape culture

burnt house 2

Note: This is not the Coleman’s house, but a house similarly burnt out.

When I first read the story of Daisy Coleman’s rape, I was so horrified and angry I didn’t notice where she came from. It was only after I read it a 2nd — or perhaps a 3rd time — that I realised: I know Maryville. I go there every summer, as guest editor for a writing retreat with teachers, some of whom have taught where Daisy’s nemesis, Matthew Barnett, was a senior last January.

The month Daisy Coleman was left in 22˚ weather, dumped in her family’s front yard.

The former beauty pageant competitor — also a cheerleader, before the January tragedy  — had slipped from her bedroom through her window. She was 14. Matthew Barnett, the boy who handed her a large glass of alcohol when she arrived at the party, was a 17-year-old senior.

Girls do sneak out. I did. So did at least two of my three sisters. Most of our friends did, as well. And thankfully — luckily — no boy took advantage of us. No group of boys plied us with two tumblers of  booze, then raped us while a friend filmed the assault. Daisy’s  13-year-old girlfriend — with her that night — was a little luckier: she wasn’t on film. Raped? Yes. But not on film. (Did I mention that these girls were 13 & 14???)

The punch line? Matthew Barnett has walked on the charges Daisy’s mother filed against him: sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. A 14-year-old child.rape culture

Subsequently, Daisy’s mother was fired from her job (Mrs. Coleman was a veterinarian). The taped conversation with Coleman’s boss doesn’t match the boss’s later public statement (the boss had a familial relationship w/ one of the 3 boys involved in the rapes).

Enough on the story, which you can read. Or even the lack of follow-up by the Maryville prosecutor’s office. What I want to know is this: given that there is film the sheriff’s office says corroborates Daisy’s story, and that the boys admit to getting Daisy drunk and having sex w/ her, why have they gone stock free? While the Coleman children were bullied & threatened — Daisy tried to commit suicide twice — Barnett & his buds have gone on to college. Two on athletic teams.

The Buddhist in me is trying very hard to turn my visceral anger towards wrathful compassion. So instead of writing what I, as a victim of assault, as the sister of one rape victim and the aunt of another, would like to do to Matthew Barnett, I am working diligently to try to understand how a boy can grow up with such different values from my own two sons. From my three nephews. From the many young men I know.

rape culture 2What lets a boy think this is okay? Rape culture. And no, America, it’s NOT made-up. It’s a post on a college website (in Missouri, no less) that coaches you on how to get a girl who is saying no to be ‘willing.’ And alcohol is one of the major strategies. Now that’s a lesson Matthew Barnett has, almost certainly, taken with him to university.

But you know what I also come back to? The fact that his family would protect him. Would sacrifice a young girl’s reputation and peace of mind to make the law not apply to him. Would excuse him to the point of letting his morally reprehensible behaviour go unpunished. Even defended.

So yes, Virginia, there IS a rape culture. One that encourages young men to assault young women by excusing it as ‘boys will boys.’ One that covers up by blaming the victim. One that says there is no lesson here for Matthew Barnett except that influence wins. And that a 14-year-old girl’s life is immaterial. The lesson is one I’m sure Daisy Coleman thought of each time she tried to exit the life that changed so radically that January night.

 

hawk!

red-shouldered_hawk

red-shouldered hawk

I wish I could say I took this picture. But I will say that the hawk sitting on my deck rail looked at me just like this before it flew off.

I heard it call while writing at my desk yesterday, in the other room — an eerily high sound, nothing like its looks. The keening of a predator, close by.

I couldn’t figure out what I was hearing, so I walked into the kitchen. Through the breakfast room I saw it: sitting beside one of the deck feeders, calling. It stood almost two feet high, and it turned to look at me before leaving the deck rail. Its mate flew down to join it, as they swooped through yard, climbing into the air.

And my whole day filled with wings.

Nothing is quite as magical — at least to me — as outside. Well, grandchildren. Babies of all kinds (not only human). But being outside, where something like a hawk can surprise you… And in the city! 2 miles from the mall!

Yes, we’ve put out bird feeders. LOTS of them. And we spend a fair bit on various bird feed: suet, sunflower, millet, nut & fruit cylinders, nectar for hummers, a platform feeders for mourning doves. Thistle for finches and the other little feeders.

But still. To know that we have made the yard safe for something as wild as a raptor? Wow. For a few amazing moments, I was connected to wings and a hooked beak and utterly fierce eyes. And the whole world tilted on its axis.

rescuing bees, even one by one

BeeYesterday I did my part for Save the Bees: I rescued one bee. Just one, at no risk to anything other than my sense of propriety (whatever that is!).

Sitting at a two-top by a window, waiting for my sister to join me for lunch, I noticed a solitary honeybee caught against the window, gently hitting the glass over & over in her effort to be back outside. Realising I’d only scare her, and probably get stung in the process (which would be not only uncomfortable, but fatal to the poor bee!), I took my journal and began to shoo her gently towards the door, several feet down the wall of glass.

I got her from one window bay to the next, then the next, then back one… I suspect the people behind me were watching me, but I was focused on the bee. The cashier by the door was obviously watching, however, and came to hold the door open. Together? Success! Exeunt one honeybee!

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I love bees. Mason bees, mason bee housebobbing bumble bees, tiny sweat bees, all the native bees most folks don’t know (there are green bees, folks!), and of course honey bees. They seem to know I like them, and sometimes will light on my arm and walk across it, as if I should be a flower.

Sometimes they’ll let me creep up on them at the bird bath, where I watch in awe as the long bee tongue sucks up the water they need every day (litres in the summer, to cool the hive). I still dream of a hive, but given my neighbours on one side, and our uncertain permanence in this house, I’m contenting myself with carpenter bee houses. My sister gave me one for Christmas — they last 2-3 years before you have to pitch them — and I bought another one this spring.

masonbeeMason bees are pretty great, actually. Solitary dweller — no hive for them. But great pollinators, as are all bees. Critical for the landscape, not simply the edible one that’s come to the attention of the news, in the wake of colony collapse disorder. Apples, the entire California almond crop (most of the world’s almonds, that); most berries; stone fruit like peaches and plums; veggies like broccoli, carrots, & cauliflower; sugar beets (where we get much of our sugar in the US); peanuts…soybeans… The list is long and frightening.

But the wild landscape — and our urban one — would be the bleaker without bees, as well. Wild bees do much to pollinate trees, wildflowers, grasses… Another long & lovely list.

In all fairness, I do more than just shoo bees outdoors when they’re stuck inside. I plant bee friendly plants (butterflies like them too, but bees sometimes can work the long tubular flowers that butterflies can). I make sure there are shallow water sources. I try hard to remind people that bees are critical to our everyday lives. The Buddhist in me believes the bees have the same rights to life all beings do — not a belief shared by many, I acknowledge.

But something there is in me that loves bees… Since I was a child, reading French entymologist Jean-Henri Fabre.

agapostemon splendens

agapostemon splendens

And yes, I was that geeky. Even then I wanted a beehive of my own. My own fuzzy yellow & black or brown bees. And who knew, back then, that there were green bees, blue bees, turquoise, & gold bees?

They’re magic, of course, too. :) In very olden days, bees on the farm were to be told all news — good, bad, gossip. I talk to the ones at our house, too, even though they’re not ‘my’ bees. I prattle about the weather, the flowers, the state of agribusinesses that would rather fund a robotic bee than work with the ones we have. How they turn sunlight into honey, with just hard work and wings…

bee on ageratumMostly, though? I enjoy them. They’re the best way to exercise complete mindfulness. Just watching a bee working a patch of ageratum… Makes my brain push alpha waves just thinking about it…

happiness and our marvelous brain

BrainInHeart I usually say the aim of life is to be happy. Our existence is based on hope. Our life is rooted in the opportunity to be happy, not necessarily wealthy, but happy within our own minds. If we only indulge in sensory pleasure, we’ll be little different from animals. In fact, we have this marvellous brain and intelligence; we must learn to use it. ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I love this saying. Maybe because my intellectual life is important to me. Maybe because I’ve always thought that ‘mindfulness’ means you have to use your mind as well as your heart. Maybe… well, who knows? But the thought is the reason for the heart & mind illustration.

The other night one of my writing workshop students told me that she was afraid her writing bored people. “I write about ordinary things,” she said. “Who cares?”

The Buddhist in me succumbed to righteous indignation on her behalf. And on the behalf of all of us. “Those are the hardest things in the world to right about,” I almost hollered. “And I can’t think of anything more important!”

But here’s the deal: writing about — thinking about, appreciating — the ordinary (ordinary mind, as Zen calls it) does bore manyordinary  mind folks. But it’s critical. And surely it’s what our brains can do for our hearts…? Or maybe it’s what our hearts do for our brains…?

To be happy within my mind, I have to let go all kinds of attachments. Some my own, some cultural. I have to let go youth, and the dream that I will ever be that kind of agile again. I have to let go of the belief that what I have learned is important on any major scale. Mostly, I have to let go of ego (attachment :)) on so many levels I can’t even count that high!

I have to let go — most difficult of all — of the belief I need to change the deeply held beliefs of others. If — as happened recently —  my own deepest beliefs conflict with those held by a beloved family member, I have to sit within the heart of the pain. Think within the mind of the disconnect. And not feel threatened. And still know love.

Damn near the hardest task I’ve undertaken lately. And I don’t know how I would even begin the task w/out the benefit of my marvelously unreliable brain. Because wouldn’t the brain be part of that ordinary mind(set)? Thinking it through certainly has helped, I have to say.

Zen imageBut when I can still my monkey mind (not the same as the marvelous mind the Dalai Lama is referencing, I suspect) and just be mindful — like eating the pistachios beside me on the desk, feeling the shells split open to release the green kernel…savouring the salty flavour — life is infinitely rich. When I can breathe calmly when people I love follow their own paths, I glimpse something larger. Those rare and lucid moments when I let go — unattach like a floating seed pod on the autumn light — I almost get it.

Whatever it is, it teaches me about being happy. About beginner’s heart. In a way that the wild excesses of youth never did.

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