If you haven’t read the Twitter site #yesallwomen, eat breakfast first. I didn’t, and won’t be able to eat for a while.
Because it’s true, America: ALL women. N.B.: do men suffer violence? Of course. But today is not the time I’m going there. Today, let’s talk (again & again, until we GET IT) about rape culture. About a crime unlike any other, as one Twitter post noted: bc rape is the only crime where the victim has to prove it wasn’t their fault.
I woke up this morning in a fine mood — showered, made tea, watched the daddy downy woodpecker feed his baby. Watched the mother downy woodpecker help. And then I sat down to go through my email, as I do many mornings. An hour later? I’m shaking.
I do not know ONE woman who hasn’t been the victim of sexual harrassment, domestic violence, up to and including rape. Some have been the victims of multiple rapes. NONE of this was EVER the woman’s fault. But not one pressed charges. Why bother?
A niece was raped at a party. She DID press charges, a messy process that she eventually dropped. Why? Because the process, as the Twitter post notes, makes the victim the villain. Why bother?
I could re-post from the thousands of women have joined the outpouring of carefully tamped rage at their daily encounters with the rape culture of America. All of this a genuine visceral revolt at the UCSB shootings, by a man who was proud of his misogyny, his own visceral hatred of women. Hatred so virulent that he put his life where his manifesto was, murdering them. Who targeted men because they were ‘luckier’ than he was with women. But what I want to say instead (you can — and should — go to #yesallwomen and read the posts) is what happened to me as I read.
Rage. Stomach-roiling, head-shattering, white-hot rage.
And a flood of images: the ‘funny uncle’ we never spoke of (but guarded all the little girls from); the uncle whom I never told anyone groped me on the way back to the dorm. The psychopath who stood outside my bedroom window and whispered I can seeee you through the screen, until I ran from the house as he came through the back door. The colleague — a friend, I thought — who forced his drunken way into my house, saying he loved me, and then tried to force his way into me. As my two sons slept in the bedroom down the hall.
Even as I write, more memories surface: ostensible ‘friends’ who made fun of the feminist theory that kept me from suicide one dark year; a ‘nice guy’ who asked why I wore my long hair up, and dressed in button-downs and khakis at work, when I was so ‘pretty’…? The groping of strangers in countries where women are always chattel. Sisters who were groped, beaten, raped.
So yes, America: ALL WOMEN. And it needs to stop. Because now? It’s evident that no protection is enough from some men. They’ll shoot you just because you’re female. We kind of suspected that all along. We just try hard — very hard, and mostly successfully, and mostly every day — not to think about it. Until they finally kill us. And then? Rage. The same rage that lurks beneath the surface every day. The same rage that fuels #yesallwomen. Go read. We need to remember.
I hear dear friends talk about themselves as failures, citing their inability to walk serenely through their overwhelming lives. Colleagues badmouth their work; acquaintances are dismissive of their considerable accomplishments. Strangers share stories of how they are horrible people (they aren’t).
Self-love, people. A little self-love, please.
Thus the lesson for today, from my dearly beloved Pema Chödrön, she who always makes me feel better — and more like doing better. (It’s hard to feel inspired when you hurt.) She doesn’t ever hurt, unlike too many current religious elders. Her religion — like the Dalai Lama’s — is kindness. To all of us, including her own wonderful self. And mine.
I guarantee you that Pema Chödrön also struggles with self-abnegation. Don’t we all? Probably even the Dalai Lama — although I confess I can’t imagine!
Kindness to ourselves is soooo much harder than being kind to people we love. Or being kind to strangers. I can summon great sympathy — even mercy — for people who do cruel things, when I think about their contexts. But all I have to do is drop something and words like ‘idiot!’ come out of my mouth.
I don’t know how to change that for us. I do it, you do it, she and he and they ALL do it. It’s the way of human beings, if they’re not insufferably arrogant. We are hardest on ourselves — we are our own difficult, too-often-unloveable friends. And the people who appear so very confident, who think they never err? I can’t help but remember the saying behind every superior attitude is an inferiority complex. It’s true far more often than not.
What I can assure each of us — you, me, each tentative, shrinking heart — is that we have our own inimitable gifts. Gifts no one else can offer. Unique presents for the world around us. And those gifts deserve appreciation, and love. Our own, first of all. Because if I can’t love me — forgiving my own faults & flaws — how can I love you? Really love you — in your occasionally horrible, frustrating and challenging, disappointment to me? To love ourselves, we only have to offer up our gifts, from our quaking, unbelieving hearts. Others will show us how valuable those gifts are. But first — and hardest of all — we have to believe they exist, and that they deserve appreciation. Let’s start there.
Each time, I’ve learned from him. HUGELY important lessons, like attention. Listening. Focus. Laughter. The importance of touch, and the necessity of love. How you earn it: even with an infant it isn’t automatic, just easier.
I don’t believe everyone should have children. Even though my own — and many of other people’s! — have been a profound pleasure to me, not everyone likes/ wants/ should have kids. It isn’t the destiny of each human being to reproduce.
But I do love kids — of all ages. Babies, however, are the best treat in the world. They smell good, they give you an excuse to shop for toys & books, they laugh unreservedly. They’re honest. And they’re such wonderful teachers.
Everyday life is full of teachers — just today I saw a fallen tree, at least 4-5 feet in diameter, w/ a completely hollow trunk. Its centre was blackened and eaten away. Before the most recent windstorm (we have so many in Oklahoma), it stood to the right of Riverside Drive. No one would have suspected it was dead inside, to look at it. And then it fell over… Teacher.
And at the Farmer’s Market? A tired mother grinned when I offered her a chair at my table, leaving Dad w/ the two toddlers. She didn’t avail herself of it, but just the joke made her smile. Teacher.
Trin’s teachings are different: how does everyday life work? Like his daddy’s glasses: what are they? How do you get them on your face? What are they for? Whereas the things that I struggle with — saying the right thing, knowing the ‘proper’ response — don’t exist for Trin. Teacher…
There are so many teachers each day. I suspect that’s exactly what the Buddha meant when he said everyone we meet is the Buddha. But my grandson? Who has taught me real unconditional love? (N.B.: that unconditional love I thought I have for my two sons and my husband? Fraught w/ expectation/ history/ culture — not so unconditional after all, in comparison!) He is my favourite.
Happy Birthday, Trin, from your student, GG.
For Mother’s Day this year, I received the following: a promise of tea with my younger son — as well as a lovely note — and the world’s greatest manual pencil sharpener from my elder son.
You may think those are pretty disparate gifts, but they accurately pinpoint two very important parts of my life — tea & writing. And the boys (both grown men w/ wonderful jobs, one even a parent himself…but still my boys 🙂 ) know me well.
This is by way of saying we need to look beyond surfaces when we engage with people, even those we love. Maybe especially those we love…? And accept that what they say they are and love may well be at odds with how they look. Even how we see them.
The pencil sharpener is the exact same one used by artisanal pencil sharpener David Rees, whose ability to wreak a living from sharpening pencils that can function as deadly weapons totally impresses me. Because I ADORE pencils. Preferably very sharp ones — the kind my grandmother used to yell at me NOT to run with. You’ll put your eye out! And w/ the pencils sharpened by this pencil sharpener (the Alvin brass bullet pencil sharpener, touted as a pro tool by Wired magazine, no less), you certainly could.
This was a GREAT Mother’s Day present! But try telling folks what you received: a pencil sharpener and a promise of tea. Faces fill w/ tactful pity. These are NOT real ‘presents,’ it’s obvious. A raincheck and a pencil sharpener??
But they ARE amazing presents, and my sons know this. Noah will take me to tea. And Nathan not only went online to look at my Amazon wishlist, he picked a tool — something I will use daily, always remembering him. How are those not great presents?? Each present will — in its own unique way — create memories.
In July, when the family gathers in Virginia for the 4th of July, Noah’s present will be there, waiting — tea on the town. And I’ll get to research a place (chances are he will, too). We’ll slip away from my beloved, my elder son, my wonderful DIL, and my perfect grandson. Off we’ll go to sip tea, eat treats, and discuss Noah’s upcoming sabbatical from work.
The beauty of these presents? They’re both me: the practical, elitist tool user (I HATE crappy tools!), and the romantic tea lover. And my boys know this. How many mothers — or people of any persuasion 🙂 — can say that someone they love knows them? That has to be the best of presents, any time of year.