Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's lonely over there on the side of the road.

what if what's required for us all to breach
the doorstep of peace is to shuck the carapace of our grudges,
liquid all of humanity into a new, complicated, carved
out of our scars, relationship to forgiveness?

One of my fondest memories from my high school days was when the youth group at the Episcopal church where I was a member was put in charge of the morning worship service one Sunday. We got to choose music, lessons, and sermon. It was the first time I'd ever heard The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, one of the saddest songs ever to be written. (This was in the 70's. I had a rather protected childhood, as you can gather, given the fact that a church service was one of my fondest adolescent memories. But I am, in fact, grateful for this.) I got to hang out with the two boys I was crushing on at the time, Mike Kidd and Keith Evans. Most memorably, I was chosen to play Lucy van Pelt in our sermon that Sunday, a series of original Peanuts cartoon skits.

One of the readings that morning, which brings me to the point of this post, was from a book I can no longer remember by an author who was, I'm sure, a flash in the pan, but I can still remember the gist of the message even after all these 30+ years. As Lucy, I was the one to give this particular reading because it suited Lucy van Pelt's character. It went something like this:

"I hate black people. I hate Jewish people. I hate Native Americans, Italians, Irish, Yankees, Southerners, Democrats, Republicans, city people, country hicks, smart people, dumb people . . . (and the list went on). But mostly, I HATE BIGOTS!"

I've never forgotten that reading. I think, in some ways, it has greatly informed my political views - progressive, and my profession - psychotherapist.

We had a terrible, terrible tragedy happen in our little island community this past weekend; a car full of young people, coming from a party, ended up in a fiery crash. The three passengers were all killed, and the driver walked away from the accident. She is 18 years old. Her life as she knew it is gone. She will be charged and found guilty of vehicular homicide, no matter what the toxicology report finds, because there were witnesses to how fast she was driving on this wet, dark, back road. I can't stop thinking about her. My heart aches for the families, friends, and loved ones who have lost the three young men who died. It's a mother's worst nightmare - that phone call in the night. But I can't stop thinking about this young woman. The grief that comes from the loss of someone who has died will most likely eventually lessen, there are memories, and time heals that intense pain. I know this from experience. The keening doesn't last forever.

But the grief that comes from knowing that you have taken a life . . . I just can't imagine what this young woman must now live with. Reports from the jail are that she is thinking and feeling everything one would expect to experience in such a situation: that she should have died in that accident, that she wishes she'd never been born, that she wishes she could die now, that she doesn't want to live. The community has sent letters, she has friends lining up who want to see her during her very limited visiting hours. The students and staff at the school from which she graduated have had a long, somber, heavy-hearted week. I can't stop thinking about her, and I think, "No, this would be a mother's worst nightmare."

I have also been thinking quite a bit about that lesson I read in high school in the persona of Lucy van Pelt. The judgments from some quarters laid down upon this child who must live with the consequences of her actions from that night have been harsh. I've talked with people who have said that she should be charged not with vehicular homicide but with murder. I've read comments online calling for the death penalty. It's a terrible terrible tragedy. And there all kinds of questions here about intent, guilt, accountability, and punishment. But here's what I want to say about all of it:

The person driving that car could have been either one of my own children at that age. It could have been someone driving home from a restaurant after drinking a couple of whiskey sours, not intoxicated by any stretch of the imagination, but the toxicology report would show alcohol in the blood. Or me on any given afternoon, driving home from a meeting, impatient with the slow driver in front of me, looking for an opportunity to pass. It could have been one of the guys driving home after stopping at the bar on his way home from work for a couple of beers. It could have been any one of those three young men who were passengers in the car. For all we know, it could have been the driver of the car that this young woman had just passed. It could have been any one of the millions and millions of people who drink and drive in this country. Or any one of the millions and millions of people who drive behind a slow car, passing impatiently when given the chance.

I find it ironic that Lucy van Pelt is both this crabby, judgmental little girl and also the Peanuts' resident psychiatrist dispensing psychological wisdom for 5 cents a pop. Because I have found that on my journey to becoming a depth psychologist, I have gained an increasing amount of respect for people of all sorts. This isn't because I'm some wonderful, saintly, compassionate person - though I aspire! It's because I know now that everyone has a story. Lots of stories. A lifetime of stories. And many of those stories are not happy ones. We are all really just onion-y layers, as Jane In Her Infinite Wisdom so beautifully put it, "layers upon layers of interesting, and occasionally, tear-inducing pungency."

One of the people who called for a murder charge is also someone I had a conversation with many years ago, sitting in an airport; also one of my favorite memories from an earlier time. He and I sat in this international airport and watched streams of humanity walk by, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and beauty. I commented on how amazing it was that there were millions of people in the world, and every single one of them was different. Not one the same among the millions. And my young friend commented in return, "What I find amazing is that there are millions of people, and every one has a different story."

Yes. We all have stories that we often can't see in each other's faces. We have to look deeper, peel away the onion-y layers to get to the truth of the person. We cannot know the road that another has traveled. We cannot always know the pain, the guilt, the tears and sadness another has experienced. What led them to this moment, right here right now. And sometimes, their story is very similar to ours.

Each of us are capable of great goodness and also capable of equal darkness. We are human. We meander down this road from one end to the other, doing the very best we can under sometimes unbearable circumstances. I'd much rather be a companion on that road than to be standing on the side heckling, pointing my finger, and laying down judgment on those who pass by. Even though the latter might feel like the safer stance, I suspect it's quite lonely over there on the side of the road. And I'd much rather have companions who will listen to my story than to be shamed and judged for my all too human failings. I just keep on trying to peel back the layers, shuck the carapace, invite the storytelling.

Friday, November 11, 2011

We all have work to do, not just Joe and Herman.

Caveat: It took less than an hour for me to begin arguing against my own argument below. I realize that I have approached a complex bio-socio-cultural issue simplistically, and I have genderized the issue of patriarchy, which is a genderless phenomena. These arguments below also neglect the presence of the two-spirited ones among us. I ask for tolerance as you read and welcome constructive dialogue.

It's already the middle of November. Ballots are in, and there is some good news on the horizon with some of the results. Madness has not completely taken over the country, I'm relieved to report. Though there are definite pockets of it that baffle the mind. Two names come to mind that say it all: Herman Cain and Joe Paterno. Ugh.

I wasn't sure what I was going to write about when I started this. I just knew something was bubbling in me, waiting to be articulated. As I type these two names, I realize this thing bubbling inside of me has to do with men, with women, power, blindness, woundedness, and fear. It's all right there, isn't it?

There was another full moon yesterday. I stood at the French doors of my bedroom and looked at the moon rising in the east. The light and the darkness were at that precipice where it seemed there were equal amounts of each pouring through the air. The moon, bright and clear, with clouds wisping across it, created striations of light and dark. It sat just above the tiptop of a towering Douglas fir tree that was at least a half a mile away. Yet I could see the silhouettes of branches and clusters of needles. Behind the tree, far far far off to the east, perhaps 150 miles away, if not more, is the graceful, ever present Glacier Peak in the Cascade Mountains. The mountain was a deep shadowy white etched against a dusky blue sky. And that moon, oh that moon!

So what does this scene I describe here have to do with JoePa and Good Ole Herman? I don't know either of these men personally. I'd never heard of Joe Paterno until about a week ago. He seems like a decent enough man. Herman Cain I wouldn't trust with a 10 foot pole. But I can give him the benefit of a doubt and say that perhaps, a tiny tiny doubtful perhaps, he truly has good intentions and truly believes that what he's doing is "right" and that he's "forgotten" ever knowing the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. Let's assume for the sake of argument that this is so. As much of a stretch as that is. So I ask again, what does the full moon in all her glory over mountain and tree have to do with a college football coach and a Republican candidate?

It comes down to this - the Feminine, the Goddess, Wisdom, Sophia, Ancient Woman energy, yin, the Bride - whatever you want to call this amazing, timeless, rhythmic process that happens month in month out. The waxing and waning, the tidal waters of the world responding to the gravity of the Moon's* push and pull, and women's wombs the world over also responding. We are tied to the Moon - our blood, our bodies. Did you know that the heart and the uterus share the same muscle tissue? That no other two organs in the body do so? What does this say about who we are as women? About how our hearts, also, then respond to the Moontime? These are miracles we are talking about here. These places within the woman's body that connect her to the earth, the oceans, and the Moon in ways that men can never, ever in a million years understand. And there's the rub.

Men don't understand. And women have no idea what this is like. Whether we are aware of it or not, as women we still experience the rhythms of the Moon. Our bodies know, even if our minds do not. We cannot know what it is to not know. It is like trying to imagine the absence of touch or to un-remember the faces of our children, lover, or mother. It is an impossibility. We have no idea what men can't experience because they do not have a Moontime. They do not have a uterus that feels the pull of the Moon and so bleeds. They do not have wombs that are universes within universes. And the men, bless their hearts, can't know what it's like to experience such fullness to the point of pain.

I cannot presume to know what it is that men feel, what they experience in that part of their bodies where my uterus sits. I cannot presume to know what the heart of a man pines for without the muscled heart of the uterus to call to. It is possible that there is something else that takes its place, something else that connects him to the ground, the trees, the mountains, the oceans, and the Moon. It seems to me that there has to be something. I just don't know what it is. And, I suspect, they don't either.

(Please forgive me for speaking in generalities here. I know there are many, many men who are very connected. I'm referring to the many more that aren't and specifically to a culture of patriarchy.)

Thus, we have Joe and Herman, two men who live in very different ways, yet they perceive the world through similar lenses. A perception of the world that says that power over is important, that somehow it's okay or excusable or, in Joe's case, "slightly confusing" when someone gets hurt who is more vulnerable than they. That somehow there's some kind of justification for rationalizing sexual violence. That somehow the body is not connected to the soul. It seems unfathomable to me that someone can feel a deep connection to the natural world around them and still find a way to put the blinders on when a child is raped or to lie when women have been sexually harassed. (And, just to note, I hate that phrase "sexually harassed." The connotation is that she's been pushed around a little bit, and she'll get over it. No. It's being sexually bullied often to the point of trauma.)

Maybe I am being idealistic and naive (it wouldn't be the first time) to think that a man simply needs to "get in touch with the earth" and he'll find a way to understand that power-over is not power at all, not authentic power.

However, here's why it might actually not be a pie-in-the-sky thought: For someone to truly get in touch with the earth, to feel it, to be in proper awe of it, to engage in stewardship of it, to feel to the very core of their physical body how they, too, are the earth, requires a deep inward journey into shadow and fear and the dark Feminine soul. If someone has done this, then, yes, I think he would understand that power-over is not power at all. And he would never again be able to rationalize or justify harm to another human being, especially children.

Men have work to do. Big work. In some ways, I think it's much harder work than women have to do and have had to do. For women, we must return to something that we knew once upon a time quite intimately. Men, however, must seek something that is foreign and, I would assume, quite terrifying for them. I'm not sure if men, as a general rule, have ever come into deep relationship with the Feminine. I don't know my history well enough to say this is true, and I'm sure someone can argue with me. But I think you get my point. It's tough work that men have to do. There is not much in our culture that encourages this work. And for some men, it's dangerous work - coming into relationship with the Inner Feminine leaves men extremely vulnerable to abuse in some situations. I'm not sure what the answer is. But I do know that sitting down and being quiet isn't the answer.

I think we who are awake, aware, and have claimed the powerful Feminine self (or are working on doing so) are being called to continue to hold up the mirror to Joe and Herman, to clamor, bang the drum, ring the bell, and shout the clarion call that being blind, deaf, dumb, in denial, and rationalizing abusive behavior is not acceptable. At all. Ever. Period.

I also think that we who are able and strong enough, who are awake, need to speak up for those men who are struggling to live into a new paradigm. We need to support their tears, their tenderness, and their quiet authentic strength. A Masculine strength that is made even stronger because it is rooted in the Bride, the Earth, the Moon. When we recognize it, we need to honor it. We owe it to the fathers who are trying to raise their sons to claim a deeply Feminine rooted, authentic authority. We owe it to our own fathers who have suffered because they have not experienced it and had no one to teach them. We owe it to the Moon.

We all have work to do, not just Joe and Herman. I would suggest, for a first step, that we go outside, sit a spell, and gaze at the Moon.

*I chose to begin capitalizing the word Moon from this point on because I am now referring to more than just the physical moon. It is a metaphysical Moon to which I refer from this point on.