You Too.

You too? Of course, you too.

I don’t know a woman who hasn’t been sexually harassed, or treated in a demoralizing way because of her gender.

A little over a week ago, before the “me too” movement took off on social media, I said something to my mom like, “You know how some people are conditioned or programmed to feel suspicious or fearful of entire people groups?”.

Her: “Yeah?”.

Me: “Well, for better or worse, my life experience has conditioned me to be fearful of an entire gender. Men. Not the men I know and love, of course, or the men who have good and decent reputations that proceed them, but every single male stranger”.

This culture has given men a green light to commit all kinds of violence – physical and psychological – against women with little or no consequences. Every woman knows this, which is why so few of us talk about the acts of violence and humiliation perpetrated against us. From our earliest awareness, we are inundated with stories, images, and experiences meant to degrade and disempower us. We cannot hear about a sexual assault without hearing about the reputation of the woman who was assaulted.

The current President of the United States denied the claims of 12 of his accusers last year by focusing on the way one of them looked. “Look at her”, he said. “You tell me what you think. I don’t think so. I don’t think so”.

An upsetting amount of people accepted that non-answer as a reasonable defense too.

For most of us, we learn – too early – that sexual harassment is a fundamental part of being a woman in this culture. In fact, this phenomena is so normalized that we are likely to count ourselves “fortunate” if we have not been raped, and “only” fondled, cat-called, or intimidated.

I have countless personal stories of sexual harassment, groping, exposing, and bullying. Men have masturbated on the street, in a train car, or across a crowded bar while looking directly at me. I have been groped in over-crowded places, been slapped on the ass, had my swimsuit strings untied at a pubic pool, fielded unwelcome kisses, and once had a stranger run an ice cube up my inner thigh while sitting next to him on a couch at a hotel.

In my early twenties, a man offered to buy me a drink at a bar, and then put something in that drink. Mercifully, I made it out of that moment unharmed because I was paying attention. But, I don’t doubt that this culture would have offered me approximately zero justice if I hadn’t noticed what had happened.

I imagine instead that I would have been blamed for drinking alcohol at all. Maybe my outfit would have been scrutinized. “She should have been more careful”, “What kind of young woman lets a stranger buy her a drink?”, “Where was she?”, “What time was it?”.

FOR THE RECORD: drugging someone is wrong. Having a cocktail in a bar is not wrong.

But here’s what we learn every time suspicion is placed on the woman in that kind of story:

“Being a woman is a liability”.

Or maybe this:

“You are only entitled to safety and respect if you are the right kind of woman”.

(Thank you Christian summer camp for making sure I understood it was my fault if a middle-school aged boy saw my bra strap under my t-shirt, and this caused to him to have “impure thoughts”).

And as unsettling and upsetting as it was to endure many of the things I’ve described above, it never once occurred to me to be angry. Afraid? Sure. Ashamed? Definitely. But angry? Not once.

On an ordinary evening in early December of 2014, however, that all changed.

While walking towards my car in a parking garage at 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night, a man came towards me and said things I will not repeat here. They were explicit and they were terrifying. For those of you who are not intimately familiar with my personal timeline, in December of 2014, I was 7 months pregnant with my daughter.

Something about carrying my precious girl inside the body that this man felt entitled to threaten broke me.

My initial feeling of fear then turned into an overwhelming sensation that I didn’t have time to identify or process before I wound up making a very loud sound that burned the inside of my throat raw.

Maybe it was like roaring. Or scream-growling. It’s a sound I couldn’t repeat now if I tried.

Immediately, this man stopped moving towards me. He looked alarmed. And maybe he should have been. I remember thinking, “I will rip his throat out with my teeth if he comes near my baby”.

And I believe I would have tried if he had tried.

Then I ran to my car. I locked the doors, laid on the horn, and put my phone up to my ear.

He ran away. And I drove away.

After I stopped shaking, I cried. After I cried, I understood.

The feeling that had replaced my fear was rage. Electric, white-hot, focused rage.

There’s a pretty good chance this man backed away from me because he thought I was crazy, or on drugs, or just unpredictable in a way that gave him pause. I don’t know why he didn’t follow through on his threat, and I don’t really care. What I do care about is that this moment taught me something impossible to forget.

We need to be more angry.

FURIOUS, actually.

I understand that we also need to be afraid. Fear helps us run. It helps us avoid unsafe situations in the first place. It is a critical survival emotion for human beings to access in healthy, appropriate doses.

But, MY GOD. We need our anger too. Anger protects us, and it restores us. It gives us our dignity. It sets boundaries. It takes action. It insists on change. It makes a scene. It demands attention. It says:

“FUCK THAT. NO”.

It also doesn’t apologize for using swear words sometimes. Because if the only thing in this essay that has upset you so far is the F-word, you are missing the fucking point.

A roar, a scream-growl, and a curse word are not violent. They do not cause bodily harm to anyone. Phone calls to congressmen and women are not violent. Signing petitions, telling our stories, standing up for one another, calling the police, donating to organizations that help victims of sexual assault is not violent. Protesting the sentencing outcome for Brock Turner, and insisting that the President of the United States bragged about sexual assault on that horrifying Access Hollywood tape – that it was not indeed “locker room talk” – is not violent.

It’s true. It’s protective. It’s courageous. It connects us. And it just might be able to change us.

Yet, for me, all of these actions are enabled by my capacity to feel situationally appropriate anger.

It took me a long time to unlearn all the lies about how anger is “unnecessary”, “unattractive”, “uncalled for”, “unsafe”, or “unfeminine”. And, it took an even longer amount of time for me to appreciate how these unflattering depictions of anger are intended to keep us from accessing a critical inner conviction about our own shared dignity, and start challenging the status quo.

For the last week, I have been reading these “Me Too” stories on the internet, and every time I read a new one I keep feeling a sizzle of that focused anger I felt that night in the parking garage. And while my daughter now lives in the world outside of my body, I am under no illusion that this world has ceased being a hostile place for her to become a woman.

Nor has it stopped being dangerous for you, or for me.

So.

I will keeping honoring the anger I know we need to feel in order to make the changes I know we need to make, and I am going to continue to give that anger to the world in the most productive ways I can manage until things are different.

And. I think you should too.

 

Furiously,
Whitney

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The temple.

Tonight, I told my daughter that God is alive

In her body.

 

No one ever said that to me.

 

Instead, people told me all about the Commandments,

Ten of them.

Also, Seven –

deadly sins.

Some handful of Beatitudes

And what a fuck-up Eve could be.

 

God breathed God’s breath into the human body,

in order to make a living being.

Genesis says so.

 

It’s the first written words about human beings

in my own tradition.

This gorgeous scene.

 

A man and a woman, made from dust.

Through their nostrils, they are filled

With God’s breath.

 

And when the breath of God leaves

them,

and each of us,

we are returned again

to dust.

 

But what of the time between?

While God’s breath is breathing Itself in us,

how holy can we be?

 

You’ve heard it said, “mercies are new each morning”,

but I tell you,

New mercies ride in on each breath.

 

God’s breath,

In each of us.

 

No one knows what to do next.

 

Me neither.

But, I told my daughter what I wish

someone had told me.

 

Listen for God in your body, sighing softly.

Sometimes rattling.

Feel God, too.

That rhythm, the movement in and out,

filling up and letting go.

 

Rupture and repair.

Expansion and contraction.

Life, Death,

Re-birth.

 

Every cell and atom in the universe is dancing like this.

 

Later, I will tell her even more subversive things.

 

Heaven

My grandmother’s spirit left her body one year ago today.

I was there with her when it happened, and despite the steady stream of visitors she had most hours of most days during the final week of her life, it happened shortly after 2AM, and I was the only person in the room with her at the time.

Around 1AM, I fell asleep on a hospital cot that had been pulled up next to her hospice bed. Before lying down and closing my eyes, I said out loud, “wake me up if you need anything”.

She had been unconscious and unresponsive for a week.

Shortly after 2AM I had a dream of a glass cookie jar with nothing in it. When I reached my hand out towards it, it shattered into thousands of pieces. It hurt me to watch the jar shatter, but the glass shards themselves were beautiful and did not injure my skin as they passed through my hand.

Suddenly I was awake.

I looked over at my grandma, and listened for the sounds of her breathing. I didn’t hear anything for a long moment, and bolted right out of bed.

The moment I got my face near hers, she exhaled.

And then did not inhale ever again.

I walked into the hallway to tell the hospice nurse that my grandma was gone. She followed me back into the room and put her stethoscope on the soft, bare skin of my grandmother’s back.

“Her heart is still fluttering a little bit”, she said to me. “I’ll give you another minute alone together”.

And then she walked out of the room.

I held my grandmother’s hand, and looked at her for signs of life.

Her face was still so soft and sweet as if she were peacefully sleeping, but her hands felt a bit colder than they had a few hours before. I didn’t know what to say or do, or how to be with someone while their heart was still fluttering, but their breath had already left their body.

My grandma was one of the greatest loves of my life, and my own heart felt like it was breaking.

Just as I was about to let myself surrender into the mess of feelings I had been holding back since I first learned of her stroke 7 days before, I felt something I can only now describe as a shimmering, sparkling, tingling, pulsing wave of the most exquisite joy and tenderness move from her, and fill the whole room, including my own body.

I’ve never felt anything like this before or since.

It was like those luminous glass shards from my dream had turned into the finest dust, and I could feel both their luminosity and their former sharpness all at once. It hurt in the way it hurts to feel something so gorgeous that you can’t believe it’s true.

I would try to compare it to something like seeing the sunset over cliffs and water, or looking at your baby’s face for the first time, or falling in love, or reconciling with an estranged friend, as all of those things remind me of this feeling a little bit. But all of those experiences pale in comparison, truthfully.

This feeling was so stunning and impossible, that it was very hard for me to breathe while it was happening.

As the intensity of that tenderness began to subside a little, I told myself I should stay in the room and linger in it’s fading presence, but I couldn’t. I felt like I needed to step outside of the room in order to catch my breath and slow my heart down to a functional rhythm again.

I walked outside the room and told the nurse that she was indeed gone now.

The nurse came in, listened for my grandmother’s now silent heartbeat, looked at her watch, and then turned her attention on me.

“Are you alright?”, she asked.

“My chest hurts, and it’s very hard for me to take a full breath. I’m going to call my family, and then I think I need to be outdoors for a bit”.

“Do you need medical attention?”, she seemed really concerned for moment.

“No, no. It’s not like that. I don’t know. I’m okay”.

I called my family then, and when I did, I wanted to say, “I’m so sorry you weren’t here for this. I wish I had woken up 20 minutes before and called each of you then. Being here at the end, it was like receiving a holy blessing. I will never be the same”.

But I didn’t say that. Who can say that? I was so disoriented.

Then I stepped outside into the courtyard of the hospice center. There was a light breeze, and a hundred twinkling stars in the sky. The plants were swaying softly, and there was a sweet smell in the air. For a brief moment, I felt that luminous glass dust in everything all around me.

“I’m everywhere now”, she whispered. It was her voice, but it was coming from my own heart.

The Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst. (Luke 17:21).

For the first time in my whole life, I stopped worrying about what happens to us when we die.

I haven’t worried about it ever since.

Forgiveness.

I once heard Marie Howe say

that being present

hurts

a little bit.

 

Some people call her

a religious poet.

She says she isn’t sure

that fits.

 

I do think,

however,

Only a religious person could admit

any of this.

 

Religion,

That word.

It means to re-ligament.

Or, to reconnect

 

what was once adjoined.

Now separate.

 

It’s in the body,

That gap,

And also the way back

Together.

 

She’s right,

you know.

Being present hurts a little bit.

 

You have to say you’re sorry

every time.

For having ever left

 

And forgive,

and forgive,

and forgive

 

And come back.

 

Right here,

Right now,

Re-ligament.

 

I’m sorry,

you say.

And then you let go

 

Of

Getting caught up

in all your separateness.

 

Shame,

or blame

My excuses are limitless.

 

These human traps,

sticky,

and seductive, and so real

when we feel it.

 

But not true.

 

Have you ever seen a pebble shame itself?

Or a raindrop cast around blame?

 

The lilies of the field don’t worry about their clothes.

 

What did Rumi say?

“I’ve gotten free of that ignorant fist

that was pinching and twisting”

me into an illusion

of separateness.

 

So we forgive,

but we don’t forget

It’s very hard to stay.

 

Right here,

Right now.

I’m sorry, you say.

 

Followed by, “it’s okay”.

 

And then, come back, come back,

come back.

Re-ligament.

 

Of course, that hurts a little bit.

 

Nevertheless,

it’s all still here for each

and every one

of us

 

Right after forgiveness.

Virgin.

You, there.

Yes, you,

girl.

 

Mary.

 

Do not be afraid.

I have a message for you.

 

God is in your body

Growing,

gaining shape,

 

Fingers and toes soon now.

 

Oh,

pregnant woman,

now what kind of super food

diet

would you begin to make?

 

For God,

Is there.

Sharing in everything you take.

 

I once saw Jesus in the sky.

Not a wishful thought,

or a trick of a sleepy mind.

 

There, right there, taking shape.

Ten fingers, ten toes.

 

As above, so below.

 

My friend Jeff was there

with me.

The blades of grass were radiating

all this light,

we had never seen

Before.

 

Now I can’t unsee it.

 

This world is screaming,

Even the rocks cry out,

About your glory.

 

On that first day,

when I started to really see

God everywhere,

in everything.

 

I also finally saw Mary

In me.

 

Pregnant with the divine.

But she knew it.

Whereas I did not,

for nearly all my life.

 

I was taught to think this way,

You know.

 

Original sin.

Man’s fall from grace.

But really,

woman’s fall.

 

She just took man with her.

 

And so I was told

only the Virgin Queen,

Could house God

 

in her body

now.

 

Purity for women.

Bravery for men.

 

Even Joseph,

Magnanimous for not having stoned Mary outright.

A hero for marrying her.

 

Why is a woman unto herself

So threatening?

 

I have a hunch.

 

Virgin,

it’s original meaning

Suggests a woman

Who is not owned.

 

By any man,

or system.

 

Belonging to no one but herself.

 

So, is this how we give birth

to God?

 

First, by claiming our Self?

 

 

Beatitudes

The beatitudes.

A phrase so often used, I stopped asking what it means.

Supreme blessedness.

 

Before you read it,

what would you have guessed?

 

It’s hard to hear something old as if it’s new,

 

But you have heard it

Said

Blessed are the poor, the mourners,

and the meek,

 

Poor in spirit, but how can this be?

Empty vessels.

Capable of receiving something.

A willingness not to know

Everything.

 

For those who mourn,

Somehow this is the holy fountain.

where

Jesus wept.

 

What’s on the other side of mourning?

For me, it’s always grace.

Just enough letting go to come away –

From that sticky, intractable place.

 

I know you’ve mourned more than people –

We can lose our grip

On all sorts of things,

Ideas, identities,

Comforting fantasies.

 

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for what is right.

The right way, the right thing.

To hunger and thirst,

A human body

Never drinks enough to again never drink.

 

So goes the soul.

Never done with it’s searching.

Or it too will die.

 

Blessed are the merciful, for that comes back around.

You start right here at home.

On yourself,

Then your neighbor,

And that neighbor down the street.

 

It gets tricky eventually.

You can’t fake it.

So, you come back home, again.

The next day it’s easier.

You remember now how it feels.

 

And what of those with pure hearts?

I don’t hear this Jesus saying “good” hearts here,

Although, where I come from,

We have corrupted the word –

Pure.

 

Like the surface of a lake, without a ripple.

The sky’s reflection undisturbed.

 

A heart without disturbance

Above or below,

Can gaze upon itself, and see

what’s there.

 

God.

 

What then is honest here in my heart?

A cascade, like water,

Over and over it turns.

Always hoping.

 

This world is hard, and nothing bright is seen

through the lens of more light.

We need shadow.

 

There’s shadow in my heart.

Living there alongside the light.

I know I can’t see God if I turn that into a fight.

 

But when the waters calm,

And everything undisturbed is seen,

Maybe that feeling –

Like coming home,

Is itself a way of seeing

 

God.

 

Blessed are the makers and maintainers of peace,

he says.

What did I do a moment ago inside my own heart?

 

Seven devils were cast out of Mary Magdalene.

A holy number of completion.

Meaning,

the accusations from within must have stopped.

 

“You should not feel this way,

don’t think any of those thoughts”.

Phrases no longer spoken by the woman called Magdalene,

now undisturbed

about what’s in her heart.

 

Woman, where are your accusers? Has no man condemned you?

None.

 

The Kingdom of God is like this.

 

Blessed are those persecuted for doing what is right.

Every pure heart asks,

“But how will I know what is right?”

 

 

Supremely Blessed are you –

When people are cruel,

And unrelenting in their cruelty

On My account.

 

Don’t be cruel, I hear.

Not to yourself, not to others,

There’s always part of you that can never know

Another.

You answer to your own heart.

 

If you are in Me,

and I am in you,

Your process will involve pruning,

he says,

 

Remember those dirty, despised old prophets?

Not one of them beloved.

 

But beloved is not the same as blessed.

 

Shining faces, sure footed.

Do the prophets act like they had regrets?

 

When I sit and I listen

to Jesus words,

From this famous sermon on the mount,

 

Although he never said it

Out loud,

I hear the question,

Still.

 

Can we learn to live in harmony,

Inside one human heart?

 

 

 

 

Eve.

To be a woman in the church,

No matter the age.

Ah, that is a great source of shame.

 

Were you, like me, given the story of Eve

to blame?

That first woman, tempted by the power of knowledge,

Not smart enough to know her place.

 

And poor, innocent Adam,

So trusting of the woman,

Now defiled

After her tango with the snake.

 

Taking serpent’s words, and God’s fruit into her body

now changed.

Now naked and ashamed.

 

Man’s first words in his own defense,

“She tricked me!”.

 

What a witch.

 

Well, here’s another trick.

Blame.

Scapegoat a gender, get every last one of them.

Meanwhile, stripping God of any feminine traits.

 

If God is male, then male is god.

 

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?

That which cannot be named.

Only felt.

In our bodies.

This knowledge of God.

 

Who among us knew it first?

Eve.

And of course, she was afraid.

 

How does a fragile human body withstand the knowledge of God

Once consumed?

 

For me, it’s always some tender blend

of grief and grace –

Mixed.

Like Eve,

 

I cannot keep it to myself.

And, yet I too am rendered a bit naked

And ashamed.

 

But shame, beloveds, is not the toxic terror you’ve been told.

Just the stripping back of one or two dead layers,

Much like the snake.

 

Nearly every woman on earth would now pay

For the peeling

Of old skin,

 

Unearthing something new.

 

But this is not a surface peel.

The encounter with God we’ve been offered

By the snake.

 

When we eat the fruit, we risk becoming

A graveyard

For all the people we thought we were.

 

Scales falling from the eyes of Saul,

A new name, a new life, and here we have

Paul.

 

Not my favorite apostle.

Some thorn is his side about women still.

But,

Then I suppose we all have to drag our own humanity

Along

with us,

 

Long after consuming what’s been given

by Grace.