Now I tell myself that I’m street smart. I did the Jack Kerouac “On the Road” trip when I was 18, driving cross country in the fall, even sleeping in my car. I’ve volunteered in the projects, been a motivational speaker in correctional camps. I’ve shooed away drug dealers south of Marrakech, been lost in the woods in Michigan, and lived in L.A., N.Y. and London. Despite the occasional bump and an oft damaged psyche, to this day I trust when I shouldn’t. There is some small part of me that longs to see good in everyone…believes there is something redeemable in the worst of men.
The problem is I need to remember that I am not the one with the power to heal the broken. That job belongs to God. My magical thinking has brought me to the edge of a precipice and as my partner of 13 years tells me “I worry about you because there is EVIL out there and you don’t see it.” I used to scoff at that idea. After all, what does evil look like? I’d surely recognize it. But as I look back at past behaviors…picking up hitchhikers on the side of the road at 16, driving homeless drug addicts to recovery, meeting strangers posing as “men of God,” and “writers,” to help them get their careers going, I realize I’m exposing myself to harm on a daily basis.
There’s magic in hiking alone, but as women, we’ve been taught to worry about venturing far on our own. In fact, we’ve been taught to worry about a lot more than that.
Though once I merely shrugged off the warnings and the horror stories, confident that I was wrapped in some sort of “not me” protective veil, I don’t usually take my safety for granted anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve outgrown the belief that I’m invincible. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother and have a different understanding of the fragility of life and the female body. Maybe it’s because that murderer on the Appalachian Trail went by the nickname “Sovereign,” appropriating the powerful, beautiful word that is so essential to my life’s work.
This particular day, however, my desire to be outside was more compelling than my new bend toward caution. I called my husband to tell him just where I’d be, joking that he needed to know where to look for me if I didn’t pick up the girls from camp on time.
Several weeks ago, Liam Neeson was doing a press tour for his latest movie. He caused quite a stir by bringing up an event from his life from 40 years ago. Actually, it was an event that happened not to him but to a female friend. She had been raped and characterized the rapist as “a black man.” In typical male bravado, he took offense and set off to act out a what has been called “a racist revenge fantasy” by taking a weapon and looking for a black man to beat up and/or kill.
I am in a fairly unique position to respond as I myself was raped at knifepoint also about 40 years ago. On second thought, and truly sadly, it is unlikely that I am in a unique position. Rape is the coin of violence. It is used in war, arguments, power plays, where our bodies become the battlefield on which such violence is played out. There is truly nothing sexual about it.
Here is what rape does to the psyche. It tells us that our bodies are for someone else’s ephemeral pleasure, not our own. It tells us that we are not safe in the face of someone, usually a male’s violent whims. It tells us that we are objects without full personhood. It slashes a hole in our core selves that fills with rage and pain instead of love and wholeness.
I saw an interesting headline the other day entitled: “Olympic Gymnast Hits Back at Body-Shaming.” I immediately thought, “Wow not again.” The fact that body-shaming is even an expression is a disheartening commentary on the society we live in today. Women’s bodies have long been the subject of casual objectification in our culture and in the media. The fact that people think it’s ok to comment on a woman’s body, in whatever fashion pleases them, blows my mind. Not only is it disrespectful, but it comes from the problematic way society equates a woman’s worth with her beauty.
People have diverse ideas of beauty, and different cultures value different physical qualities, but this does not mean that those who don’t live up to the ideal should be shamed. In the article, Gymnast Aly Raisman relates an experience at an airport where a female employee recognized her and mentioned one of the reasons was “because of her muscles.” A male colleague then stated “Muscles? I don’t see any muscles” and “continued to stare” making Raisman feel uncomfortable. She then took to twitter to relay the events stating: “I work very hard to be healthy and fit. The fact that a man thinks he can judge my arms pisses me off. I am so sick of this judgmental generation.” Continue reading “Tall Order by Sarah Kiefer”
My partner is a lawyer who works with asylum seekers and other immigrants here in the Czech Republic (ČR). She’s amazing at her job and I’m constantly in awe of her passion and commitment along with her righteous anger at systematic injustices. In fact just last week, her workplace, together with a consortium of other immigration organizations in the ČR, helped organize a demonstration in the center of Prague to protest the Czech Republic’s refusal to admit Syrian children and their families into the country. She invited me to attend the event with her. I went.
It was my first time attending a public demonstration in Europe. It was moving to see many of her co-workers there and inspiring to listen to the passionate speeches against xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, the plight of the Roma people as well as the need to come together and welcome diversity. In addition, there were signs in Czech, German and English saying “No One is Illegal,” “End Xenophobia,” “Do Syrian Children Have to Wait for their (Nicholas) Winton?” “I want to have a Syrian Friend!” and “Refugees Welcome!” I wanted to hold each one of those signs! Continue reading “Being Scared: Fear and Authenticity by Ivy Helman”
Feeling safe again is often the healing and elusive aspiration of a person like me.
I have been living with the deep and cellular residuum of sexual trauma for most of my life—over thirty of my going-on forty-six years.
For many years, the grief and shame of losing my innocence cultivated an intense orientation to life’s doing. Safety for me back then was activity, noise, frenetic schedules, and a constant soundtrack to my life that meant I never had to be quiet with myself. Safety was in the predictable metrics of success that I could use to measure my self worth. I never had to stop and admit that I didn’t feel safe, ever.
I got a lot done all those frenetic years and my diligent efforts were affirmed with everything from scholarships to awards to pay raises.
But, trauma does not allow itself to be ignored. It demands attention. Its cellular ghosts haunt their host. They must be acknowledged, sometimes cast out, sometimes befriended, other times adapted or transformed. My trauma is tethered to the violence of a dangerous world, a world that knows no boundaries when it comes to annihilating innocence.
“Tell me why it can’t be that simple,” I plead with my husband. “He needs a bed. We have a guest room.”
I am desperate for an answer that will assuage my guilt and brighten my mood. It’s more than that, though. I want an answer that will fix the problem of Michael’s homelessness, one that will ease both his pain and mine. Continue reading “Smells Like Homeness by Erin Lane”
Earlier this year in May, I was honored to be a speaker at the American Mothers National Convention. While attending the conference I heard a young mom speak about her own experience of being held hostage as a child and the feeling of total security she felt when embraced in her mother’s arms for the first time following the terrifying ordeal. Listening to her led me to recall my own experience of feeling that security with my mother. When I was a child and needed to be comforted, there was no one else who made me feel safe the way my mom did. However, the safety of my mom’s arms did not end when I became a teenager or an adult. Up until the day my mom died, I still cuddled with her like a little girl. I felt spiritually connected to my mother, it was through her loving arms that I found security and felt truly connected to God.