I started blogging right after President Obama’s inauguration, participating in optimism and a sense of community here and in my little corner of the early days of Twitter. Vice President Biden championed victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and the Violence Against Women Act was strong and enforced.
But life–my life, your life, the life of the country–goes on, gets in the way, changes everything. And here we are.
My brother-in-law’s cancer fight over; my sister’s grief is a little bit less fresh.
Mr. Z and the dogs and I have moved house and reshuffled priorities.
My book is still in revision. I’m back to it now.
It’s time for me to start talking again, with anyone who will listen.
Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
You may know April as the mother of Hunter and Colton, Mr. Z’s grandsons.
Today is her twenty-seventh birthday.
She is generous, wise, funny, loving, comfortable in her own skin.
Yesterday she said, taking Colton from me, watching him fall instantly to sleep on her shoulder, “He just needed to smell me so that he could go to sleep.”
I didn’t know that babies connected with their mothers through smell. But she was telling me something more, something deeper that I can’t quite understand and can’t stop thinking about.
She teaches me every time I am with her, and I’m never sure whether she knows it or not.
She doesn’t seem to worry. She is.
I wish for her not to change.
And while I’m wishing, I wish for Hunter and Colton what Adrienne Rich wished for her sons:
“If I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women. I mean by this something very concrete and precise: the courage I have seen in women who, in their private and public lives, both in the interior world of their dreaming, thinking, and creating, and the outer world of patriarchy, are taking greater and greater risks, both psychic and physical, in the evolution of a new vision.”
— Of Woman Born
“So ask yourself this: If I could say one word to the world, if I knew the world was listening attentively and would to the best of its ability follow the directive this word sent out, what would that word be?”
So I asked myself. I did not miss a beat.
I wrote it in the margin. No doubt about it. No alternatives came to mind, and they still don’t.
I was disappointed. I wanted a revelation. At least a word with a second syllable, a word with some zhuzh.
I’m supposed to tell the world to tell? And of course the corollaries are unmistakable. I’m supposed to tell. I’m supposed to learn to tell so that I can teach to tell.
I read this a few months ago, and I’m just coming back to it.
It’s turning out to be a more interesting word than I bargained for, and I’m working on ways to integrate it into 2012.
I’ll tell you all about it over the next few weeks.
The Choose Love Project is live, and it “aims to help women, both young and old, to understand that loving our bodies and healing our relationship with food and exercise are choices, that these are indeed about choosing love.”
You can read letters by women (including me!) to our younger selves, and if you’re so moved, please submit one of your own for Volume II.
I began to read where I had left off, a section called “To Beautify the Gaze.” I imagined that O’Donohue had joined me in conversation. He writes,
“Each of us is responsible for how we see, and how we see determines what we see. Seeing is not merely a physical act: the heart of vision is shaped by the state of soul. When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way. The old habits of seeing are broken.”
Today I refocus consideration of my “old habits of seeing” to include not only the ways I have seen others but also the ways I see myself. Do I see myself with compassion or am I impatient and judgmental?
O’Donohue concludes this section, “The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere, for beauty does not reserve itself for special elite moments or instances; it does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything. When we beautify our gaze, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and sanctuary.”
What would happen if we held ourselves and others by seeing in this way?
Yesterday I wrote that no matter how often I wax on about life’s cycles and seasons, they still take me by surprise.
I am, apparently, a similarly slow learner when it comes to other topics. Just last night I was talking, well, texting, with a friend about the long process of grieving various aspects of an abusive relationship she is ending.
This morning, I went to my last “official” event of this Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Women in Distress 5K SafeWalk-Run. As of the publishing of this post, we’ve raised a total of $115,510 toward ending domestic violence.
As I drove through the 6 a.m. dark, it occurred to me that Markham Park, the location of today’s walk, a place I’d never been before today, is also the destination of the annual Toys in the Sun Run motorcycle ride, and the last place that Lee was alive on December 9, 2007 before the ride home and the crash that killed him.
I took that in. I considered the symmetry of my ending a month of speaking out by going to the place where he spent the last few hours of his life. That seemed pretty big. Something to pay attention to. A spiral of emotions and circumstances.
Then I remembered that today is his birthday.
I have lost track of his birthday in the last few years, focusing instead on today as the birthday of Mr. Z’s daughter-in-law, letting go of date and time reminders as I can. I have consciously and accidentally “moved on.”
Throughout October, I have thought about this walk, known its date and location, fundraised toward this deadline, harassed my team to get their donations in. How is it possible that my mind did not put the pieces together until this morning?
I am taken by surprise by the spirals, the synchronicity, the slam of recognition, the unexpected grief of memories.
My cell phone rang yesterday right before my talk. It was A., a young survivor of dating violence. She left Miami a few weeks ago, gone away to college on a scholarship.
Perfect timing. I asked her, what is the one thing you would tell the girls I’m going to talk to?
Tell them to trust themselves, she said. Tell them that they know what to do. They know when to leave an abusive relationship. They know better than anyone else.
The auditorium was large. Young women–80? 100? I can never tell–ranging in age from 16 to 24 filed in, wearing their requisite navy shirts and khaki pants. Staff advised them about tucking in shirts, watching their language.
They admired my shoes.
The microphone didn’t work. I shouted to reach everyone, and learned that my voice is unreliable at high volumes.
I told them my story, which despite our many very real differences, is not all that different from their stories. I told them that they can trust themselves, despite what they might have seen or done or had done to them.
I invited questions, and they asked things more “mature” audiences almost never do:
What was the worst thing he ever did to you? Have you forgiven him? Did you like to be controlled? Did you ever fight back? Were you happy when he died?
Today I can’t forget the shy girl who came up afterward and asked how she could ever have another relationship after a boyfriend had battered her.
I can’t forget the girl who asked how to leave her boyfriend when she knew he would never let her go.
I have worried that I didn’t reach them and worried that there was more need in that room than can ever, ever, be met.
Tonight I received this email from a woman who’s worked with me for many years:
Believe me in “every” group, someone is listening. (I was the one in a high school group listening to an invited guest speaker atthattime.) It made a world of a difference in the way I began to assess my life and seek out opportunities. It may not have been the ones in the rear, in back, on the cell, but certainly there was at least one or a few who did hear, and that is the difference between silence and saving lives.
She’s right, of course. The “difference between silence and saving lives”: this is everything.
Remember this video from last year? We still have a situation on our hands, and Tara Sophia Mohr has organized another Girl Effect Blogging Campaign.
Last year I focused on the situation for girls in the developing world.
This year, especially since learning that according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, young women in the U.S. between 16 and 24 are at the greatest risk for intimate partner violence-nearly three times the national average–I’m focusing on the situation all around me–the girl effect right here.
On this year’s Girl Effect Day, I will be speaking to young women at the Homestead Job Corps about intimate partner violence.
I’m going to tell them my story, which is not that different from theirs.
Refuse any activities, even if my date is excited about them
Have my own feelings and be able to express them
Say, “I think my friend is wrong and his actions are inappropriate”
Tell someone not to interrupt me
Have my limits and values respected
Tell my partner when I need affection
Refuse to lend money
Refuse sex any time, for any reason
Have friends and space aside from my partner.
This Dating Bill of Rights works for women of any age, but is especially important for young women who may be inexperienced, longing for “romance,” and confused about what romance is.
Much about the lives of the girls described in the Girl Effect video is determined by their experiences between the ages of 12 and 18, and dating violence works in much the same way. Young women who experience dating violence are also more likely to experience depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and violence in their future relationships.
The girl effect is real. It matters.
And I’ll tell girls today what I tell everyone who will listen: Tell your story.
I invite a handful of bloggers into my email inbox because they inspire me. Most of them are friends, even if we maintain our friendships mostly via email and text and phone. A couple of them are people I’d like to meet.
Penelope Trunk falls into the latter category. She doesn’t seem to worry a lot about what people will think about her, and since I have tended to worry about that too much, she is one of my (s)heroes.
Between Trunk’s posts and the reader comments, you have a diorama of domestic violence:
It is her fault. She is exaggerating. She should leave right this minute. She should leave next time. She’s a fool to stay. He should leave her–she’s crazy. She’s making this up. What about the children if she stays? What about the children if she goes? Will she ever marry again if this, her second marriage, fails? What has she done wrong? Shouldn’t she have seen this coming? It’s her fault.
And she wonders, in the middle of these complex questions, about the impact of writing about domestic violence on her blog (a blog that received 750,000 page views in September):
“If it weren’t that I’ve already blogged about sex abuse, my miscarriage and my divorce, I’d worry that my blog will never get past the topic of domestic violence, and I’ll face blogger doom. But I know from past experience that being genuine with other people helps one’s career get stronger.”
At the risk of blogger doom, I’ll keep writing about domestic violence–moving toward a world where it doesn’t exist.