I will never forgive you

I have been hauling around a rotting corpse of an experience for 19 years.

I used to think that the only way to deal with the terrible and tragic thing that happened was to forgive the person who did it. My partner’s brother murdered his wife, then called our home and engaged us in a conversation that twisted and turned between reality and delusion for 45 minutes before he abruptly hung up and killed himself.

boyholdingheartIt was indescribably traumatic. Of course, I can only speak to my own experience of it.

I’ve heard lots about the healing that comes from forgiveness. The Archbishop of forgiveness himself, Desmond Tutu, who knows about atrocity, says, “To forgive is the highest form of self-interest. I have to forgive so that my anger and resentment and lust for revenge don’t corrode my own being.”

And I get that intellectually. But forgive? Forgive has not worked for me. Some acts are just unforgiveable. And he’s dead, so there is nobody to forgive.

Dead or not, I found myself spending a lot of life energy keeping the hell in my imagination fully staffed, and molten hot for one lone inhabitant. I could not let go, replaying the scenario ten thousand times over in my mind trying to work out an alternative to the reality—an increasingly distant history—that would not budge.

Enter meditation practice and some ancient (but new to me) advice about what to do when forgiveness is beyond reach. Over the course of the past four years, I’ve attended retreats and spent many hours cultivating a wiser way.

I discovered that I am far from alone. The more I explored my interior landscape, and the more I heard from teachers, the better I understood the universal nature of this kind of struggle.

The trauma blew a hole in my heart—and I could not come wholeheartedly back to my life without mending the wound. I found out it was not necessary for me to forgive, but rather to wake up to other thoughts and actions that would relieve the pain.

First among them: putting it down. Simply, carefully, putting it down. I do not have to struggle, repress, or resolve anything. Time has passed, things have worked out in quite miraculous ways—some of which I had a hand in, most of which I didn’t. Any time I even begin to think about the pain, I recognize that I can just let it go. If I find myself way down memory lane thinking sad or scary thoughts, I retrace my steps and get on a healthier path of more fruitful thoughts.

No forgiving necessary.

Simply, put it down.

End violence. Start today! Five simple things you can do in 2014.

1. Resolve to be generous with your time and money, but never ever give to charity.

You can practically hear the sinews of humanity ripping apart when we think of people as charity cases. We scroll or stroll by and throw money at them.

If it weren’t for the most microscopic twist of genetics or timing, you might be the one paralyzed from the neck down, or the person sleeping in the doorway.

I know it’s terrifying, but always give to others knowing we’re all in the same lifeboat.

2. Whether you can give time and money or not, be generous with your spirit. For New Year’s, give up pity.

I do not mean sympathy or empathy. I mean pity.

I have only been pitied a few times, but ouch did it sting. I’ve written about having breast cancer, and I’ve had people pity me. There is just nothing worse than having another person not see your whole feisty strong self and only see your disease.

That woman at the shelter? No pity allowed! She deserves justice and respect—not pity. Remember that.

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance. Talk to your kids.

Talk to them. Don’t think about talking to them. Don’t plan to talk to them. Don’t hope that someone else will talk to them. Infant to teen. Maybe especially teens—as hard as they are to approach sometimes. Right? Start (or continue) today.

4. Promote love.

Surprise! I got married. On New Year’s Day. To my sweetie of 27+ years. We could partake of marriage and the multitude of rights it brings because we live in the great state of Washington. Thank you citizenry.

Check out this cool map and see how the face of our nation is being transformed by debate and political action around who can love whom. And listen to this cool podcast with two guys who have been engaged in a multi-year conversation about the merits of love and marriage (skip to minute 27 for the part that convinced me to take the plunge).

And lastly,

5. Help end violence in relationships by ending violence against yourself.

Bring all the negative and cynical self-talk into sharp focus and then kindly and gently let go. Over and over again. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up. Stop beating yourself up about beating yourself up about beating yourself up. And so on, until you start to find it funny. Know that you are not alone. Feeling bad about ourselves seems to be one of our national pastimes. It is hard to be a generous, sympathetic, creative activist if you feel like crap. Take care of yourself for the sheer joy of doing so and enjoy this glorious year of 2014 on this glorious planet earth.

To review: earth

1. Give up charity—seek connection

2. Give up pity—seek connection

3. Do not leave healthy relationships to chance—seek connection

4. Promote equality in love everywhere you can—seek connection

5. Stop beating yourself up—seek connection

Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

Dodging bullets

I’m just talking about me here. My experience. Not what I think happened to you. Or what I think you, or your town, or our nation has experienced on the whole. I’m just talking the highlights of my own life. With guns. And it’s all bad.

Gun #1

Photo by Geraint Rowland
Photo by Geraint Rowland

It’s eerie that I had this post almost done when I caught sight of the picture and story on the front page of the New York Times. This could very well have been about me or one of my siblings in the 1960s. The loaded gun my dad kept in his dresser drawer—artfully hidden a few layers down in his handkerchiefs and boxers—was like a magnet to us kids. We knew we were not supposed to go anywhere near that dresser, never mind the gun. What is it about children’s can’t-stay-away-from-it-because-it-scares-us-so-much? My brother told me he got that gun out and handled it once or twice.

Gun #2

When I was in my mid-20s, several friends and I went through a cowgirl phase. Hats and a six-shooter. We drove out to the Capitol Forest outside of Olympia, with some guns we owned or borrowed, and fired at targets on a hillside. I had some kind of semi-automatic handgun. I was baffled by how hard it was to pull the trigger and the kickback was fierce, but the shocker came when I was lowering the gun. About halfway to the ground, the tiny pressure of my finger on the trigger from the weight of the gun fired it again. I remember feeling like I had a bomb in my hand. “Amateur” you think—but check out this story from Christine Gentry (via This American Life), who was a teenager who knew better.

Gun #3

This is the story of a domestic violence murder-suicide that happened in my immediate family. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write about it. It would be traumatizing to tell, and to read. And in many ways, recounting the details of this particular story is unnecessary because the story has been told over and over again.

Gun #4

This took place ten years ago. My two teenage neighbors poached a deer in the woods by my house. It was out of season, so they confessed to their dad. But they said that they shot the deer in the Capitol Forest (yes, the same). Aw, shucks, Dad. But that was the wrong confession. My next-door neighbor heard the shot, and another neighbor saw one of the boys bloodied from the deer. It was clear they shot it in our neighborhood. I was mad, not about the deer but about them shooting guns near my house. And I was unimpressed by the dad’s response, which seemed to be belief that his naughty boys (wink wink) shot the deer in the Capitol Forest. I called on the phone and asked the boys to come over and talk to me. They came over and sat at my kitchen counter. I said, I know and you know that you shot the deer next door, and I know you’ve duped your family with that Capitol Forest story but it’s not true, so let’s just move on. I love you two and I love all my family and everyone around here who wanders around in the woods. And I would not be able to live with myself if I did not talk to you about NOT shooting guns around here. What if you accidentally shot someone? I would just die if that happened. So don’t shoot guns around my house. Heads hang—okay. Hugs all around. Now go.

Gun #5

And we’re back full circle to my dad’s loaded guns. Fifty years later and these guns were still lying around loaded. He kept one next to his bed. Even as he became blind from macular degeneration, and demented from age and alcohol, he still insisted that he had to have these guns to protect my mom. I knew that if I took them away, he would freak out and might muster enough brain cells to buy another. One day, when my mom had him out for the day, I arranged with a gunsmith to meet me in my garage, where I brought the guns. He disabled them. People always say “oh, he took out the pin,” like there’s a pin. Maybe there’s a pin. I don’t know and I don’t care—what I watched him do was take the guns apart and, with a tiny little rotary saw, cut an internal mechanism so the guns would never fire again. I returned them to where I found them.

The day came when my dad broke my heart, along with his hip, and left his home in an ambulance never to return. He had never noticed that his guns were dead. Which is the best this daughter could do for her beloved mom and dad.

When I really stop and think about it, I realize I’ve been dodging bullets my whole life. How about you? Just for a moment, stop talking about laws and theories and rights. Just stop. Wait. Think about it. Your own experiences—not “I heard about a guy,” or “I saw on the news today…” but what actually happened in your life with the guns around you. Let’s start a conversation there.

Another tough question from my mother

The other day, my mom asked me in a super slow and emphatic way “Are you a practicing Buddhist?

photo by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.it  "Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;  use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are."  His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
photo by Luca Galuzzi – http://www.galuzzi.it
“Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist;
use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Whoa. She didn’t even sound this shocked when I came out to her.

I did a little grimace, suddenly self-conscious. “Well, mom, I wouldn’t say that exactly.” I stammered on “I mean I’m not sure the Buddha would have called himself a Buddhist. He was this guy who just kind of woke up to experience his own life, and went around teaching about it. But I don’t think of it really as, like a religion that I could belong to or anything.”

Though I’ve been studying, and (yes mom) practicing, Buddhist philosophy for four years now, I’ve been loath to talk or write about it.

Until now.

I’m coming out of the closet. Truth is, I think about it all the time. Especially in relation to my work to end violence against women and children.

I think about it in relation to our satirical rape prevention tips post which begins “1) Don’t put drugs into women’s drinks. 2) When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone. 3) If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.” and goes on from there. I find it amazing that this post has been viewed 180,001 times.

I can’t help but think, that of all those people, it is statistically likely that at least a few readers were men who have raped someone. Or who have done other terrible things to women and children.

Back to the Buddha and what his enlightenment might have to do with rapists reading this post. The Buddha was just an ordinary man, who woke up. That’s all. He wasn’t visited by angels. He wasn’t struck by lightning. So I wonder, can these other men wake up?

Could reading a blog post that posits that rapists are responsible for not raping—instead of making women responsible for not getting raped—help these guys realize what they’ve done? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human experience of doing terrible things to others? Could they wake up to the oh-so-human capacity to stop doing those terrible things? Could they make amends by helping other men wake up and stop raping women?

Summer reading

It’s summertime. Bye-bye, I’m heading to the beach.

It is inconceivable to me to go without a book. On my list this year: Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which I borrowed from my library and devoured in a few laugh-out-loud sessions. Truly a funny, poignant tale.

A particularly explosive guffaw of relief flew out of me as Kimmel recalled a violent episode in her childhood home when things could have gone terribly wrong, but didn’t. Her dad did not beat up her mother. She writes:

Mom told me, when I was old enough to ask, that she had learned the lesson from Mom Mary, Dad’s mother, who took her future daughter-in-law aside and told her that a woman has got to make herself absolutely clear, and early on. In Mom Mary’s own case, she waited until she and my grandfather Anthel were just home from their honeymoon, and then sat him down and told him this: “Honey, I know you like to take a drink, and that’s all right, but be forewarned that I ain’t your maid and I ain’t your punching-bag, and if you ever raise your hand to me you’d best kill me. Because otherwise, I’ll wait till you’re asleep; sew you into the bed; and beat you to death with a frying pan.” Until he died, I am told, my grandfather was a gentle man.

It reminded me of Mette’s mom’s theory about ending domestic violence—that women just need to get scarier than men. I asked Mette to ask her mother if it would be okay to share her theory. Her mom replied “Hell, yes. And I might add, I would be happy to teach classes on how to be scarier than anyone!”

In reality, there is nobody less scary than Mette’s mom Cindy. Though I have never given her cause to be fierce with me, I do believe she has that capacity.

And hence to the point. Fierce is different from scary.frying-pan

I mean, I really do not want to be reduced to simply scary—to beating my chest louder and harder than the primate squatting next to me.

But to warn someone off with a metaphorical frying pan—with a “Don’t you dare disrespect or threaten me or our children”—is the essence of the fierceness Cindy could give lessons about.

Historically, we have turned to the police, courts, and prisons—institutions designed to simply scare people—to deal with domestic and sexual violence. It hasn’t worked.

A smattering of people are coming up with different approaches. Ideas for engaging men coming out of prison, using technology so abusive dads can have safe contact with their kids, and creating alternatives for batterers to seek help themselves, before police and courts get involved.

I am feeling very optimistic that we are on the cusp of making an evolutionary leap—from scary to fierce. From having only fear-based approaches that at best impose an unstable peace, to becoming resolutely fierce in defending the foundational worth and dignity of women and children. It’s time.

Today is my birthday

Day one of my 60th swing around the sun. I’m pretty excited about it.

So I hope you will forgive me as I indulge in a brief feminist retrospective of my first six decades. I was thinking about it on my way to work today, specifically about:

SPORTS. Huge progress.

I missed Title IX by only a smidge. This is a great sadness to me. People often mistake me for a coordinated person (and a vegetarian). Sadly, I am neither, but I often think that I would have benefitted enormously from playing full court basketball, hanging in the outfield, diving headfirst, slaloming a steep course, running fast. I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters who joyfully play, experiencing the rough and tumble, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. This is no idle nostalgia or longing. Girls today are healthier, safer, and more self-possessed because they play sports. And it was not an accident. It was not an idea whose time had come. Women fought for and won the right to play.

JOBS. Pretty good progress.

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason - Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows
Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason – Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

In the 1960s, my dad encouraged me to be an oceanographer. I thought he was nuts. I knew my only real options were secretary, nurse, or vampire victim. An enduring love of office supply stores is all that remains of this particular personal legacy, because the women’s movement flung hundreds of doors wide open to us. It’s not all roses. We know that, but oh, what a difference half a century makes.

RAPE. Standing still.

I am sure people are going to disagree with me here, because we have so many laws on the books now about rape. Right? But functionally? How much have things really changed? When I was a young teen, my dad’s lone foray into sex ed was an off-hand warning—something like “once a man gets started, he can’t stop.” Start? Stop? What? I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. But he was very much speaking from fear for his daughter, and the social norms of his day. These norms have not changed in significant enough ways. There may be more talk, but there is also a wider variety of fail. That we have made so little progress in ending rape is the biggest disappointment of my feminist career.

And finally PINK AND BLUE. Going backwards.

Come on now. This is ridiculous. This whole pink and blue genderfication thing is just plain wrong-headed. Two good books make this point. Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. As gender becomes more nuanced, more complex, we get nervous and try to get all binary again. This is not good for girls and women. It’s not good for boys and men. It’s not good for intersex and trans people. It does not help us express our humanity as individuals and it’s not good for our relationships.

Perhaps if I live to be 70, or even 80, I’ll be able to shop for baby presents in all colors of the rainbow. Maybe all genders will give and get consent. Maybe there will be a Madame President. Maybe I’ll get my knees replaced and run a marathon (just kidding).

Bare-naked question

I have a question for you.

Do you think it’s even possible to end violence against women and children?

I’m serious. Is it possible for everyone to have healthy relationships, or is violence against women inevitable?

This is a question I’ve taken to posing recently, because as I approach the end of my long career, I want to know.

Maybe people—you, me, the guy sitting next to you—don’t believe this is possible. When I actually ask people, “Is violence inevitable?” there’s often a long pause. Which is interesting.

Now granted, I’m three decades into doing this domestic violence victim advocacy work, so maybe I’m a little slow here, but it’s only now dawning on me that our current responses to violence in relationships are not getting the job done. Not for lack of trying. Not for lack of big-hearted and dedicated people. Not for lack of laws, money, programs, shelters, and jails. We’ve got all that. What we don’t have is resolve. I think maybe we don’t believe it’s possible.

But pretend, just for kicks, we do all believe we could have healthy relationships. I don’t mean perfect, I don’t mean we don’t argue and have hurt feelings. But relationships that are about love and respect.

Pretend we’re willing to think way outside of all the boxes (institutions) we’ve invented and dream up more effective social controls on sexism and abuse and common sense approaches to fostering health and happiness. Could we even agree on what those would be? And if we did all that, would we succeed?

Idle? Know More!

I’m going to call her Jennifer.

And I’m going to say she was raped last Thursday. Somewhere along the main road that divides Olympia and Lacey. Cops from the two towns arrive and set to arguing about who has to investigate. Then, an FBI agent arrives. More arguing. All three approach Jennifer. They tell her “We need to know the race of the assailant. This is important because, depending on your answer, it’s possible that none of us can help you.”The-Round-House_510x317

Improbable you say? Not so.

Though there is no Jennifer and this rape did not happen in my home town, something similar to this happens every day in Indian Country. This injustice is a national shame.

Dear reader—if you are a citizen of the United States, then your government is standing as an idle and mute witness to the abuse of Native women. We should no longer tolerate “jurisdiction” as the cause and the excuse.

It makes no sense that when a Native woman is raped or brutalized on tribal land by a non-Native man, tribal courts are forbidden from prosecuting him, and federal prosecutors don’t. Fact.

The release of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House could not have been more perfectly timed to wake us up to the profound horror and tragedy of this. This 2012 National Book Award winning novel sang to my heart. Maria Russo writes in her review in the New York Times “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel.”

Read it. But don’t weep!

Be inspired by Idle No More. Check out how this First Nations born movement out of Canada is spilling over into the U.S. and gathering momentum every day. Organized around sovereignty, the movement embraces environmental and social issues. This is very exciting.

And be inspired to act. Right now, we have an historic opportunity to fix the jurisdiction issues on tribal lands. Last year Congress failed to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) specifically because of the protections for Native women included in the bill! VAWA was just reintroduced this year in the Senate. Contact your representatives in Congress, and express your support for Native women in VAWA. Ask them where they stand. If they ignore you, ask them again. If they issue statements that make no sense to you, ask more questions. This is one time and place where those of us who are non-Native can be great allies to Native women. Join and BE idle no more!

The Man of the House

We are nowhere.”

He’s right. John Boehner was talking about the fiscal cliff, but he could very well have been speaking in general. Because Congress is nowhere.

Nowhere on Violence Against Women in Indian Country.

Nowhere on disability rights.

Nowhere on leadership that looks like you and me.

But “nowhere?” Really?

With so much at stake, that’s the best we can do?

Native American women cannot wait for Congress to get somewhere.

“Eighty-eight percent of the abuse against Native women is committed by non-Native men—but we, as citizens of the United States, permit this abuse to go unchecked because we do not allow police officers, prosecutors and judges on tribal lands to perform their legal obligations regarding these non-Native men. In other words we, citizens of the United States, have sanctioned ‘open season against Native American women by non-Native men.’ This is simply unconscionable. Each of us has an opportunity, now, to right this wrong.”

People with disabilities and their advocates cannot wait for Congress to get somewhere. Yet we are forced to endure the mind-numbing word catastrophe that are press releases from senate leadership as they try to explain why they did NOT ratify the UN Disability Treaty. ‘Blah blah blah – the American family – blah blah blah – sovereignty – blah – cliff – blah – going over – blah – be very afraid.’ For the love of God – say something. At least ‘I have no experience of or interest in human suffering’ would be honest.

republican-men

And finally. WHY are we nowhere on the leadership in the House?

Did Congress not learn anything from their insanity, inanity, and insulting ignorance about contraception and rape. IT PISSED US OFF! Representative Boehner – you can’t even find one measly woman to put into leadership??!?   Not even one man of color? Are you quite certain?

I don’t know about you, but I need OUT of nowhere. And  I’m on fire about it.

I’m looking for young women interested in running for public office. Women who want to act to solve problems.

And I’m making it a daily habit to coach, cajole and yes shame if necessary as many of my elected officials as I can. My message? “I need you to reach across whatever aisle you are sitting near to get some serious work done. To do otherwise is unethical and unforgivable.”

They need to hear from each and every one of us. Daily as necessary until they dig themselves out of nowhere. If we don’t have leaders who can do that, it’s just a damned shame. All the way around.