It’s been a more-difficult-than-normal few weeks in the US for many women. Brutal for some. Just about every woman I know has been re-living their sexual assault, remembering their close calls, and/or listening to and comforting friends again who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted in the past and whose trauma runs longer and deeper and wider than herself. So many stories I’ve heard that needed to get out—it shakes me to the core. Of women who have spent their lives arming themselves daily to simply walk down the street. Women who move their own furniture around—in their own homes—attempting to feel safe again. I know women who cannot sleep in their own homes unless a certain number of doors and windows are checked and locked each night, others who cannot sleep in certain kinds of beds or on certain kinds of bedding because they feel unsafe, others who can only sleep in one position because anything else leaves them too vulnerable, and still others who can only sleep if they are the one closest to the bedroom door so that they can quickly escape as needed. Many of these women are 20-, 30-, or 40+ years away from the day the assault or rape happened. And each night they are not far away from it at all. Yet each new day they step into the world to make it a better place for anyone they can.
Wow. Wow. Women are so fucking bad ass as individuals, and as a whole, in the coming years—wow—I’m really glad that I’m not going to be the one still trying to get in our way. We aren’t what you think we are. We are climate change herself. Social justice herself. Change herself.
And then yesterday, after hearing another of these painful stories, I logged into Twitter for a few minutes, because I’m disinclined to look away from our collective pain anymore and I wanted a wider perspective. Not that everybody should do this now, this is just what I did. At some point this year I finally learned to believe my own body when she says that our own pain is almost entirely entwined within each other’s pain and that I can trust myself to step forward to understand our pain as fluidly as I step forward to connect to our joy. That my gallbladder might be hurting this year because so many women in my world are deeply hurting and also aware that we are healing trauma well beyond our own bodies now. I stepped into Twitter because I wanted to hear from an even wider swath of my community—from Muslim and indigenous women and black artists and also writer friends in other states and countries. People who I respect, admire, and love—some close up, as personal confidants, and some from afar whose voices I want to hear and learn with. And one of the first things I found on Twitter was the voice of a pastor who I’ve never heard before—who is also black (fortunately, unlike many other white folks in my country, I am not colorblind). He is also a man and an American. I heard him speak his truth. In a way that I respect and aspire to do myself: loud and proud and fully in-touch with my own community. He said that white women should not be trying to appropriate kneeling at a football game right now to demonstrate their disgust with what is happening in our country with Brett and company. That black men kneeling during the national anthem beside football fields to protest police killing black people with little consequence and rarely, if ever, anything remotely approaching justice—that action should not be co-opted by the #MeToo movement. Appropriation, thy face is white America. I heard that. My family heard that. My ancestors hear it now, too, since they are alive in me.
I happen to agree with him, not that that matters here. I also happen to think that kneeling is the LAST thing I and most of the women in my life want to do this particular week. We want to rage. We want to fight. We want to organize. We want to demand that the WHOLE community help bear this pain of ours instead of only a few of us. Some of us want to burn the patriarchy and white supremacy to the ground and dance together in the gray ashes of a long-dead system that a few people keep trying to bring back to life decades after the corpse turned cold. If you think that means we don’t love men or want men by our sides, that’s your fear talking. Personally, this week, I want to drop the remaining old guard patriarchy to its knees and let IT worry about where to best position its bed, and which sheet set and duvet cover (!) won’t invite rape, and let it count the number of steps from the bed to the door so that IT won’t be assaulted again. Fucking patriarchy. But I digress (thank you rage). My opinion on this particular issue is beside the point here. My point is that instead of responding directly to this eloquent pastor, and trying to match pain for pain and blow for blow during a time when I feel like I’m drowning in the physical and emotional pain of my community, I decided just to listen him instead. Because he isn’t Brett. He isn’t Donald. I’m not in danger from him, and he actually has a perspective that I want to hear. So I decided just to believe that his pain and rage and suffering is every bit as real as mine. That he carries generational trauma that I will never fully understand. That he may be sensitive like I am. He may be infuriated by certain words and people, too. May lash out and say things in anger now and then. Like I do. He may also breathe deeply, think and feel on something for a long time, consult his community, and then know exactly what he wants to say, exactly where, exactly when, and to whom. As it turns out, he was speaking to me. He was letting me see into him. How cool is that? Thank you.
Whoops, this is getting long and I didn’t intend this to be long. Damn. I do have one point here to make. Just one.
My point is about this one human—me. This one human, who happens to be white, happens to identify as a woman, happens to be American, happens to be middle aged, happens to be on the straight end of the spectrum, happens to be short and forgetful of names but never of feelings or places and who is a writer and a poet and a tree-listener by nature. Happens to be an Alzheimer’s care partner for her mom. Happens to be dealing with chronic gallbladder pain this year and thanks to her own pain is now more actively and consciously learning how to heal whole-family trauma and multigenerational trauma via the trees and plants around her, and with women healers across several cultures and countries (because that’s how these healers roll), and who is moving slower than ever at the moment with her own in-pain-daily body…
This ONE person happens to now choose to walk toward the fire, most days, instead of hiding from it. Some days she plays with wild abandon like she did when she was younger. All days? All days now she chooses to listen until she hears the pain or the joy and can feel the connection point—then she speaks. And most people actually listen to her or at least slow down to wonder at this unexpected curiosity.
Some days words fly from this body of mine of their own accord—not all the pain within me belongs to me (I can finally see) and the egos of all my ancestors, including my past selves, no longer aspire to hold the pain of others hostage within this (or any) small frame. My people were wrong about this walling-in-and-walling-off-pain crap. This human is finding her power and her voice beside everyone else now. She sees growth for growth, and it’s rarely pretty in the traditional sense. Wonderful eventually, but often not pretty at all along the way. She’s no longer hurt by words not intended for her—and she can tell the difference between what is intended for her and not intended for her in any given moment. And unlike Brett and company, she doesn’t overreact in situations where overreacting isn’t necessary. Ok, every once in a while she does, but she, at least, is learning. I can read a room now, any size room, and feel the mood of a space. And I know the difference between feeling defensive (and on your own learning edge, right where you need to be most days) and being in actual danger. This human slows the frack down without apology now—in defiance of human fear. She defies her culture of busy-worshipers and ladder climbers and consumers and power grabbers and fear mongers, and her family of work-obsessed, always-preparing-for-winters’ worsters while forgetting to celebrate lifers, and her own too-worried-about-her-individual-productivity self. I defy my colonizer ancestors, including my former selves. I do the work to make it safe enough for love and pain to be in the room. Everybody’s love and pain. Any room I’m in. Even when its online. Even when its inconvenient.
There’s no such thing as inconvenient for people who show up in this world to learn. We, the learners, have all the time in the world. Weapons? Walls? Traditional cabals and dickheads of power? All will fall to time. Women are recognizing that we have it in us to be time herself. And to call upon time and our ancestors and future generations and even the weather to help us. Time’s up, dickheads.
This human is stronger than before. More vulnerable than ever. More connected to life than ever. More humble. Asking for more perspectives than she was taught (and then taught herself) is correct or wise or safe. Seeking to remember what it feels like to be fully welcome and indigenous to this place we love. Learning from those present and those absent. This human steps toward pain, into it, through it, and then back into it as often as is needed—together—whenever she can.
And the weird part is, I’m more in love with life now than I ever have been. Even living with physical pain and family pain and cultural pain on a daily basis. Even as rage and anger become our norm. Even here where not listening to each other, never reading books, assuming the worst of those we’ve never met, and lying for the financial profit of it are acceptable and necessary compromises for so many. Even here where screens have replaced faces and humans are regularly asked to check “I am not a robot.” boxes, and they think nothing of it because they didn’t have time to think about such things again today. Which political party is at fault for our screen obsession and lack of time for thinking, exactly? Am I the only one who thinks this them-or-us political bullshit is a ridiculous position to center our entire lives on?
This human is somehow falling more deeply in love with a remarkably beautiful world and her own deeply fracked-up country.
Why is that?
Why did I find this person, in this place, and at this time? Why did they find me?
If these are your questions, sit with them for a while. Longer than you think you have time for. You are time, or you soon will be.
Thank you for being patient with me. Most people still come to essays for answers and insight. I don’t offer answers or insights. That’s on you.
Artists, I’ve learned, don’t traffic in whys and answers and certainties most days. I center on community some days, friendship other days, family on other days, my work some days, and on the universe herself at least a little bit each day. My currency is wonder, the same as the universe. I speak tree and dog and cat and deer and rabbit. I’m working on speaking whale at the moment, the orca dialect in particular. Wonder cannot be stolen or destroyed from the outside. I’m starting to suspect it can’t be destroyed at all, which is why my fear is ebbing now even as humanity’s fear swells.
Wonder on that for a while if you’d like. The entire world can come crashing down and artists will still create art. Humans are amazing. Given nothing more than dirt and shelled out buildings and shattered dreams, artists still make art. Farmers and cooks and plants still aspire to create food for us. Parents still parent their children, even when their children are stolen from them and placed in tent cities at my country’s southern borders. It’s going to take a whole lot more than this to shake us. We can see. We can speak. We can help. And we can lead from anywhere.
We are being called to make room for the pain of others within ourselves. The pain of a hell of a lot of others and a hell of a lot of generations whose pain is still alive within these bodies. By we here, I mean my community and I, and possibly, you and yours.
Many of us here are still learning to make room for the pain of our selves, let alone others, so we mess this up regularly and we try to do better and keep learning. By us here, I mean me. I am lucky, because I, like many white people, am allowed to mess up regularly at certain things, and at any age, without fear of death. Many people of color aren’t allowed that. Many women aren’t. Many women pay for crossing old or imagined lines with their lives regardless of their color. And many people aren’t allowed to mess up regularly for other reasons: by family, cultural, religious, or corporate customs too. Wow are we humans complicated, interconnected, and, um, totally screwed until we’re all free to move and speak in the world without fear. Like the trees are. Pro tip: when the humans are driving you bat-shit crazy, listen to the trees nearest you.
This is simple, too. We are being called to make room for the pain of all others within our selves. That’s all. We’re being asked to recognize and remember our own internal spaciousness: the spaciousness that we were born with and some of us got to hold onto for quite a while as children. Did you ever cry over a dead bird, bury a dead rodent, or mourn the loss of a bug’s life as a kid? I did. My childhood friend Amy and I created a tiny animal cemetery in the woods near her house to honor those lost lives. Nobody taught us to do that. It’s in our DNA to be that caring, that loving, that fully present. Today, Daniel and I still mourn the loss of neighbor birds and bugs and rabbits and deer. That’s our story, too. That spaciousness, that sensitivity, that is humanity too, and it is still alive and well in the world. Spaciousness doesn’t need to be feared as it grows and expands. I can mourn for just about anyone now. That voice spoke inside me after I listened to Brett’s initially calm but quickly descending into self-centered, whining, and then just flat-out weird for an adult testimony. Can you imagine reaching his age and still thinking that lying under oath is what you have to do for you and your community thrive? Can you imagine being considered for the supreme court of the land while ranting about conspiracies and evil democrats? Yuck. And I don’t defend him. That’s not my job. But there is a tiny part of me that can mourn for him, like I mourned the loss of a big june bug when I was 6 years old, even as I mourn for all the humans who have it much, much worse than him even when they tell the truth. And I mourn for the price women across the US will likely be paying now for years to come.
Many of us have been taught that we don’t have it within us to do this. Many of us still believe that we have to choose anger over mourning, or civility over anger, or peace over chaos, or love above hate, or reason above emotion, no matter the circumstance. People in my community were taught that we can’t hold both and all within us. That we must choose one of the above. For women in my community the only acceptable choices, ever, were mourning, civility, peace, and/or love. Part of me has always known that we can stretch ourselves wide enough to hold multiple perspectives and emotions within us, and still be us. I knew this at 15 and 25 and 35 and 45 and here at 48 I have fully lived that truth.
I believe we do have that spaciousness within us. And by we, here in this moment, I mean you and me. Just you and me.
I used to think that we had it in us to give up on the world. To give up on each other. To give up on ourselves. That I had it in me to throw blame at other people from a distance as a daily practice and to never listen more closely to people remarkably cruel and unlike me. Oh, and to cut people out and wall people off and to never look back, like many of my ancestors did and many people I know still do.
But I don’t now. I can’t give up on you and me anymore.
The world—that big, beautiful, round blue-green ball floating in space—she lives within us now. The whole universe—that rich, dark, wide open and empty space dotted by countless shining stars and planets and unknown objects (who’s that hiding behind Pluto these days?)—she floats within us too. Oceans, rivers, forests, cities, fields, music, poetry, and wild horses running across open plains, they live within us too. We are SAF (spacious as fuck) communities well on our way to becoming SAFE (spacious as fuck earthlings). You and me, at least, we are on the way.
The world, the universe, life herself: they never give up on us. And now, finally, here, at age 48, here with you, neither do I.
On any given day I might be listening or speaking or crying or laughing or walking away from someone for a while or inviting that someone back in or asking for forgiveness or thanking someone for their work in the world or voting or marching or creating an essay or finding a poem or baking a pie and cleaning the litter boxes.
But I never give up on us—on you and me. Not anymore. No matter where we go or how far apart we get. Because I can see that we are always connected by pain and by joy and by far more than that.
Thank you for being here.