Friday, November 10, 2017

Assault in the Age of Woman

When I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted. It is something I never spoke of until this year. l told no one. Not family, not friends, not my husband. I had, in fact, completely shut it out of my mind. Until the rise of Trump.

My friend Diane and I had gone to see a friend's band perform at a club in Quincy Market in Boston. I had a major crush on the bass player and was not going to miss this. It was a Thursday night and we had parked at a garage nearby. It was a beautiful spring night and lots of people were out enjoying the evening.

We had a great night at the pub and left there around 11 since we had to work the next day. We were crossing to the parking garage and chatting about the cute bass player and how Diane thought I had a chance with him. 

Two young men were walking past us when suddenly one of them lurched forward and grabbed my breast with both hands so forcefully that I couldn't breathe. He was uttering some sort of drunken gibberish. Diane started shrieking. The man's friend grabbed his friend off me and apologized profusely. "He's REALLY drunk. I'm so sorry." and quickly led him away.

Diana and I stood there in shock. I had my arms around my chest in pain. Diane asked if we should call the police or maybe go back to the club to get the guys. I said, "I just want to go home." So we walked back to the garage and she drove me home. 

For a week I was in pain and the bruising was horrific. I was still living at home at the time but said nothing to my parents. I wondered if I should go to the hospital. I worried about the long-term physical effects of such an injury. Yet I told no one. 

Women talk about fear and shame when they are sexually assaulted in any way. And this includes verbal assault. We somehow feel that we did something to bring it on. But there's also this feeling that men are in charge of the world and this is the price women must pay to live in it with them. We fear repercussions because of that. Maybe we won't be believed. That our reputations will suffer because this happened to us. TO us often morphs into BECAUSE of us in our heads. Crazy, I know. But men would have to live as women for years to fully understand it.

Diane and I never spoke of it again. She was probably just as traumatized as me. The bruises and pain subsided and I stuffed all the feelings down as best I could. 

For the longest time I thought I must have been an anomaly. It was one of the reasons I didn't share it with anyone. 

Since then I have had a lower opinion of men in general. This is not to say that I am a female chauvinist. There are many many men whom I admire. My husband is one of those men. But, in general, I tend to roll my eyes when men "act up" because I feel that they are more easily swayed by baser instincts. I did not feel that way before that Thursday night in Boston. 

Earlier this year I was having a discussion with my husband about how Trump's openly attacking women both physically and verbally has stirred up a lot of old memories for women like me. At the time, I thought it was a bad thing. That women were suffering in droves because of the specter of sexual assault around every corner not to mention its normalization by the man in charge of the country. 

Initially I think that women like me did have some PTSD moments. We try hard to assimilate, show our strength, and compete with men in areas such as careers. Underneath it all, however, are memories like mine. 

Most women I know and admire don't take marginalization for long. We fight for ourselves, our families, and other women. So it is not surprising to me that women's trauma has turned to action. There have been too many Thursday nights in Boston for all of us. We are done.

A year ago, when Trump was elected, I was dejected and had very little hope. I was talking to my minister who was probably even more dejected than me. In the end, I told her that maybe this was what the country needed. A kick in the pants. We had become too complacent as a society. We needed to open all the wounds in order to heal them once and for all. 

I'm still not sure where all of this is going for women or the country. I was approached by a woman after the election who was working with others to recruit women to run for office. Because of my health, I had to decline. But there were many women who did accept the challenge. And that gives me great hope for the future. 

If there is a lesson in here for men (and I hope there is) it would be to talk to other men. Have they been that young man in Boston that Thursday night? Do they understand how invasive this is? Have they talked to their female family members and friends to see if they have stories to tell? 

If so, listen and share. These wounds will not heal if they remain covered.




Saturday, October 28, 2017

Winners and Losers

I've been thinking of the Yankees’ firing of Joe Girardi. I was really surprised by that news not just because I think he is a great baseball manager but because it feels like our culture has become one of winners and losers with nothing in between. 

You only need to look as far as the White House for this cultural shift. How many times has Trump used the terms “winning” and “losers” not just in his campaign speeches but in his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks. 

Our social media perpetuates this culture with the one-upmanship of sharing our stories of whatever we’re winning at that particular day. It’s good to share. I’m a sharer by nature. I just wonder if people who don’t share are holding back because they feel that they can’t compete. Like if their day isn't as “winning” as others, they therefore must be losers.

The sports fans are this culture to the n’th degree. Boston has become this way particularly with the many titles from all of our local pro teams in the recent past. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect teams we patronize to perform at their best, but we also wrap ourselves up in their winning and losing as if their loss makes us losers too. And their winning, though we've really had very little to contribute, makes us champions as well.

This may be my over-thinking of a simple change in baseball management. But my concern is that we feel that by not grabbing the top prize we somehow have something to be ashamed of. And no one would value us if we don't produce that level of success consistently.

We live in a very competitive country. The pressure we put on ourselves, our employees, and even sometimes our children has created a national anxiety that is palpable. The origins of this competitiveness is an entire book in itself and one that I think should be written. I think it's bundled with our original fight for independence but has now morphed into our need to maintain global domination and be perceived as the greatest country on earth.

The national culture is found in everything from the arts to corporate expectations to governing dynamics. We can't escape it. 

It makes me sad to think that the foundation of our society is slowly focusing more on who wins than who contributes. It takes each of us with our own unique gifts to move the world in a direction of kindness and self-sustainability. We can't all be superstars or leaders. To start, we can recognize that personal value shouldn't be based on the number of checks in a win column created by someone else.

We win in many different ways all day long. For me, just getting out of bed with my illness is a huge win. For others juggling work, child-raising, and paying bills on time is a win.

I would hate to see us lose sight of the ability of all of us to be winners in our own way.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Of Lipstick and Liberals

MAC lipstick. My favorite brand.
I started getting into lipstick in the past two years because of a young friend who is really into it. I never thought it was something I looked good wearing and bristled at the brightness of the color on my face. 

But my friend Laura kept encouraging the practice by giving me lipstick samples, taking me on lipstick shopping trips, and discussing the different types of lipstick. It was all foreign to me but I started to embrace it. Now I never leave the house without even the most muted color on my lips - just as my mom did her whole adult life.

It's been a tough few months to be a liberal. The constant negativity in the news about the GOP's efforts to shut down civil rights, animal rights, and earth-centered policies is so against my core values. I have lost a lot of sleep while catastrophizing the next four years. 

My friend Susan told me recently that I need to keep writing and I realize that writing helps me put things in perspective. And maybe it helps others do the same. I find when I write that I don't catastrophize. Instead I find the inner pearl of wisdom that gets me to see the lesson in all of this. 

Today when I got out of bed, I do what I always do - check social media to see what's going on in the world (mine and the country's). It was filled with the usual button-pushing headlines. Comedians I follow try to find the humor in the absurdity of this presidency. That helps. Some. 

My mind shifted to my day. What did I have to do when I arose? As if by habit, my mind went to what I needed to do: answer emails, clean the house, do some laundry. It took me a few minutes to remember that I'm going out with a gang of friends tonight (we call ourselves The Usual Suspects) that bring me great joy.

I started thinking about what I would wear since we are going to a gourmet restaurant and jeans just won't do it. I mentally picked out my outift and then my mind turned to what lipstick I would wear because now I have a fairly large selection of colors and finishes to choose from (thank you, friend Laura). 

As a person who cares about the world, I think I often get lost in its troubles.  The earth's troubles become mine to the point of forgetting that I'm part of the universe too. What good does it do if I forego my life as penance for the misguidedness of others? How much of myself do I have to lose in an attempt to compensate for greater societal losses?

And, more importantly, will it change anything?

I have my coping strategies to get through what I feel is a downturn in my country's future. One of them is humor, one is listening to uplifting music especially the Hamilton soundtrack which reminds me that this country is resilient, another is helping those who suffer on a one-to-one level. These add brightness to a world that sometimes feels colorless. 

Kind of like lipstick. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Calling

My pastoral care stoll
I'm not one for making New Year's resolutions. I always figured that if I wanted to start something new, I shouldn't wait for a calendar change. 

One of the changes I made in 2016 was to accept an invitation from my minister to join her Pastoral Care Team. She asked me three years before but I was not in a place to help anyone after caretaking for aging parents for a few years.

The truth is I learned a lot from others who held me while I did that caretaking. But it took me some time to recognize those lessons in myself. I was (and, sometimes, still am) engulfed in the negativity from the experience. I needed to care for me for once and not worry about others.

As I came out of the self-involvement of trauma and grief, I started to see how those who supported me maybe needed some support too. 

There were a couple of church friends who were going through difficult times in their lives with the loss of loved ones. I was there for them as much as I could and tried to carry some of the weight. When discussing the pastoral care invitation with our intern minister she told me, "Kathy, you already are on the team. At least come to the meetings for the support."

I felt completely unqualified to do the work of pastoral care. What if I screw up and say something that makes things worse for someone? Who am I to walk someone through emotional difficulty?

My minister ran a training session for the team and I read a book she provided. I learned that it's not so much about talking as it is listening. It's not walking for but walking with. I remembered that most of what I needed for myself in those years of caretaking was a sympathetic ear and for someone to validate the misery I was in. No one could fix the situation and I bristled when someone suggested they could with overly simplified solutions.

This pastoral work is something that I found calls to me in a way that other volunteer work never could. When speaking to someone who is in crisis, I find an inner calm instead of anxiety which I expected at first. I'm not sure where that comes from and why it changed. Maybe it's because I have matured after the losses in my life. Or maybe it's because of the mentoring and support I receive from the ministry of our church and other team members. 

But I think some of it comes from the honor I felt as I was blessed by the congregation when given the stoll I now wear at church services. It was a moment of clarity for me. That this was real and important. That I am trusted by others to walk with them during the worst parts of their lives. 

If my health were better I would pursue a chaplaincy degree. Even at this late stage in my career life. 

And so though it's not something I can do full-time I will try to learn as much as I can from my ministers and team members. They are my role models and inspiration.

And when I wear my stoll or sit with those who grieve, I will remember that not everything in life is planned. That love and grief go hand in hand. That listening is more important than talking. And what a gift it is to be trusted with all of it.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

First Principle and Politics

This is a chalice lighting I did for my Unitarian Universalist church today. I've been asked to share it.



I've been watching sadly but with interest the amount of anger and vitriolic language going on in social media spheres. I had my moments in the week after the election to do some of that same venting. It’s a stage of grief - anger. But anyone who has been through grief counseling knows that it isn’t and shouldn’t be the emotion we get stuck in when suffering a loss which, I believe, this election is for most of us.

We chose one tenet of our Unitarian Universalist values to be first among seven life-guiding principles. We even have shorthand for it — “The first principle”. We all know it by heart and don’t even have to look at our cheat sheets to say it. “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” 

It is indeed important.

In the Coming of Age program with our high schoolers, we take a trip to Target to buy and then package as holiday gifts items prisoners in Concord need. We talk to the youth about our first principle at length. How we need to reach out to those who we might not understand and whose actions we disagree with but who have inherent worth and dignity nonetheless. When we say “Every” person, we mean “Every. Person.”

I wonder then, If we can do this with convicted criminals, why can’t we have this same attitude with those who vote differently from us?

We show great respect to those who we feel need our help and sympathy, and to those who share our values but not so much with those we disagree with on politics. We dismiss them. We shut them down. We lecture. We judge. 

These are our neighbors I’m talking about not the politicians. People who live and work in the same community as us. Whose kids sit in classrooms with our kids. Who help friends and family in need. Who volunteer in their towns. Who lie awake at night worrying about making the rent or the mortgage. Whose parents age and fail and whose hearts are as broken as ours when their loved ones die. 

I feel that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely qualified and experienced to lead a respectful discussion of differences because of our first principle. It is what is needed most in this atmosphere of anger and fear.

This does not mean that we accept actions of prejudice, misogyny, religious persecution, homophobia, and inhumane treatment of the poor and the handicapped. 

But we are never going to understand why our neighbors feel the way they do and what compels them to vote different from us if we keep yelling at them. This only creates more of the Us/Them mentality that is destroying the country both liberals AND conservatives love so much.

I’ve always believed that we can change the world one person at a time by forming relationships of mutual respect and open conversation with people in our lives. I’m not saying it’s always easy. It isn’t. I have tried and failed with an extended family member.

We have work to do after this election but we also have lessons to learn. We have to stand up to injustice and hateful actions. Our principles matter. But we also have to have respectful conversations with those who are not in agreement with our political dreams for the country. Only then can we begin to close the widening chasm. 

The Pollard library in downtown Lowell is hosting a discussion on Saturday at 9:30am about how to start these conversations. If you’d like to join me, please reach out.

I light the chalice today for the work we have ahead of us and our first principle that will light our way.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Stars, Stripes, and Collisions

I put my flag up today. Something my husband and I only do on Memorial Day and Independence Day. 

It started with a conversation with a friend yesterday who said that she can't fly her American flag or she would be accused of voting for Trump. 

I've noticed in the past few years (specifically post-9/11) that conservatives have somehow embraced the symbol of our country more than liberals. It seems that every time I see a flag waving from a pickup truck, the bumper has a Trump sticker and/or some anti-liberal sentiment.

When I spoke with a relative today, he was very distraught about the fate of our country under not only Trump but also his cohorts and ultra-conservative Republicans like Paul Ryan whose goal is to privatize Social Security. 

It's been a long election cycle. I'm glad it's over. However, the anxiety and fear that has been rampant during the election has escalated and turned into catastrophic thinking. My husband reminded me of 1972 when MA was the only state to vote against Nixon. MA Dems were convinced that Nixon would pave the entire state over in retaliation. Well, we know how Nixon's story ended.

My propensity for anxiety and panic forces me to choose another path or I will certainly suffer for it physically. So I work to find a way to find balance in my thoughts.

My love for astrophysics has helped me see that the universe seeks balance. It is how it not just survives but continues to expand. Sometimes stars implode but they create more stars from that radical shift, and on and on it goes. Augusten Burroughs writes, "Inside every single thing that lives is a debt to a distant star that died. Nothing new is ever created without one thing colliding into another."

We not only have to have faith that balance will ultimately happen but that something new will come from it. And for something new to be created, we must work for it. No one ever accomplished anything worthwhile without work. 

There is work to be done in our country. Work to ensure that the Constitution is upheld. That the marginalized are not harmed by changes in policy. That our voices are heard. That this collision creates new stars. 

I do what I can to help my country and those in it. I have been an election officer in my town and worked every election no matter how small since 2004. I have been a member of three non-profit boards that promote animal rights and land conservation. I work with youth to encourage free thinking and social justice. I serve on the Pastoral Care team at my church to help those who are struggling. And I do a lot let less than others I know. 

We need to get out of our electronic devices and start putting our hands and hearts to good work. There is so much to do and, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." Let's start there and with our good intentions we will make change in our communities. Even if it doesn't change the nation, we can say we have done all that we can do. 

I can't fix this divided nation. But I love it anyway. With all its broken pieces and people. They are my neighbors, my family and my friends. 

So fly the flag proudly and if anyone makes assumptions then consider it an opportunity for dialogue. And those stars on the flag? Let them collide.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On Election Day

As I head out in an hour to work the polls for my town, I ready myself by focusing on the voting process. I reread instructions that I need as a precinct clerk to ensure that all anomalies are logged and every voter has their right to vote protected by me through our laws. I rest in order to prepare for a long night of processing all the paperwork after the polls close. I am expecting to be there as late as 11 due to write-ins and the pure volume of ballots.

When I get dressed, I dress in neutral colors so I don’t appear to be biased in any way. I wear comfortable shoes because I will be on my feet for at least 7 hours straight. I also dress my mind and attitude. This is a great country with a democratic process that works even though some folks would say otherwise. I love my country and I wish that all those who vote in my precinct today will see that all of the election officers are there for them and the process that keeps voting fair and legal. We may have strong feelings about certain candidates and issues but we check those at the door when we arrive to work. 

I place any qualms about safety and emotionally-charged voters in the hands of the police officers present and the universe. 

I’ll take a deep breath as I always do before entering the polling place and thank my lucky stars for being born in a country that allows people’s voices to be heard. 

And then I’ll get to work.