these awful #MeToo days

A few months ago, something came to mind I hadn’t thought about much in a good while. A Not Nice Thing. A thing that happened to me when I was a girl, about the age my little girl is now. And I realised something then, something that had never occurred to me before.

It wasn’t my fault.

This was a pretty big realisation for me. And I was helped immensely by an acquaintance who posted on his facebook wall, at the height of the #MeToo movement, ‘I believe you.’ I cried when I saw that post, relieved and grateful.

But now I sometimes wish the whole world hadn’t risen up in support of sexual assault survivors. Not because it isn’t a good thing for men to believe women. That is a good thing. It’s just that it would be a lot better thing if I weren’t one of Those Women.

I had those Bad Experiences (three very bad experiences) all packaged up in the box labelled, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself.’ My fault, I have to live with the consequences: hurt and shame. Somehow that was easier. It was painful, sure, but it was tidy. I did stupid things, and I suffered as a result. Very, very neat.

Now the news, twitter, and facebook all keep throwing things at me, things that take my little snow-globe of a life and shake it. Hard. And all that hurt and I-don’t-know-what starts swirling around again, and I am in a blizzard. A white-out of anger and pain and feelings I can’t put a name to.

This was 30 years ago, I think to myself. And here it feels like it was only yesterday. I see images of Dr Blasey Ford, and I wonder what I would do if Tony Bell or Brian Kehe were nominated to the Supreme Court. Yes, those are real names, and Brian did want to be a lawyer. I don’t know if he did…we sort of lost touch after That Night. I can’t even imagine how I would feel, much less what I would do. I doubt I would have the courage to come forward, even though I was stone cold sober on both occasions and remember exactly where and about when these awful incidents took place.

After long weeks of wandering in decades-old memory, I finally came to a realisation. Although these things happened all those years ago, I didn’t know what to call them. I didn’t know, really, what had happened to me. Now, I interpret those experiences differently: I was in the wrong place, yes. I chose to be with the wrong guys at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. But that doesn’t mean I deserved what happened to me.

And that is not as easy a realisation to come to as you might think. Because years ago I was stupid, and I let those things happen to me. I was asking for it, and I got what was coming to me. It was all my own fault. Nice, self-enclosed system. Calling those experiences ‘sexual assault’ blows the idyllic snow-globe picture to smithereens. I have to accept a new identity, in a way. Although I was assaulted a long, long time ago, I have only just become ‘a survivor of sexual assault’. So, in a sense, it is like it just happened.

But there isn’t anyone to tell, really. No justice will be done. It’s all just been stirred up again to no particularly good effect. Actually, it’s been stirred up to a bad effect: my family are all watching a film, and I’m sitting here, because of the white-out. I can’t see the TV.

I’ll tell you what, though. I finally understand why nobody who was around when I was a small girl wanted to tell my father. (He had been two states away at the time.) I thought it was to protect me–after all, I was told I ought to be ashamed of myself. My father would have been angry, true. But I lived for 40 years under the false impression that he would have been angry at ME. No. I realize the truth now, as the parent of a small girl. Nobody wanted to tell my dad because they were afraid he might shoot the guy. But because I thought I’d be in big trouble, I didn’t say anything. Not when I was a child, and not when I was a teenager.

And I grieve, because I wonder how things might have been different for me if I had been comforted rather than blamed. At the end of the day, I have to be grateful for #MeToo, no matter how much it hurts to have all my memories shaken up and set down in a different light. It’s too late for me: I’ll never know how things might have been.

Sorry, no happy ending this time. Sometimes there just isn’t one.

 

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What my three-year-old taught me about the body’s grace

You know that essay, the famous one by Rowan Williams, 'The Body's Grace.' He wrote it in 1989 and it was first delivered as the 10th Michael Harding memorial address. Then it appeared as a pamphlet, and was reproduced in volumes of essays edited by Charles Hefling and Eugene Rogers. I distinctly remember where I was the first time I read it: in my carrel in the basement of the theology library at Duke. “…that God desires us as God desires God…” Really?
 
At the time, I could not conceive of it. Of course it was appealing, mind-boggling, and changed the way I thought about sex and sexual relationships. When I married Lewis three years later, the light had begun to dawn. Although I had written off the idea of falling in love, and having that be a real thing, not just infatuation, or something that happens in movies (they say 'happily ever after,' but you don't get to see what that looks like), I had to admit that there might be something to it. (I said as much at our wedding reception.)
 
But I still had no idea, really, about this grace. Still, and I think this is the case in Rowan's amazing essay, it was about the sexual meaning of the body. The enjoyment and desire remained in a sexual register. Yet what I learned as I had children was that there is something else–not to say more–that is graced, and grace-filled, about the body. I remember saying to a friend when my first-born was still very small that it was very sensual but not at all sexual.
 
This is hardly surprising, and is probably the testimony of mothers from the beginning of time. I love having children, and I am especially fond of babies. When my son, who is now seven, was three, though, I learned a more significant lesson. One morning I was dressing, and he came into the bedroom. His eyes lit up when he saw me. Now I wasn't keen on what I looked like without too many clothes on, but he was obviously delighted with me. To be close and to touch my skin was a great pleasure for him. It was as if he appreciated the skin, the body, of this person whose body had borne him and fed him (until he was two-and-a-half!), not because of its objective beauty or potential for giving “joy”, as Williams says. No, the skin and the body were desirable because they were mine.
 
I had always had trouble with “God desiring us” because the context in which it was set was so sexual. Sure, sex is good, but it isn't everything. Something about the way my son responded to me (and not just on that one occasion, but for many months) broadened my understanding of the body's grace. Desire comes in lots of forms, and intimacy has many dimensions. I always knew that, sort of, but it has become much more real for me as I have been a mother. My son has a little sister, who, at two-and-a-half, is very much the same way–she likes to curl up next to me on the sofa (or anywhere, really) with her head resting on my bare stomach. If she's in the room with me when I am dressing, it always takes longer. There is a deep mutual affection and intimacy that characterises my relationship with my children, and it is not remotely sexual but equally profound. And I find it much more powerful, actually, to think that God desires us, fragile and fallen human beings, as I desire my children, and–even more–as my children desire me. Their pleasure and uncritical joy in my body has taught me more about the body's grace than anything else I have ever encountered.
 
I was reminded of all this by a video I saw–what our kids see when they see us. As a mother, I felt the same way as those interviewed: I wish I were more patient, attentive and calm. But what the kids said (really, the video is worth watching) brought back to me this truth about the body's grace. And it put into words what my children have said with their gestures and expressions and touch.
 
Is that the way it is with God? Is that what mercy means? Is it my children's uncritical joy that erupts in heaven over the repentant sinner?
 
I sure hope so.