Thursday, October 2, 2014

On kindness, big love, and showing up

Remember when I posted about going to General Assembly?  Something I particularly remember was someone talking about how Unitarian Universalists are the people who show up.  Need something done?  We'll be there.  Need a group to gather to protest, or join in solidarity, or celebrate, or bear witness?  We're there.  An inherent part of our faith (if I can say that...part of MY faith for sure) is to strive to truly live our values.  I strive to really live and act and stand behind and rebel against those things I believe our values say we should live and act and stand behind and rebel against.  Not just when it's convenient.  Not just when someone else organizes a project...but to live it, inherently, as part of who I am in my daily life.  I remember one of the many fantastic people who spoke as saying, "We are the people who show up," and I remember thinking to myself, "if I went down in history, or in people's memories, as someone who showed up, I would have lived a meaningful life."

(If you haven't read the last several posts, you may want to catch up first...start here). 

As a woman, and particularly as a woman who has been sexually assaulted, safety is never a "given."  When your experience has been denied, and your requests for protection have been repeatedly shot down, you learn that safety is a privilege and not a right.  What I learned four years ago was not to trust myself, my instincts, or my body.  I learned over and over again that security can and will be denied.  And I learned that, if I tried to assert myself and fight for my right to safety, I would only ever be hurt.  

However, I also learned to stand in that incredibly hurt and vulnerable place.  I learned to fight back.  I learned how to find my voice -- and I did, over, and over, and over again.

Perhaps the biggest thing I learned, though, was that I was completely alone.  No one wants to stand with the person who has been ostracized.  Who would want to put themselves in that incredibly vulnerable place?  Very quickly, I became good at not asking.  Very quickly, I became good at standing alone.  

I learned that people don't show up.  Even when they say they will.  Even when you ask them.  They don't show up. 

Trust is something I still, clearly, struggle with.  Believing I am deserving of safety and security is something I have to work to truly believe.  The incident of the Creepy Union Rep and the Negligent Security went about like I expected.  Even to approach the issue was hard.  It took having a community behind me to even begin approach it.  When Security told me "no, we can't meet your requests," I was ready to let it go.  I already knew the end of the story, I thought.  My bones are still tired from the last ending I tried, and tried, and tried to re-write.  

But there were differences.  Friends sent messages to follow-up.  They asked in person.  They gave hugs, and they wanted to make sure I knew -- like really knew -- that I SHOULD be helped.  Not just that I "deserve" it (as if I had somehow earned it), but that safety is just something that I SHOULD have, and that negligence or denial of my requests was decidedly not acceptable. 

It was...weird.  It was kind of...uncomfortable, almost.  People, it seemed, were behind me.  Like really behind me.  Not just a couple miles out.  Not just shouting distance.  They were standing with me, and were close enough to touch.

Tuesday morning, I was not a happy person.  I dreaded the thought of calling security: people don't show up, remember?  Even when they're supposed to.  Even when they're right there.  Even when they should.  I had promised myself that I would call them, and I was going to spend the day psyching myself up to do just that.  I got up early and finished some paperwork at home, walked the dog, cleaned up a bit, and left for work around 8:15.  I was enjoying my drive into the city and practicing my songs for choir when somewhere on I-95, in the middle of Handel's "For the Glory of the Lord" my phone binged.  Facebook message.  I glanced down at the message -- from a church friend.  Wonder what that's about, I said in the middle of one of the long strings of running notes I have yet to master.  I looked back at the road, then back down at the message to read the beginning of the message that popped up on the phone's lock screen.  "A couple of us have been talking and we'd like to come..."  

...and I knew -- or thought I knew -- what it was going to say.  My eyes instantly filled with tears, and I did the only thing I could do in that moment.  I took a deep breath to slow down my thoughts and my heart rate.  I looked back up at the traffic.  I turned up Handel.  And I told myself that I was wrong.  That's ridiculous.  There's no way.  Absolutely no way.  Don't be stupid.  You're SO wrong.

When I finally made it into the city, and to my office, I closed the door.  I took a breath.  I opened the message.  And I cried.

She wasn't offering vague promises of violence (which primarily appear in the "hey, I'll come beat up that dude for you if you call me" variety).  She wasn't just saying, "call me anytime" as a promise of future support for when I might REALLY need it.  

She was saying, "I want to be there.  We want to be there.  Please tell me where to go so we can be there for you."  She was offering to stand with me, because my safety mattered.  It mattered to her.  It mattered enough that she was willing to get others in on it.  It mattered enough that others were willing to be in on it.  It mattered enough that she was willing to drive to walk me to my car.  My safety...the safety that didn't matter to Security now.  The safety that didn't matter to the dean, or my advisor, or to my colleagues or my cohort four years ago.  My safety mattered enough that she wanted to stand with me.  She was asking if they could show up.

And I told her no, and I told her she doesn't have to, and I told her I was a snotty mess in my office, and I told her thank you, and thank you, and thank you.

And she said "pfffft."  They were going to show up anyway.

Somewhere between 9:30am and 6:30pm, I had convinced myself: she said they would show up...but they wouldn't.  Really.  Something would happen...they weren't really going to actually show up.  I felt guilty: what if I've just been making a big deal out of nothing?  What if they drive all the way out here, look around, and say, "oh this?  Ha!  You're fine."  What if they told me they were coming...and then they didn't?  What then?

So sitting in the stand-still traffic on 695 (shhh...don't tell), I sent a message giving them an out: "you don't REALLY have to show up.  I feel bad making you drive out's silly."

And she said "pffffft."  And she said that they DIDN'T have to do it, but that they wanted to. 

And they showed up anyway.

I'm not kidding.  They literally showed up anyway, at 9:30 at night, like it was just something people do.  They walked with me to my car, and absolutely nothing happened.  The Creepy Union Rep did not show up.  No one was hiding in the bushes.  No one followed us.  ...but they didn't think I was crazy.  They agreed that it was dark.  That there was no security presence.  That it was unpopulated.  That there were lots of dark recesses for people to hide if they wanted.  That my requests should have been able to have been met.  My body was not wrong.  She was not mixed up, or tricking me, or lying.  And, for once, I didn't feel quite so broken.

There is so much power in standing with a person.  There is so much power in showing up.

My heart does not even know how to process and understand the amount of love that has been shown in these actions.  Even now, after all this writing, words are failing me as I try to convey the enormity of this experience.  The only thing I can say is that, for the past 4 years, as hard as I tried to believe that love is always bigger than anything else, I couldn't.  I still believed that there could never be an act of love or kindness that would be as large as the hurt I had experienced. 

I know now that I was wrong.  There is love, and kindness, and there are acts of solidarity that can warm even the most desolate areas of our soul.  I don't believe in a God...but when I think about the magnitude of this kindness and love, god is the only word I can find that is big enough to fit.   

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