Monday, June 13, 2016

On being a queer woman in 2016

Being a queer woman in 2016 feels
like mourning.
From where I live, the air smells like violence,
water tastes like misogyny,
homophobia rings the air.

Brock Turner: six months in jail –
a white-washed wrong that presents itself
every time I open my newsfeed like
picking at a wound.
of facts I would rather forget as
my history
intersects with headlines of injustice and everyone
has an opinion about his

A client’s mother says she
doesn’t want those people around her son.
My supervisor tells me the higher-ups are
Republican, urges me to stay
hidden, in case
the newspaper were to find out
some therapists can also be gay.
A client’s father finds him laying
with another boy.
He beats them both with belts
and fists,
my client tells me he is never getting married
and definitely not to a boy.
He is 7
and my heart breaks

Being a lesbian in 2016 means
coming out, slowly, and then
all at once, but not
to my family, it means
seeing the closet with its
splintering, raw edges and
low ceilings it is
too small for the way
I need to move to embrace myself,
it means finally
meeting all of me, it means –

--50 people dead and I
want to call my mother.
An almost instinctual urge that can never be
trained away,
I want to pour this grief like lava:
let it spill
out of me like the blood of solidarity, of
it could have been me, of
rage like
I don’t know how to contain this, so
I want to call my mother. 
Want to tell her I’m safe – this time,
want her to know this fear
anger installing itself
deeper into my bones.
It wears into me like rivers erode their banks;
waves come and carry
away pieces of body, leaving
nothing but my woman-loving
female frame as I
sit on the waiting list
for violence
convincing myself I am worth
more as I live with a heart labeled:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Witnessing the World

After going to Haiti, I struggled to name the feeling of both blessing and burden that is witnessing suffering.   While there, and after I came home, I wrestled with what to do with the knowledge I had obtained of the suffering in the world.  The suffering of the world and her people became real to me in ways it just cannot if you do not witness it.  When I came home, I wrote:
“I don’t have children, but the analogy that keeps coming to mind is that it feels like the difference between knowing that babies cry and hearing your baby cry.
I knew the world was crying.  Now, it is my world that is crying.  This world – the one that I live in – with you, right here, right now, this world is crying.  Our world.”

And that is what I mean by witnessing.  I mean that the experience, the pain, the suffering – it is no longer something that just happens to people somewhere.  It is no longer something that happens to others.  It is a deep, profound, abiding knowledge and acknowledgment that this thing is part of my world.  Witnessing is not only letting the experience into your vision, but also letting it into your heart so it becomes part of you.  Witnessing allows that thing to change you – perhaps only for a second, but you feel a shift and you know: there is part of you that will never be the same.  It is painful.  It is not easy.  It is worth it. 

This week, I have been wading through two children’s stories – their actively lived, current realities – that broke something inside of me.  I know I’m young and haven’t practiced that long yet, but these stories both fell in my Top 5 Worst Things.  And let me tell you: it takes a lot to get to my Top 5 Worst Things.

This week, I met with a child here from another country who has had no intervention: no education, no therapy, no interaction with other children.  She is rarely to never taken out of her home (she does not go to school).  She rarely even comes out of her bedroom.  She has no functional skills, no communication, no play skills.  She has severe behaviors.  And somehow, from the other side of the world, she ended up in my office.

So I did all of the things I know how to do: I got my favorite interpreter and I explained everything slowly and carefully to parents with such limited understanding.  I did a functional behavior assessment.  I emailed teams of people to rally their support and expertise.  I sent them to the severe behavior unit.  And soon, they will go back home to the other side of the world.  Soon, they will be back in a culture with no understanding of their child’s needs.  Soon, they will be back in a culture where it is expected that a child like my client will be kept hidden and locked away.  Soon, they will be back in a place where she has no access to intervention, education, stimulation.  They will return to a place where this is just the way of life.   

My job?  My job is to let them go.

This week, I had a child in elementary school for whom violence, and instability, and trauma are part of his daily existence, look in my face and ask me if I could help him stop getting beaten at home.  Can you tell them to stop beating me?” he asked.  Can you tell them not to beat kids?”
Damn, y’all.  I would give a part of my body to be able to say to that small human, “yes.  Yes of course.  Of course I will keep you safe.  Of course I will make sure you are loved for the miracle you are.  Of course I will protect you, and I will make sure that everyone in your life knows that you are to be loved, and seen, and heard, and protected from harm.”
But I couldn’t say that, because what that child needs is honesty, and he doesn’t need some sensitive, big-hearted therapist making big promises she can’t deliver.  If has that much strength, and perseverance, and fight in that tiny frame that he can look at me, a theoretically helpful stranger, and ask that question – he deserves my honesty. 
“Can you tell them not to beat kids?” he asked.  I took a breath.  I grounded my feet on the floor and felt my body in the room with him and I knew that the most I could honestly say to that child was, “I know things are so hard for you.  I am going to try really hard to help you and your family.  Thank you for being brave and telling me how hard things are.  You are brave and strong.  I am proud of you for being so brave.  It is so important that you tell other adults when you get hurt.”  And then I called Child Protective Services and talked to workers in an overworked, underpaid, stressed and hurting agency in a stressed and hurting city.  And then I talked with the child’s caregivers.  And then I called every other agency I could think of, and I referred them to all the places I could. 
And then they left my office.  Now, having done all I can do, my job is to find a way to let them go.
I used to feel this pressure that I had to have all the answers and fix all of the broken.  As I get older and supposedly wiser and more skilled, I am able to turn that pressure down.  I am one person.  I have no magic wand.  I can call other fallible humans working within broken systems trying to change equally broken lives.  I can make recommendations and say things that I have learned and that I believe in my heart are right.  I cannot make change happen.  I can provide the car, and the gas, and point them in another direction – but I can never drive.

Mostly, I don’t want to drive.  Mostly, I just want to point out the sunshine, and the landmarks along the way, and to show them how very far they have driven.  Mostly, I want to remind them to stop and get gas, and to change the oil, and I want to be there when it rains and when the transmission breaks.  Mostly, I want to show them how very amazing they are for driving so safely all this way.

But here is what I hope is remembered: I want to be remembered as someone who truly witnessed their lives.  I want them to know the ways that the gates of my heart swung open to allow them to enter.  I want them to feel the ways that they changed me.  I want them to know that it mattered to me that we spent those few hours together.  Because it did matter.  When I witness the world in this way, I can expand my heart to hold pain and promise that I never knew existed.

When I teach mindfulness, I often use this meditation: “Whatever it is, it is already here.  Let me feel it.”  I love this meditation particularly because I think many of us fight and struggle against those emotions and stories we hold, thinking that if we fight them they will go away.  That if we do not name them, if we do not face them, if we do not bring them to the light, they will cease to exist.  But there is no reason to fight: whatever terrors lie beneath the surface, they are our terrors.  We are already living with them.  We might as well name them, bring them out, and offer them a sandwich.  Why not make friends with those most difficult and painful pieces of ourselves?
This is how I feel about the world.  When I can see, and feel, and name the injustice, the suffering, the beautiful, the magic, and the pain, then I can be fully human.  When I can be witness to the racism, sexism, homophobia, pain, oppression, and violence, I am only allowing myself to name and be present with what is already here.  By doing this, I am allowing myself to enter fully into the world.   
 I’m not going to lie: this is not a picnic.  In fact, it fucking sucks.  But this is also the way I can feel more honestly and authentically alive.  This is the way I can feel more honestly and authentically human.  This is the way I can feel more like the person I want to be: a person who is bold in the face of injustice.  A person who is compassionate in the face of suffering.  A person who is brave and gentle and who breathes this world in knowing I am part of it.  A person who breathes into this world like an act of rebellious, radical, truth-telling, change-making love. 

Will you witness this world with me?  Will you also breathe in this fully alive and human existence?  All that we turn our eyes from – let us see it and name it and let it penetrate our hearts.  Whether we name it or not, it is already here.