Light’s innocence.

Here’s the thing about the man who challenged the statistic about domestic violence during that nerd’s dinner party: he was an innocent. Intelligent, and probably well-read with a challenging job and significant life experience – but an innocent for all that. And his initial refusal to accept that so many women are victims and survivors of domestic violence was a reflection of that – a reflection of the fact that such horror was, until that night, so far outside of his frame of reference.

And it made me realise: that’s how darkness perpetrates itself. Not by people who seek and celebrate it; not by people who see it and choose not to care, although of course I have to acknowledge the role of those who deliberately choose not to see the suffering in front of them, so that they are discharged from responsibility to work to alleviate that suffering. No: the thing that the darkness really relies on is the innocence of the light.

How can you begin to battle against a foe you don’t even know exists? How can the light, untouched by darkness, even begin to conceptualise that force which opposes it, but which hides from it so successfully that only a select and unlucky few really ever discover it? How can the innocent ever truly understand the guilty, and in understanding it, fight against it?

To fight the darkness you have to have the courage to face it, head on, and to witness what it does, and to be touched by that. But first you have to see it, have to realise its presence in the light most people are still able to take for granted.

Innocence is a blessed state and as someone who is no longer innocent – no longer untouched by the reality of the darkness, even if I’m not to blame in that – I’m envious of innocence but I’m also a little scared of it. Because the innocent get hurt, and the innocent don’t see the darkness or its potential to snuff out the light on which they rely. And yet those innocents who have seen darkness, and have the courage to acknowledge it, and work to shine light on those people forced to dwell within that darkness – those innocents amaze me.

I have innocents like that in my life: people who, not having lived through soul-destroying darkness, still have the courage to acknowledge its diminishing power in my life, and hold their light for me when I have had none of my own. And they inspire me, and I’m grateful.

The darkness relies on the innocence of the light. It’s when the light loses its innocence without losing its lightness that darkness really has a fight on its hands.

Statistics and stories, and being counted.

I was in Melbourne over the long weekend. It’s interesting that media coverage seems to run in themes, and, coincidentally, there was a great deal in Victorian newspapers over the weekend about domestic violence. Sympathetic, most of it; some of it even went as far as to be empathetic. And, like a person fingering a bruise, or prodding a scab to discern the healing beneath, I read every word.

It triggered feelings, of course it did. But it also made me think. Because the statistics that were mentioned – one in four women will be the victim of a physical or sexual assault perpetrated by a man – were the same statistic that I raised at a dinner party, long ago. The same statistic that was shot down by a disbelieving dinner guest: it was made up by someone pushing a feminist agenda; it was a mis-print or a mathematical aberration. Not something that could happen in his world, to people like him. To people he knows, both perpetrators and victims. Not something that could – and should – touch him in his genuinely well-meaning and respectful innocence.

I remembered, reading these articles, the challenge around the table: let’s prove it. Raise your hand if you’ve been the victim of domestic violence. And the shock, painful and abrupt, of experience’s penetration of innocence.

I also remember something else: pride.

Shame goes hand in hand with victimhood: shame at being unable to protect yourself. Shame at being unworthy of safety, deserving of the pain that’s inflicted. Shame at the fear you still fear, the vast chasm between a victim of violence and the real people who can’t possibly understand what it’s like, who are somehow unsullied by such filth. Not that night, though. That night, I stuck my hand high into the air, in the solidarity of friendship, of mutual survivorhood, two strong, brave women either side of me also with their hands raised. But I think that even if my hand had been the only one to lift to tell my story, I still wouldn’t have been ashamed. Because that night, there in my friend’s kitchen, I broke the stereotype. I told my story: in that action, I shared just a small part of my narrative without even needing to open my mouth. In that action, I was counted. In acknowledging myself as a statistic, I became so much more than that.

Also, I’m no longer a victim of domestic violence. I’m a survivor. And you’d better believe I’m proud of that too.

Distractions and where I dwell.

So Holy Week happened, then Easter, then three incredibly busy days and then a long weekend in Melbourne…and now my goal is to get back in routine and part of routine is actually to get back to this sadly neglected blog.

I’m out of routine and once again it’s the important stuff that’s fallen off the radar: my kitchen is clean (ish – I’m not looking too closely at the floor), my desk at work is neat and my to-do list triaged and prioritised. My fridge and pantry are stocked and my bills are virtuously paid.

Here’s what I haven’t done, though: I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been journaling. I haven’t been dwelling in my creativity – my notebook has been in its pocket in my backpack for days, and hasn’t seen the light of day or felt the touch of my fingers, let alone my pen. And of course – because it always seems to be the first to go – my spirituality has well and truly dropped off the radar. When was the last time I sought solitude to sit quietly with my rosary and allow the gentle repetitions of prayer to still my mind of all its distractions? When was the last time I turned my whirring thoughts downwards and inwards, towards the Sacred in which I dwell? When was the last time a prayer came unbidden to my heart?

It’s understandable, of course, and it makes sense: it’s been busy, one lovely, life-giving and life-affirming demand after another: friends, singing, a wonderful trip to Melbourne for three golden days of friendship with family. A job I love despite its tendency to get in my face; a thousand things that need to be done, dealt with, sorted out. And a bag to unpack and books to be read and a blog to be re-started and a music list to look at before rehearsal on Friday…

I notice a difference in myself when I do take the time to allow my mind to still, do choose to step away from the distractions – beautiful ones, stressful ones, ones that bring their own blessing to my already rich life – and rest, just briefly, in the cloud of the Creator, in my Source. It’s something I need to do again, a routine I need to get back to. I need to remind myself of the Ground of my being, and I need to re-learn to be supported in that.

Either way, though – whether I’m conscious of it or not – I dwell within the Sacred. I can no more be separate from it than I could be separate from the air that fills my lungs, through which I move, which surrounds me in all that I do. I am not apart from the Source of my creation – I just need to do a better job at being conscious of that.

An extra few hours in a day wouldn’t go astray, though…

Something’s gotta give…

…and, this week, the thing that’s got to give is this blog.

It’s busy: Holy Week, singing, eating, sleeping, and the demands of work, which I have to do so I get paid so I can do all the other things. And there’s only so many hours in the day, and so many brain cells in my head, and part of this whole year-of-care thing (I haven’t forgotten that) is knowing my limitations and respecting them. Knowing when to say no. Knowing when to care for myself, to sit on the lounge and watch Firefly (I love, love Jos Whedon) and have an early night.

Because in order to be present – truly present – to the life-and-death mysteries we’re about to celebrate this week, there have to be times when I’m not present to my responsibilities. When I sit on the lounge and watch Firefly, and have an early night.

Because there’s miles to go before I sleep, and in order to get there I need to be taking care of myself. And not feel guilty. And watch Firefly, and have an early night.

Neat narrative and forgetting the end of the story.

Today is Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week, the journey of the church towards Easter. Holy Week will take us through betrayal and abandonment and torture and death, the bleakness of numbing grief and then the shattering, incredulous joy of resurrection.

And here’s the thing: it’s pretty easy for it to be hum-drum.

We all know the story, at least those of us who do this every year: Jesus enters Jerusalem, is lauded as a hero and then betrayed into the hands of those who use the power of the day to get rid of this threat to the status quo. He is betrayed, abandoned by his friends, tried and flogged (none of the gospel accounts go into detail about this most barbarous of punishments, designed to humiliate and break a man as well as hurt him) and then executed: tortured to death, over hours. And then the waiting: the grief, the disbelief, the fear, the darkness before – what a surprise! – the story ends with resurrection, and we get to sing an orchestral Mass and then go out to lunch.

Knowing the narrative so well, it’s easy to see it as a clear, cohesive step-by-step: entrance, conflict, development, climax, and then the nice twist at the end, a perfect plot. What I often forget is the chaos in that story: not the clear, focused narrative we’re used to, but events spiralling out of control – the pillars of Jesus’ life crashing down around them all. Was there a point at which it could have been salvaged, a point at which the river rushing an itinerant preacher to a hill just outside the city walls, to torture and death, could have been halted, averted? A point at which the story could have been changed?

This Holy Week I want to remember that: I want to remember that these were real people, not characters in a story I know almost too well. I want to remember that these are real emotions, real fear, real suffering, real blood, real death. Because life is not a neat narrative, and the God who set in motion the songs of the planets dwells too in the chaos and the darkness of life: under the bridge where the homeless sleep, in the riot and the house fire, in the home of the beaten woman and the abused children, in the tents and holding cells of Manus Island. The God who holds the world in love is vulnerable. The God who created the universe suffers and dies.

After Good Friday and Holy Saturday comes Easter Day, and everything’s ok in the end. But I want to live Holy Week this year, and I kind of want to enter it forgetting that I know the end of the story.

Ambivalence and resolution.

I discovered just the other night a poem by Robert Frost. I know nothing about him, I’ve never read any of his work, but I was transfixed, and brought almost to tears:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. 

Whose woods these are I think I know. 
His house is in the village though; 
he will not see me stopping here
to watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
to stop without a farmhouse near
between the woods and frozen lake
the darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
to ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,
and miles to go before I sleep.

~

I would like nothing more than to dwell quietly in someone else’s woods, watching the hypnotic gentle fall of snow, wrapped in the warmth of tranquil darkness. To step out of my life sometimes. Because it gets demanding. Because people and things rely on me – on my competence, on my caring, on my capacity to hold it together. Because I had a panic attack at the Cathedral last night and I’m ashamed, and grateful, and determined to keep strong and see this through.

I can’t step out of my life sometimes, resting in peaceful hiatus until I’m ready to step back in. Because I have promises to keep. Not only to others, but also to myself. I promise that I will continue to stand straight and keep my dignity and integrity and strength in all the storms and stills of flashbacks and anxiety. I promise that the life I saved for myself – at huge cost – will be worth something, that the safety I have won from violence will stand for something. I promise that, even though I don’t always believe it, I am worth the life I have.

So I can’t watch snow gather in someone else’s wood. Because I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

A surprising view of strength.

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day, about anxiety and why it’s crippling. She’s experienced anxiety before, of course – every human being has. But she’s experienced normal anxiety: money worries, or an argument, or the anxiety you get before a workplace appraisal or a driving test. She’s never experienced the gut-clenching, throat-twisting, suffocating terror of an anxiety attack. She’s never experienced the vicissitudes of an anxiety disorder: fine one minute, crippled the next, struck down by a trigger you can’t even begin to identify.

She asked me to describe an anxiety attack – she genuinely wanted to understand – and the best way I could describe it as that it’s like being punched in the stomach and in the throat simultaneously, by someone you didn’t even know was in the room. It’s painful and frightening and agony to watch, and to go through it is a different kind of agony. Understanding the neurology and the physiology of it – it’s ok, I’m not having a heart attack, I can breathe, there is enough air in the room, this is just a panic attack and it will pass and it won’t kill me – doesn’t help, any more than it helps to understand the geological reality of tectonic plates when the very earth is heaving and turmoiling under you.

Today I didn’t have an anxiety attack, but I watched a friend – someone for whom I would walk through fire without a second’s hesitation – have one. It was long, and agonising. And then I watched her strength as she persevered through a day that had become excruciating, and I admired her integrity and resilience.

And I realised just how gutsy we are, those of us who do live with anxiety, or depression, or PTSD, or the ghosts of pasts that harrow us. We get up each morning, knowing that the day might be easy, or it might be hard, and that there’s no telling which it will be. We get up knowing that we can’t predict what will trigger an attack, but we get up anyway. And we face our day and those fearful, beautiful things within it, and we remind ourselves to have hope, and we keep being people and at the end of everything, our souls will be intact because we have endured.

We’re damaged, and fragile, and gutsy, and strong, and we will survive, because we are survivors. And we deserve chocolate. Go us.