Tuesday, October 03, 2017

There But for the Grace....

Days like this, it is so good to go to the local Amish store and chat with Alfred and his daughters. It's not that the Amish are perfect or exempt from the challenges of living; in fact some things, like health care, impact them directly. They self-insure as a community, and Alfred's one son Michael (out of 8 kids) just broke his foot and had four pins put in... he told me each pin cost $700. (All things considered, I wondered if they did it without anesthesia, because it sounded pretty cheap.) But they are, in spite of their vastly increased contact with the English (only about 10% earn their living by farming now) still detached and serenely unconcerned with the turmoil and distress of modern life. It's their faith, and even if you find it absurd, you must admit that they are joyful, uncomplicated, and successful people.

Today, though, after having made that visit, and feeling I had stepped away from the ranting and speculation and finger-pointing after yet another mass shooting, a torrent of words and phrases I don't even want to get into... because it leads nowhere... and because I dispute the premises upon which it begins... something happened that left me far more disturbed, in some ways.

We live in a very small town (pop. about 200) and on my way home from the Amish store, where I bought fresh bread, nuts, kombucha made locally, chips, soap, and some items for my bnb, I stopped at the Dollar General to get something the Amish did not have. Heading to the register, I became aware of a woman with three small children ahead of me, trying to deter one of them (all girls) from fingering some candy. "Mommy can't buy that today. She doesn't have her food card.." The children were filthy, not a common sight in our rural town. People here are poor -- we have free lunches for all at our school --( and in fact, we are "poor" by common standards), but proud. We get by with loaning and borrowing, canning and freezing, stretching and scrimping. It doesn't look like a place of poverty. Yards and roadsides are clean and tidy. And kids have clean clothes and decent haircuts. So this woman, and her kids, stood out.

I glanced at her. And saw what I didn't want to. Her shoulder length hair was matted, her face as dirty as you'd ever imagine. Her stretch pants hung below her pregnant belly (the oldest of the three girls could not have been more than four) and also revealed a few inches of her buttocks. She had two residual black eyes and her nose was flat. Too flat for a white woman. Her front teeth, when she spoke a moment later, were gone.

Another woman, well dressed, with highlighted hair, swooped in and did what I'd briefly considered: Let me buy some candy for them. My treat, she said. 

It's just the money... the mom said.

Really, it's no problem at all, the lady stooped down and made sure each had two of the same, Mentos, and a round pop, so they wouldn't fight. You go on now. 

And on they went.

I was shaking as I paid my bill. This woman, a tiny saint, who knelt down to those children and said, in gestures, someone is out here who is kind and will care about you, was paying at another register, and I heard her say, That could have been me one day.

It was one of those idioms that I couldn't quite decipher; did she mean in the past, or in the future, if she hadn't escaped some situation?

That's right, I said, meaning me. Meaning, people I know, now and in the past, and people I am related to, meaning, it's not an either/or. It's just a matter of degree. There were four women in the Dollar General then. Two clerks and two customers. But a moment of understanding fell upon us that I think I have never experienced.

I had to stop three times on the four mile drive home. 

Yes, I know that there are men of color and women who are abusive. But the vast number of abusers are white men, from whoever is beating that woman so senseless that she doesn't even care if her butt is showing to the white man who just murdered and injured hundreds in Las Vegas, to our so-called President who spent days insulting and assaulting the Mayor of San Juan as she struggled to get a call for help out of her strangled throat.

God: what will it take for you to hear this prayer?

I tried to raise sons who would never demean or diminish women. I tried to raise a daughter who'd never sit still for one word of gesture that belittled or in any way impugned her.

Yet. Yet. The face and body of this poor, battered woman and her three daughters has nearly broken me, because I feel her within me. I think she lives within all of us, in the shadows, triggered so easily by the words of a domineering, narcissistic, dismissive, male (or female) and hiding there, in the shadows, where she was born. She wasn't born with us. We came into this world whole, proud, lusty, and worthy. And, just because you look "okay" doean't mean you're not on the continuum. With her.

The broken, beaten woman was born as the abused child, by stern fathers, mothers, teachers, abusive step-brothers, ex-husbands who cheated, demeaned, controlled, accused, bosses, and the shame that followed, and mocked by all the other women who I saw needed help and didn't know how to reach.

When I see her, in the flesh, it's like a ghost. I'm haunted. Pray with me.