pro woman

Sharing this here for those of you who are not Facebook users.

Okay, I hesitate to enter into this ongoing laborious conversation, but here goes. 

I am aware that for many people the issue of abortion is a sacred one, with the belief that the sanctity of life begins at conception and that a woman’s own sense of her self as sacred is somehow damaged in the act (though I might argue from my own experience that the meaning and shame we, as a culture, attach to the act does far more damage to her).  I appreciate and understand the distress, perhaps more even than some, having labored and delivered 2 separate 20 week preterm fetuses who died, one of whom struggled to hang on to life for an hour, whose hearts beats were as music to me and whose fully formed features are etched in my memory. I also delivered two 6 1/2 and 7 month infants, who were kept alive by machines that breathed for them for months, and who now are fathers of daughters themselves. So I understand it is difficult to separate the threads.

 However, I also know that for SOME people, there is a strong relationship between an anti-abortion stance and the objectification and control of women’s bodies. Suddenly, in election seasons such as this one especially, those folks jump on the sanctity of life bandwagon as if they truly honored women and children and the sacred trust of bringing life into the world. They bring it out of the attic and wave it like the flag to arouse indignant fury, controlling the sentiments of the body-politic, as they seek to control the bodies of women.

I also believe that a woman’s body, as bringer of life, is sacred and that she has the responsibility to honor that sanctity, with full consciousness and intention, entering fully into the role of motherhood with love and due diligence. It is a sacred trust that she enters into when she chooses to bring a new life into this place.

For many of us, a time is imagined (a matriarchal period, perhaps) when we had the right to name and to choose when we had the resources to honor that responsibility…physical and emotional maturity, community resources (tribe), family support, food, shelter, steadfast companion etc. We celebrated and intentionally sanctified the time when we were ready to accept males into our bodies in order to honor that lifebearing trust. We also had the wisdom and knowledge to know when and how to induce miscarriage (with herbs etc) if we were not able to honor that trust. We dream of a time when that might be a respected reality in the future. We also dream of a time when the culture we live in is supportive- economically, emotionally, resource-fully – of a woman, young or old, giving birth to a child.

However, that time is not yet upon us. As long as our bodies are viewed as objects to be used for another’s objectives rather than something sacred, then genital grabbing is considered trivial, marital rape is considered ‘impossible’, rating of f***able worth is fair game, and a woman’s ability to choose for herself when she is ready and able to bear life and to nurture it is considered out of her domain. In these cases another has the right to do with our bodies whatever they deem acceptable.

I believe that for another person to deem what is acceptable as far as when we decide to enter into the sacred trust of bringing a life into the world is similarly a statement that our bodies are not our own but objects of another’s determination. Whether it is forced upon us physically in an act of unwanted sexual contact or forced upon us by the laws of the state, it is dishonoring of our bodies and of our wisdom as women, and a misunderstanding of how we are made to receive and to give with the whole of our being, not merely our genitalia and breasts.

I know the arguments that will come. That she should just keep her legs closed if she wants to be intentional. Perhaps, if you believe that sex is merely for procreation and not at all about the deep human need for connection and intimacy and the sharing of mutual and reciprocal joy. Perhaps if birth control were not also under the control of the church and the state instead of in women’s hands and bodies. Or you will argue that if we wait for all children to be intentionally, consciously invited into this place, then none would come at all, for the enormity of entering into that sacred trust would overwhelm all but the very naïve. Or perhaps you will remind me that the arrival of children is a blessing, one that transforms even the most resistant mother, gifting her in ways she cannot possibly understand from the other side. To these, I say yes, I understand.

And I can live with the paradox and the tension inherent in this place of both/and. Of knowing from my own experience that a 20 week fetus or a 29 week preterm delivery are imbued with the presence of life, sacred and precious. And of knowing, from my own experience, that there are times when the most sacred word you can say is ‘No’

I felt the earth move

yellow-leaves

 

Yesterday afternoon, the earth moved. I felt it. In truth, I’d been sensing the shift beneath me for several weeks, felt it coming. And yet, when at last the earth lurched, it seemed to happen at once. First, the quality of the light changed – suddenly golden rose as if twilit, except it was the middle of the afternoon. On the heels of that glowing premonition came, high in the treetops, the wind, which at first we thought was the sound of rain, except that it brought a shower of golden leaves, not in a delicate flurry but falling as if heavy, the weight of them let loose at once. Dropped. Soon came the driving rain, which for a moment mingled with those falling leaves in a deluge of water and earth and sky. And after all of that letting go, the temperature itself fell. From summertime 80’s to autumnal 50’s in the span of an hour of daylight in the mid afternoon.

I was sitting on the porch over a pot of hot tea with a cherished friend when it happened.  My husband was sleeping just inside the window, deep in a healing slumber, aided by the morphine that diminishes his pain. We were speaking of the things that women so often share. What it means to love. To love a friend. To love a partner. To love a child. To love oneself.

Not that it was some lofty philosophical examination, of course. No, not the detached-from-experience ideals of the head, but the real, raw, wild stuff of living and loving, of struggle and hope. Pundits and experts can lecture and wax, but two women can question and search, reflect and reveal, what is real in their slow pondering longings and suddenly bared understandings.

I suppose I could say that some of my own colors have been revealed over these last several weeks as autumn has quietly emerged on my landscape. My understanding is that those colors are always within the leaf, that it is the ceasing of manufacturing chlorophyll that allows them to be seen, as wisdom, perhaps, is likewise unmasked when busyness slows and the need for performance diminishes. 

The events in my personal life and in the world around me over the past several weeks… months… years… okay lifetime….have been building up a reservoir of understanding that seems to have suddenly fallen into place for me. (and, yes, I know that winter is coming, of course, and then spring with its new buds, and then..) The word integrity comes this morning as the best way of describing this sudden shift in awareness, when what has been harbored within is suddenly apparent without.

We were talking about my husband’s surgery, the patient gentleness that seems to have replaced the stubborn resistance and forced will of the last surgery, the way in which he seems to want to honor both my wisdom and my dignity this time around, the way that perhaps I am receiving him differently too. I realize that my partner and I make a much better team when each of us honors the integrity of and the wisdom within the other, letting go of control, to give and receive support.  Being received by another can allow the beauty of one’s inherent colors to be revealed and beheld. Perhaps it is true that we are “heard into being’. We are also seen into being.

…From my porch perch, I take note of the way that the earth here gratefully receives the fresh blanket of leaves, even as the leaves let go their clinging …

This has been a great and sudden release.  Beneath the surface of this named relief lay years of frustration – not in this particular relationship but in so many others- of not being seen and received in an honoring way, of being told I am too this or not enough that, my gifts and my ways not only diminished but ridiculed. Perhaps I had grown weary and brittle, bitchy. Perhaps that is a natural defense, a clinging to self, of some sort, a gall guarding that which is precious but devalued. Gradually the defending of your ways as valid becomes a One Way, which is always a problem in loving …and in seeing.

I have been pondering the way in which I felt at home in my skin during those weeks on my own this past summer, without needing to justify my rhythms or defend my ways, following and honoring my needs and intuitions, trusting myself without being directed and questioned, held back or pushed. The way that I blossomed in that. I felt like a virgin, perhaps, a woman whole and unbroken.  Undefended and Unintruded upon. 

The light shifts from harshness to golden

The events of these past weeks in the news, which have revealed, also in a seemingly sudden way what has always been there hidden in plain view, the reality of women being devalued and dishonored, seem synchronous with that.   Some of us could feel that long before the news ‘validated’ it.  Others still cannot. I think they have not had the gift of eyes opened by experiencing the contrast of that harsh night with the daylight of real respect.  I have been remembering my years in that darkness, completely unable to conceive of this beauty, my years of thinking that what I was receiving was love?!… when I was not being received at all.  On my porch, my friend reveals that she also has not known the kind of friendship that sees and receives with love, rather than judgment or shaming or attempts to control.  

And the wind blows.

These weeks, I have been remembering my own daughter’s birth, almost 30 years ago now, the way it broke something open in me then, my sudden longing for her to be protected from the experience that I had of being female in this world. How it hit me one day while changing her diaper in those first days at home with her, like a wall of survival fell down within me in that falling in love with her.  I am afraid that my over-identification with her as she passed through those stages of life as a girl in this culture did not necessarily help her at all, but love can be like that too, fierce protection too often leading to disempowerment, the gift of self-integrity not nurtured. I have been remembering the story of the blind boy, overprotected by loving parents who didn’t want to see him crash into trees but who stripped him of learning to trust himself. On my porch, my friend fears her own mistakes in the name of love. In each other’s compassionate  mirror we see ourselves. Together, we are forgiven for loving.

And the leaves plummet.

These weeks, I have been simmering my understanding of the sacred trust that we, as women, engage in when we agree to be ‘bringers of life’ to this world. In the public discourse, there are those whose votes of assent will go to a candidate who claims to honor the integrity of life as the pro-life candidate, but whose actions and words dishonor the integrity of a woman, to choose when her sacred body is allowed to be seen, touched, entered, or to choose when the time is right for her to receive, to nurture and bring forth a new life. To him, woman is an object to judge and possess, to demean and control. To him her true colors remain unrespected and unseen.

And the rain falls.

It drenches the earth, watering in the compost I’d spread just this morning around the base of young trees, compost created from seasons of growing and dying, decomposed.

What does it mean to be decomposed?

I have been thinking about power, the power to shame and control and the way in which that pervasive perversion of force formed and forged me. The long silencing of the self that fear brings, the aversion of eyes to protect. My story is an old, familiar one of being named-shamed-and-claimed rather than seen-and-esteemed. It is a story of invasion, predation and loss … loss of integrity of body and soul, the loss of trust in the goodness of self and other… and the confusion that this loss of self wreaks around loveability and love, worthiness and value. We have, the lot of us as women, been diminished and demeaned. The shaming and taming of the self leaves a struggle for survival in its wake.

I recall a counselor once giving me the image of lace as a way of helping me visualize a healthy intact boundary for myself. What passes through to be integrated and received for nurture and growth, as opposed to being invaded, is filtered through this intact sense of self-compassion and dignity. What is not mine to take on—the naming and shaming, the diminishing, for instance – passes through that lacy veil. It is not mine to take on nor to transform.  Lace is much gentler than armour, it seems, for it also allows the other in to be received. It allows love in and out.

I think of compost this way. It is made up of what passes through, unusable or no longer needed. In my own life, that means decomposing the stories and definitions that made up my concept of self, of life, of love, or value, letting go of what would become toxic were it to fester within me.  It also means letting go of the ways in which I have judged myself harshly, as failing terribly or not living a life of integrity (where one’s outside self reflects the wisdom and compassion of one’s inner knowing). It means seeing myself and my life’s experiences anew, through gentler eyes of love and understanding. Decomposing those stories means honoring  Life and respecting the gifts of life’s experiences.  

I spread those stories and experiences of love, loss, and learning around me and my friend, where they might be taken up by our roots to build a strong and resilient body and soul, with the integrity to stand, to bud and to flower and fruit. She spreads her stories round me. It is the way of trees, after all, to care for one another in such a way.

At last, the heat of the summer passed, in one fell swoop.

As the temperature suddenly dropped, in the wake of all that was brought forth to be seen and heard, healed and integrated as my friend’s and my own humanity were mutually received by the other as sacred and worthy of value, I thought to myself,

Perhaps this is just the climate change that the earth sorely needs.

 

 

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