“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, July 30, 2016

What a girl wants

A little girl was born in 1939 to parents who were just out of high school. Her life was not an easy one. In quick succession, two more siblings were added to the family, a brother and a sister. When the little girl was three years old her parents started leaving home for the weekend. The little girl was left in charge of tending to her two younger siblings. Imagine the challenges of being three or four years old and having to feed a two year old and an infant. Imagine changing diapers and trying to keep a house clean. Then imagine the fear and horror of that kind of responsibility. Then imagine what it must have felt like when the parents returned and beat you, physically and emotionally, because you did not do a good enough job, the house was a mess and the baby needed a bath. Imagine living in a house that had rodents residing in the basement, adding to your terror when your parents left for the weekend, as they did many times. My mother was this little girl, broken forever by the actions of her parents. She might have been someone else. My mother was smart, beautiful, with a sharp wit, she might have been someone else in life, someone more "successful." What a girl wants is not what my mother achieved in her life.

Imagine my curiosity to learn that Hillary Clinton's mother had a similar childhood. So did my mother in law. Yet my mother in law managed to stay married for almost 50 years and raise four great kids. Hillary's mother managed to raise Hillary. Yes, my mom raised me and my three younger brothers, but her legacy to us was very broken. I understand. She truly did do the best she could, and she did instill in me a desire to be healthier. I've spent my life trying to grow up and become healthier and more mature, to break the pattern in my family. What this girl wants has proven to be a challenge to achieve.

I come frpm a family of Mormon pioneers, people who left their families of origin behind and moved from England to settle in Utah. The women in particular were cut off from the support of families and, in the name of faith, tried to live a new life. They lived hard lives. What a girl wanted was never valued. If there's any truth to the idea that the struggles of one generation show up in the DNA of future generations, I can attest to the pulls and tugs that reside in me. I have worked hard to be aware of these pulls - to cut off and leave people, to choose to not be in relationship instead of working out problems, to feel overly defensive and quick to be the victim. In my family, unlike Hillary's, there was not the strength from my mother, of being told to go outside and figure out how to deal with the bullies. No, in my family we closed the door and pretended they weren't there, licking wounds instead of mending fences. 

Somehow I have found myself living a very different life than the one I might have. This too I think is the result of my broken mother. She managed to instill in me the idea that I was to be better. That is what I have tried to do, be a better wife, mother, and human being. I never, ever, imagined myself living and working in a public, formerly all male role, as an Episcopal priest. Never. I come from Mormon country, where women work in the background not the public. I come from a place where nothing schooled me in how to think or write or talk for the public. What I, as a girl have wanted, I have had to learn all on my own. 

Or maybe not. Perhaps some of what I have in me, as a priest, is also the remnants of ancestral DNA, somewhere far back, when my great grands were priests in the Church of England and lawyers and, yes, even a princess in Scotland. Maybe there's a bit of that DNA coming forward? 

Regardless, here I am living a life I never imagined. When I first heard my call to the priesthood I rejected the idea of being a parish priest. I could say yes to God, but only if I served as a hospital chaplain, in a position a little more out of the public eye. I mean, no preaching on Sunday morning, no Vestry meetings, no search committees, no public scrutiny of worthiness to be hired or fired. It still makes me chuckle to realize that I have in fact served as a parish priest for sixteen years. God surely got a laugh out that one. 

As a woman working in a traditionally male world I have faced a lot of challenges. Granted, not as rough as the first women who did this, although I have been the first female Rector at every church I have served. I have been the one who, for better or worse, set the stage for those who have or will come after me. I have not always done it well, but I have always tried my best. 

I have been aware of Hillary Clinton all of my adult life. At least since she made the public eye in the early 1990's with her universal health care plan. Then I was a stay at home mom with two small kids. Over the years I've been skeptical of Clinton, buying into the media coverage of her and how she's been portrayed. But slowly I've come to not only admire her, but see in her a role model for myself.  

Never, ever, have I watched an entire political convention from start to finish, live streaming on my mini-iPad. I doubt I'll ever do it again. But I watched all of the DNC, arranging my time to start watching at 4pm every day with headphones plugged in to my iPad, watching Cspan to avoid the commentators, but also to watch uninterrupted coverage of ALL the speakers. And wow. Just wow. 

The speeches and music, and artists, and video clips at the DNC left me feeling excited, hopeful. I've been hook, line, and sinkered. Call me what you will, a neoliberal, exceptionalism, centrist embracer of the DNC propaganda (Time Magazine). Yup. That's me. Actually, I agree with the Time article that God does not endorse these values. However,  I think one needs to walk very carefully when one presumes that Clinton agrees with neoliberal exceptionalism for to do so means that one fails to grasp the nuance of her life's work - working within the system to change it. 


I actually wrote to Clinton a couple of weeks ago. I was concerned about whether or not she'd have the capacity to overturn some of the very policies her husband put in place: NAFTA, welfare reform, the war of drugs and the mass incarceration of black men that's happened as a result, the entire trajectory that Michelle Alexander outlines in the first chapter of her book, The New Jim Crow. I wrote to her via an online contact form and did not hear back from her. 


However, everything I mentioned in my letter was addressed in the DNC convention and in her acceptance speech. Okay, maybe not NAFTA directly. But its pretty clear to me that she sees the unfortunate outcome of both NAFTA and welfare reform. 


So, this last week has been, I think, what I've lived my whole life for. As a woman and Episcopal priest, I live in a fairly public, formerly all male, role. That means I know just a tiny bit about what Hillary Clinton has faced. I understand how hard it is to be criticized for, well, every thing, to never, ever, catch a break, to be damned if you do and damned if you don't. 


To learn how to work within a system, even as my very presence as a woman, is changing it.


Here's the thing, I'm going to bask in the beauty that was the DNC, from the women who told their stories, to the people of color who told their stories, to the military Generals who told their stories, to the LGBTQ people who told their stories, to the musicians and actors who told their stories. 


To Hillary's story told by President Obama, her husband, her daughter, and in film. For the first time EVER I saw on Hillary's face, the look of a girl who is getting what she wants. It was her face, but it was my face and the face of millions of women around this country and the world. 


When, ever, has there been such a public telling of a woman's story, told by men? When has a woman ever had that level of public support from men, women, politicians, people of faith, people in the military, social justice groups, all walks of life?


Never.


So yes, I have hope. We need more time spent being optimistic and hopeful. 


We need to reserve our criticism for key moments, like that letter I wrote. Yes, I'm already thinking of what I'll say in my next one. But I'm not writing it for awhile. 


For now, I'll rest a bit in hope for our future. Hope that the movement that calls for us to be stronger together is a movement that catches all. And in catching us all we can set down the critical voice, the one that always wants to tear at a woman, and instead, get to work. I will defend her and do everything I can to get her elected as President. I will do this for me and for my daughter and for every girl and boy to come. I will do this for our present and for our future. 


That's what this girl wants.