on the sharings of that against which we rail

I hate some of the things that I know. Just hate them. There’s no zen in such a matter, no course in miracles’ing along, just a bleak bearing witness to reality here and now.

On checking into my hotel this afternoon, a couple entered the lobby behind me. Without even looking at them, I felt terrible tension; glancing only briefly at both of them, I knew—in a prehensile way—that their relationship is marked by him beating her. Often. How do I know this? I can’t really say. It is the smell of violence, the slight gestures, the way that eyes skitter off even the merest glance of an outsider like me: it all hits like a ton of dry rocks on a body that’s been stranded in the wilderness for nine years and then some; that’s how I know/feel it every time. I don’t ask for this; I sometimes don’t even want it: but it comes anyway, unbidden, unanticipated, and wholly unwelcome every last time.

That brief encounter was hours ago. At 1:54 a.m. local time, from a sound sleep, I awoke to the sounds of beating and screaming on the floor above and then the loud tramping footfalls of two people running down the stairs and exiting the back of the building. By the time I made it to the window of my room, they had cleared a grassy knoll beyond the parking lot, and he was about to catch up with her, hands outstretched, her going as fast as possible away, and then they both disappeared behind some trees to the city street beyond. As did the sounds.

Normally I would have done my best to bumble into it, acting like a slow-headed middling-age white Mississippian—which works nearly every time to dissipate most hostilities (including those of a seemingly non-violent and more genteel manner), but I was too slow to get up just now and not clothed or wits-gathered enough to leave the room. Normally, when that has been the case before, I have at least called the police. This time I cannot. This state has an awful record for police dealing with people who are not white-skinned. Calling the police might mean that I have played a direct role in one or both of their deaths. Leaving neither to learn and find other ways to be than where they are trapped now.

So I sit here awake, torn and wrestling with my conscience and body (which has its own direct ways of knowing these things), hoping against hope that I will hear them returning and see not violence but maybe a respite, some small signs of retreat from that angry abyss. And I also sit here hating what all I know and how I know it, yet fearing with an ageless fury what it would mean for such things to happen to real people all around me . . . and me be too clueless to pick up on the smells, the gestures, the terribly ordinary, often tiny details that signal love gone wrongheaded and mean.

Why do I say this to a blog? I don’t really know. I started composing on Facebook, but then remembered their algorithms, which prefer the happy-content posts, and came over here instead. My online front porch, to which I mostly talk to myself, or so it seems some days. Oh well. Life is not all about happiness and lightness or even being heard. Life also, and daily to boot, includes that against which we rail . . . or forego our own souls. I pray, sitting here in the long darkness, that those who are trapped in the wells of love gone wrong can somehow find their way out. I pray and I write, and I beg my own body to help me to survive these knowings.

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~

4 responses

    • Thank you, Alice, for visiting. That ‘be good to yourself’ message is one I spent many years not knowing how to do, but I’ve become convinced of late that, until a person can do this reliably? S/he cannot do it for anyone else thus. So I’m working at it a little more these days! Take good care.

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    • Diana, my teaching week starts in a few minutes, so this won’t be a very long response, but I have tried a slew of responses to violent situations (almost always men against women or children, though a few times I have had to step up when women were behaving abusively to others or children). I tailor my actions/words and level of bumblingness to the situation, and it usually happens so fast I don’t have time to plan things out but just go on total instinct. Here are two that I stumbled onto and then have done over and over again, because they are so effective.

      When a neighbor in grad school got into the habit of beating his wife next door, I at first responded in total PTSD mode (cowering in a corner of my room in terror and not knowing what to do, as calling the police made it much worse as soon as they left). One day, though, I drug out my cooking paraphernalia and baked a batch of cookies and piled the first round of them on a plate and walked across the hall and knocked on their door (mid-beating inside). Then when they opened it I hauled out my strongest southern accent and started talking about how ashamed my mother would be of me for not having brought them a home-cooked gift sooner, and so on, and how happy I was to meet them and what were they studying (and I meant it, looking at both the man and woman with equal compassion and as much love as I know how to muster), and it stopped the beating for that day. When it started again a few days later, I didn’t have the ingredients for anything giftable, so I opened my door and set a houseplant right beside our entry, and then I proceeded to sing as cheerily as possible while watering that poor little plant way too much. And over the next weeks I just kept that up. Killed one plant, bought another. Did my deadlevel best to connect with both the man and the woman every time I saw them. No judgment, just intervening in the violence to whatever extent I could.

      Another time was in the grocery store when a harried mom of a couple kids became enraged at one of them. I was about five or six yards away and froze, then instinctively reached for a can of something (peas maybe?) and dropped it so it would roll right toward the woman’s feet—giving me the excuse to interrupt, apologizing for being so clumsy, but the second the woman really looked at me, I said something along the lines of “Boy, bringing kids to stores today is a tough job, isn’t it? Wears everybody out.” I’ve done this multiple times since and the wording changes a little bit, but I’m always aiming to break into the pattern just enough–and demonstrating total faith in the person’s inner goodness and compassion–that they have a chance to return to their better angels. It is FAR more effective a tactic than getting mad or finding fault ever could be, because that child will go home with that person no matter what, and if I have made the adult feel like a heel, then s/he is almost certain to not treat the child well.

      So those are some of the things I do. Whenever possible. But sometimes (like the one I wrote about in this blog), I get caught flat-footed and don’t respond quickly or well enough and have to live with the knowledge that I didn’t do all I could.

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