Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Devil Inside

I am aware that naming evil is not enough. I am aware that my mind shies away from thinking about the tasks of working with it, healing it, defeating it. The post by Nancy Reeves, Two Flowers in the Sanctuary and #28 Acts, requires that I engage further. 

The risk of using the word evil is that it distances, it makes it seem foreign, alien, something so caustic and disgusting that it defies address or redress. How can we agree with the assessment and evil and do anything but run? 

I refuse to run. Though I am spurred to the door, to the high cliff-- the lonely high cliff of the moral high ground, as I am reminded by my dear sister-in-law-- by calling out evil, it does no good at all for the world. I remember well the prayer of my youth-- Do you reject Satan and all of his works, all of his empty promises? I do. I want to. But what a fabulously un-nuanced understanding of evil, this horned progenitor of all that sickens, wilts, destroys! What an easy easy thing to move away, to stamp out, to sequester and shun!

This reminds me of my own rejections, reminds me of the persistent belief in myself that I am sick, wrong. This reminds me of the numbness of getting kicked to the curb as a teen for my queer love. Who was evil, then? The family who rejected, or the freakish desire rising in me like so much thorny invader on the quiet landscape of my heterosexual family? When we see evil as something outside of our human community, and therefore outside of our responsibility, then the risk of splitting raises its terrible head. 

For who does not desire the gun? For who does not harbor the murderer in their heart? For who does not ache the lonely moment before despair? For who does not reject the uncomfortable, the odd? For who lives wide open, with love only, with hope only, with good only?

If I reject the evil in the acts of war, in the acts of massacre, as something that does not rest in a part of me, something that does not live in my human potential, then I am losing my own humanity. I am losing the chance for compassion, for vulnerable love, for heart-changing growth. Is it not the revolution of free will that spurs us to greatness? Is it not my own ability to choose life that gives it value? 

When we split ourselves off from these (I'll call them negative) parts of ourselves, all kinds of f-ed up stuff happens, not least of which is the roots of our most pernicious ills-- beliefs, actions, policies that support a view that those people are the one's with the problems, and the unhappy result that usually those people are the non-dominant, the non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-owning class, etc. etc.  Racism, sexism, heterosexism-- these ideas that somehow there is a class of less than human, where all of these sentiments rest, is the result of the mind of the split consciousness. 

So, for myself, I am looking for a better answer to the impulse of the gun in me. I am looking for a way to hold an understanding of evil that does not condemn me, or condemn my neighbor. As a Quaker, I hold that there is that-of-God in everyone. I also hold that there is that of evil in everyone. It is in this human potential that I find the most awe, and so much sadness. But if I think that I cannot hold all of this in my understanding of human, than I perpetrate a deep injustice, and risk missing the joy of what true healing and community can be.

So let us practice our 28 mitzvahs, kind acts, remembrances for all of those who died. For all of those potentials that were never expressed, or that were. Our mourning is large, and should be larger. Let us truly see each other as the full humans we are, and let us love one another and ourselves for our dance and struggles with evil. We can reach the other side of those struggles, where love wins and we end the splitting of self that allows evil to flourish. For this, I pray.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Naming the Unnamable

The massacre in CT, Westboro Baptist Church's plan to picket children's funerals, disparate reactions to children's deaths near and far-- this giant snowball of pain and sickness leads me to name what is really difficult for me to name. 

On Friday, after half-listening to the stories, seeing flashes of headline, but not really wanting to hear, I grabbed from my bookshelf, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck. This book, published in the 1980s, describes through anecdote a religious and psychological understanding of the lives of those suffering with malignant narcissism. The half-heard stories of Adam Lanza using his mother's guns to kill her and the children and adults at the school, reminded me of a stark story from the book. 

As a therapist, Peck saw a boy who had stolen a car and run it off the road. He was mandated by the courts to have a psychological evaluation. Peck met with the boy, and came to understand that his brother had recently killed himself with a shotgun. It was after the New Year, and as Peck tried to connect with the boy, he asked about any Christmas presents he had received. What he discovers is that the boy's parents had given him the same gun his brother had used to kill himself as a Christmas gift. 

This information immediately spurred in Peck the plan to get the son away from the parents. Peck had the chance to ask the parents about the choice of gift, and the parents deny completely any wrongdoing, any message of sadism or encouragement to death. They say that a gun is a good gift, and they didn't have enough money to get a new one for their son. They say that that they don't see anything wrong with giving a perfectly good gun to their son. They are blind to their own destructiveness. They are. Evil. 

So I've written it. Evil. As a religious and spiritual feminist liberationist, I have resisted an understanding of evil that rests in the individual. I see structural evil, I see how it can act out in the lives of individuals, but I have for many years avoided looking to individuals as being evil. 

We are truly all standing in a stream of social location, cultural tide, worlds of meaning working through us in our lives. So many of the posts analyzing mental illness around the massacre (I am Adam Lanza's mother), as well as the racism inherent in the description of Lanza as mentally ill (were he brown, he would more likely be called a terrorist), speak to this deep tide of our connectedness. And all of these pieces are true, to some degree. 

What is real to me, as I mix all this soup together, is that there is something evil here. It's not just sickness, it's not just structural evil of racism and alienation of the mentally ill. It's something about the proliferation of guns, the sharing of guns across the generations, the use of the mother's guns by the son, that echoes for me the deep evil of generational malignant and sadistic narcissism. 

He killed himself, Lanza did, after taking so many with him. Was he thinking of his mother as he took the guns they had shared in target practice together, months before? Was he thinking of the message of these shared guns? What sickness in him is an expression of the message of the gun-- the death dealing machine that came from his mother's proverbial milk? What is the consequence of drinking this poison?  

I don't have answers to any of these questions. What I am left with, as I chew and chew, is that I am sickened by these stories, these true stories. I have the strength now to say what these acts and individuals are enacting, and it's evil. 

My questions are to those who are standing at the entryway to the next generation-- we parents. How long can the child resist incitation to violence? How long until we end this lineage of death?  How will we set our children free from this heritage of impunity and destruction, and the lessons of worthlessness that our violence and narcissism teaches our children? I know I will resist this destruction with all of my will and love. Let us resist this evil of seeing our children as less than ourselves, and honor the life that is seeking expression in them. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Things are heavy here in our household right now. A much beloved uncle died yesterday, after what feels like a long battle with cancer. He died in the morning, while with his now adult children and wife. My partner traveled up to be with him last week, and got to see him on one of his last lucid days. 

It wasn't an easy decision for my partner to go up to Vermont, leaving his work as a teacher, leaving me at home alone with the little (now 2 1/2 yo) f. After the word came that hospice was suggested by his doctor, a day passed, with all its vicissitudes and stressors. That evening, once little f was asleep, my partner and I met in the kitchen. 

"Have you thought about going up to see Spike?" I asked. 

"It's been rolling around in my mind today, I'm still thinking about it."

"Would you like my opinion on the matter?"

As soon as I got the yes, I didn't stop for a moment. Go. I said go. Go. Go. Go. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Do not stop to wonder. Do not question if you are wanted. Do not let your fears stop you. Do not think it's too much time to take off. Do not worry about your son, or your beloved. Do not worry about the timing. Do not worry about the cost. Just go. Go. Go. 

I am glad to say that N did not leave that evening. He made the good choice of checking in with all concerned, and traveled up with his parents for a timely visit and farewell. I was solo parenting for three nights. It was absolutely worth it. 

As someone who is pretty damn certain that having a baby was one of the most transformative events in my life, I am also equally certain that the other end has the potential to be the same. We all get to choose how we relate to these transformative times, and to me, the worst thing to do is to pass up a chance to touch into the love and connection that is at the center of life. There is so much that urges us away from that closeness. And all of that is a lie and a hoodwink. We deserve to be close to life. We just do. Without reservation. We all deserve it.

I was with my grandfather on the day he died. I won't describe in detail what happened, mostly to protect those in my family who were there, as well. But what I will describe is my experience of sitting by his bedside, where he had decided to be at the end, and closing my eyes. I don't know how to name what impulse moved me, but I was suddenly holding in my mind each of the points on my grandfather's body that held energy. As I imagined them, I urged them in my mind to release. I was crying, I know. I was scared. And when he died later that day, it felt very right. Very real and very right. 

As I read this, I think I sound like a hippy freak. And as you know from a previous post, I am not a hippie. What I am is a deeply spiritual person. And how did I learn this? I just can't tell you right now. Right now what I know is that there is something in this life that wants us to get close. And sometimes it takes these transforming times-- birth and death, loss, trauma, injustice, love, justice, ritual, other stuff-- art, revolutions, nature, lotsa stuff-- to shake us into that awareness. I'm trying to hold onto the loss of this good good man as an invitation to the closeness of life. I'm not quite there, but writing it helps. 

Spike, in the five or so years I knew him, was a New England gentleman cum conspiracy theorist cum tractor savior cum father cum intellectual cum gracious host cum welcome wagon. I felt his hugs in my feet, and was always just a wee bit scared of him. As the cancer brought him to a more remote orbit, I was always amazed at his comfort with just disappearing. No words, just gone for whatever reason was motivating him at a family gathering. As his energy shifted, I felt a clarity in his eyes, rather than saw it. The refining fire of treatment, spiritual and modern, meant that he was living in different time than the rest of those who gathered around him. His participation was always just a gift, and one that I only benefitted from by default. Lucky me. 

So this is to Spike's passing. So this is to our growing closer. So this is to saying yes, and go, and more, please. We deserve this life. All parts of it. Even when we don't, and even when it's hard as hell. We deserve to be close, and to find it in each step, from beginning to end.