Who Run the World? Girls!

A few weeks ago I started volunteering with Girls on the Run, an incredible organization that teaches girls in 3rd-5th grade life skills while they train to run a 5K.  As with 99.9% of my volunteer experiences, I went in thinking I was doing something to “give back” and turns out I’m the one who is receiving so, so much.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I leave work at 4pm, which is sometimes really, really hard to do – not because of my boss or my job [who are beyond accommodating and supportive] but because of my own unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies.  One of the other coaches said she volunteers partly as a forcing mechanism to get her to leave the office and I’m starting to empathize with that. Knowing that a group of high energy, loving, silly, irrepressible 8-10 years olds is counting on me is all the accountability I need to get me out the door.  I don’t want to disappoint them, and I don’t want to miss one moment of time with them.

I’ve pretty much gotten choked up at every practice.  A few weeks ago the lesson was on self talk, and we had the girls pair up to practice turning negative self talk to into positive.  One of the little girls ran towards her partner and said in a small voice, head downcast “I’m ugly and stupid.” My heart stopped in that moment – hearing a precious 8 year old voice such ugly thoughts  aloud made me feel unable to breathe and I struggled with what to say in response. I didn’t need to worry, because before I could say anything her partner looked at her and piped up in a cheery, matter of fact voice “Audrey, you’re not ugly! Everyone is beautiful in their own way!” Audrey’s face lit up with a smile as she skipped back to her place in line, and I tried to hold it together and not burst out crying at the beauty in front of me.

The girls aren’t saints – they push the boundaries and test limits and seem incapable of listening for more than 5 seconds at a time.  But that makes me love them all the more. They are beautiful in their humanity. There is a raw honestly to them that breaks my heart.  They haven’t grown all of the creative, complex layers of self-protection we adults do, so the things they say and do are often breathtakingly raw and honest.

One of the girls twisted her ankle during practice, and got a piggy back ride back to school.  One of the other little girls was walking behind and looked at me, sighed and said matter of factly “Sometimes I like getting hurt because I get attention and comfort.  I don’t think people like me very much, so it’s nice when people are nice to me.” Again, before I could speak another girl standing nearby piped up “Olivia, I like you! You’re my friend!”  Olivia beamed, and I severely regretted not wearing waterproof mascara that day.

Spending time with these girls fills my heart with so much, and also gives me a glimpse of how terrifying parenting is.  I’m used to chubby two year olds whose biggest problem is tantrums. These girls are full blown, undeniable people, figuring out who they are and how they fit in, navigating bullies and hurt and friendships and self worth.  I’ve heard the quote that parenting is like having your heart walk around outside of your body and given how much I already care about these precious girls I’ve known less than a month, I can only imagine how true that is.

A few days after Kavanaugh was confirmed, as I was still processing the deep hurt and anger and sense of betrayal of all women that his confirmation and the surrounding conversation stirred up, I found myself standing in Washington Square Park cheering these girls on as they ran laps. They were all trying their best, pushing themselves beyond how far and fast they had run before, and I yelled encouragement at them as they ran by.

“You are so strong!”

“You got this girl!”

“You’re trying so hard! I’m so proud of you!”

“Finish strong! You can do this!”

Speaking those words of love and truth and encouragement over these precious girls felt like a sacrament, a holy moment, a benediction.  Words matter, and every woman I know, myself included, has a tape in her head of the discouraging words she’s heard in her lifetime. “You’re not pretty enough, strong enough, smart enough.  Girls can’t run, Girls can’t do math, Girls can’t be the boss. No one likes you, you have no friends, you’ll never be enough.” As I stripped my throat raw yelling and cheering and making a total fool of myself in the midst of tourists, dog walkers and homeless folks in North Beach, I felt such hope bubbling up inside of me.

I can’t change the Supreme Court.  I can’t change the toxic narratives floating around that minimize and diminish women’s stories. I can’t convince every woman that she is strong and beautiful and loved, that she matters and that her story matters.  I can’t do all of that, but I can do this.  I can stand in a park and yell my heart out and high five a dozen strong, smart, kind girls who are going to grow up – God willing – into strong, smart, kind women, and change the world in their own ways.  I can front-load words of encouragement and love to the lifelong narrative they are accumulating in their minds and hearts.

As I stood there cheering wildly, one of the girls ran past me, glasses askew, long hair flying behind her, her dress flapping in the wind, limbs akimbo as she ran with her whole heart, and I just thought “This.  This is the future, this is hope, this is the very best of what I want for our world and every child and girl and woman in it.”

One of my most treasured possessions is a rock that sat on my dad’s desk,  inscribed with the Mother Teresa quote “Do no great things, only small things with great love.”  That’s what I’m doing on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in Washington Square Park. I’m not changing laws or changing the world.  But I’m loving and encouraging 12 precious little girls, and praying that my words stick with them as they navigate this big, broken yet still beautiful world.

Because to quote a very wise 5th grader I know, we’re all beautiful in our own way. 

Love Conquers All

What a week.

This week made me want to alternately throw things against the wall and curl up into a fetal position.  This week I have felt rage like I’ve never felt before. And deep grief. And utter helplessness. I am spent, wrung out, exhausted.

I wore a shirt today that says “Love Conquers All”  – because I believe with all my heart that’s true and because it felt so deeply untrue this week.  I needed a tangible reminder, something to hold onto – small, indelible, cursive red letters stitched across my weary heart to cling to and publicly proclaim in the midst of a week that made me rage and scream and cry and mourn.  

Watching the hearing was excruciating, but I couldn’t look away.  Listening to Dr. Ford testify I marveled at her courage and her grace, the sacrifice she was making to, as Kamala Harris put it “do what she felt was her civic duty, to tell her truth.”

Contrast that with Brett Kavanaugh, whose full scale meltdown at being asked to respond to credible allegations as part of a job interview for one of the highest positions in the government was the most informative vision of the entrenchment of straight, white male privilege I’ve ever seen.  

I believe Dr. Ford.  I believe her because she had nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward.  I believe her because the incidence of women falsely reporting sexual assault is miniscule.  [The incidence of women not reporting true assault, however,  is high, and based on this week it’s not hard to see why so many women remain silent.]  I believe her because what she said just makes sense, and is consistent with the evidence of Brett Kavanaugh’s behavior in high school.

Putting aside for a moment whether or not Dr. Ford’s story is true [ honoring “innocent until proven guilty” as hard as that is for me to do in this case] what I want in a Supreme Court justice – in any elected official, really  – is integrity.  I want someone who will say “I didn’t do this thing I’ve been accused of but this is too important, so I’ll calmly answer questions and submit to an investigation and do whatever I need to do to help uncover the truth.”  

What happened instead was a full scale meltdown of someone who has spent their entire life operating in a world that was built for them, free from any checks on their power and privilege.  Someone dared to challenge that power and he lost his shit.

When I read on Friday morning [before Flake reversed] that the senate was going to move forward with a vote, I started crying and I couldn’t stop.  The message I got from that decision was clear.

Women’s stories don’t matter.  Your story doesn’t matter.

A credible witness with nothing to gain and everything to lose swore under oath and told a credible story about a man trying to rape her – and we don’t fucking care.

We don’t care enough to investigate, we don’t care enough to take her claims seriously.  We don’t care enough to second guess nominating a man who has been accused of sexual assault by four women to the Supreme Court.

That’s what is hardest about all of this – the message I’m getting crystal clear from every senator who is pushing this nomination forward is you don’t matter.

I think of the women I know. I think of my friends, colleagues, bosses, neighbors, cousins, aunties. I think of all of the stories. So damn many stories.

Of being molested at 12. Assaulted at 14. Rape at 20.

Of being attacked by a stranger. A trusted friend. A first date. A boyfriend. A husband.

At their office. At home. At school. In the park.

On a run. On a walk. Sitting at home. Sleeping in their bed.

Of being locked in a car by an abusive boyfriend  – whom she met at church.

Of being molested at her preschool.  

Of being attacked in a parking lot in college.

Of being assaulted at a party. At a church camp. By her priest. By her uncle. By her father, her brother, her stepbrother.  

Of being pinned on a bed. In the backseat of a car. Her mouth being covered, muffling her screams. Being slapped. Punched.  The tears leaking out between his fingers clamped on her face.

These are the stories, these are the lived experiences, this is reality for so many women I know and love and admire and a group of people who we elected to uphold the ideals of justice just told me and everyone I know and love that they don’t care.  They just told us our stories don’t matter. Our pain doesn’t matter, our assault doesn’t matter, the way our lives have been shaped and twisted and contorted and altered by violence and abuse and assault doesn’t matter.

I’m calling bullshit.

I’m calling bullshit because they matter.  Every one of these women matter. Their stories matter. Their trauma matters. They matter. We all matter.

There’s that well known quote that “the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference” and that is the evil, insidious thing that it making me want to scream and rage and sob.  The indifference to injustice and abuse and suffering when it is literally looking you in the face, telling you what happened.

I can’t fix this.  I want to desperately and I can’t.

But what I can do is shout at the top of my lungs, with every breath in me, that this is not fucking ok.  I can a look in the eyes of the strong, resilient, beautiful women I am privileged to know and say with fierce and tender love “You Matter. Your story matters. It matters to me, it matters to the people who love you, it matters to the God who created you and sees you and loves you. You are loved and strong and valuable. That is the truth.”

Love is such a tricky word.  It can have soft, fluffy connotations  – puppies and pink hearts and sappy poems.  And sometimes Love needs to be soft and tender, warm and cozy, comforting and calm.

But I believe that love is also fierce.  Love stands up for what’s right and fights like hell to protect the beloved.  Love doesn’t back down no matter how hard and dark and discouraging things get.

Love conquers all.

Love never fails.

Love wins.

I’m sad and angry and discouraged this week, but I am choosing to believe that there is still hope, and that there is work to be done.

I’m donating to organizations that are advancing the cause of justice and helping victims of sexual assault to be heard, believed and cared for.  I’m standing up for myself and for the women around me. [A man at the Mission BART station looked at me yesterday like he was going to make a comment and in my head I thought “Oh I just dare you to try man. You cannot even fathom the fire and fury I will reign down on you. Not today. Not fucking today.”]

I’m refusing to sit down or shut up or go along to protect men’s egos or feelings. I’m done.  I’m done letting my silence add to to the pain and suffering of women.  

We’re all fucking done.

I’m done playing nice and I’m ready to love fiercely.  

Bring it on.