compassion, Life, Movies, New Year resolutions, Unschooling, Women

The exception, not the rule

I think somehow that those people who are held up as examples are exceptions, not the rule. The ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ downloadthing. You know, those times when we, and others, point out the exceptions to say – look, it’s possible, if  they can do it so can you.

But we do ourselves a disservice when this happens. For the exceptions are not the rule.

The rule is the rest of us, living messy lives, stringing life and money and events and people together in a sometimes haphazard, sometimes organised, often chaotic fashion

I see it with money. Some people just sock it away, make amazing investments, own three houses, retire early. We can learn from them – but, in our own way.

They, these people,  are exceptions because of the cost, the life cost, the opportunity cost, the experience cost. There is always a cost to our actions, whatever that cost may be. And the cost for others may not be do-able, or even want-able. So we, the others not the exceptions, save and put money away for retirement but, no (sigh?), we don’t always make the best choices.

The same with food and exercise. Some seek perfection (a nebulous word, really, when one speaks in physical terms). They attain their version of this perfection. Yet, there are those of us who work hard, and eat well, but who also know that not all happiness is attained in physical terms. We count the cost of believing in physical beauty.

Homeschoolers do this, too. Some search for and write out the perfect schedule, the orderly classical curriculum, with children on track for early university and scholarships and ‘success’. Others do a bit of this, a bit of that, a great deal of messy learning and discussion while still reaching academic goals. This, indeed, is the norm and not the exception.

So, is it okay not to be exceptional?

Isn’t  this just a version of accepting and promoting mediocrity?

I think not.

I think it is a version of wanting the good, of working towards that which is good, within the complexities of self, others and community.

I think that just keeping on, towards the good, can be a compassionate approach to life.Showing compassion and understanding for oneself and for others, both when we succeed and when we falter. In our messy, non-exceptional lives.

 

 

 

 

 

family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, religion, speaking up, Women

What happens when women speak up.

What happens when women speak up, speak up about abuse and control, start afresh, move on, create a happy life for themselves and their children?

I will tell you what happens. The abusive partner fears losing control and takes steps to punish the woman for moving on and for daring to speak up for other women, against abuse. He threatens. He tries to manipulate the children. he generates fear in the woman, he implies possible legal action, so much so that she almost stops speaking up. For herself, and for others.

Why can’t he move on? She ponders.

And – Maybe I should stop speaking about women and abuse because, you know, he is  causing trouble. Again.

Let me start with the first question. Why can’t he move on? To understand this one has to understand the mind of those who manipulate and control and abuse.

Step one involves the angry partner refuting the claim of abuse. ‘I wasn’t violent’ is a common refrain. But, as Lundy Bancroft writes in Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men:

“Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that’s physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you.”

Step two reminds the woman of why, exactly, he can’t let go. They, the abusers, see their partners (yes, even ex-partners) and their children (especially their children) a16266029_10212021609395491_5537952951364669240_ns possessions.The abuser become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over the woman – or, if it seems that they have lost control, they become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over their children. (Although, who am I fooling with the ‘almost’. Seriously.). Children become a weapon in the fight against the woman, a fight always couched in terms of ‘justice’ and ‘charity’.

The third step allows the woman to separate the rhetoric from the truth. She comes to see that he never lets go because (in some families) he uses religious language, and the misguided support of some in the church, as a weapon. It is a misuse of such religious language, of course.

An understanding of the initial question (Why can’t he let go?) does not always help with the next question the woman asks. Should she stop speaking up about abuse, since he may use the speaking up in retribution?

The choice is hers, and hers alone. But I am reminded of a history of silencing  people and groups who have suffered, the don’t-rock-the-boat mentality,  and how, in the end, that doesn’t serve to help women like me. Or the woman of this narrative.

To speak up is to raise awareness. To name abuse, for those who are able, for those who are safe (for safety of women and children is of prime importance)  is to give it less power.

And to continue to speak up, even when threatened or when someone tries to silence you, takes courage.

It, the speaking up, is not for everyone. There are concerns for mental and physical health and protection.  But for some (for me) it is both a necessity and a virtue
.

 

Books, Catholicism, Life, politics, refugees, Women

What should we read, right now?

9781408855706_309035.jpegDolores Umbridge: I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty. 
Minerva McGonagall: Disloyalty? 
Dolores Umbridge: Things at Hogwarts are far worse than I feared. 

If I were homeschooling now, in this age of fear of immigrants, of wishing to publish (weekly) crimes of ‘aliens’, of the rippling effects of such decisions across the world, I would re-read the Harry Potter books with my children. Heck, I’ll probably re-read them now myself, anyway.

J.K. Rowling got it right. The Ministry of Magic and Dolores Umbridge are perfect characterisations of swift, reactionary, dare I say populist policies delivered under the guise of protection. So that when others criticise the policies and actions, these others are criticised as simply being ‘others’, as being ‘disloyal’, as anti-ministry (anti-government) rebel rousers.

‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, in particular, demonstrates the creeping effect of policies and culture that choose to focus on what appears to be good, or even on what is actually good, while ignoring that which is also bad in the regime. Indeed, the swift action in trying people who are against the Ministry of Magic, of picking targets for fear and hate, allows the Ministry to create a culture of fear with misinformation.

Harry Potter: But if I keep popping in and out of the Ministry, won’t it look like I approve of what they’re doing? 

Rufus Scrimgeour: It would give everyone a boost to think that- 

Harry Potter: No, sorry. I don’t think that will work. I don’t like some of the things the Ministry are doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike, for one. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I would not expect you to understand. These are dangerous times. You are sixteen years old- 

Harry Potter: Dumbledore’s a lot older than sixteen, and he doesn’t think Stan should be locked up either. You’re making Stan a scapegoat, just like you’re trying to make me a mascot! Later. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I see. You prefer – like your hero Dumbledore – to disassociate yourself from the Ministry. 

Harry Potter: I don’t want to be used. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: Some would say it’s your duty to be used by the Ministry! 

Harry Potter: Yeah, and others might say it’s your duty to check people actually are Death Eaters before you chuck them in prison! You’re doing what Barty Crouch did. You never get it right, you people, do you?! Either we’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’s lovely while people get murdered under their noses, or we’ve got you, putting the wrong people in prison and pretending you’ve got the Chosen One working for you!

The parallels with the current immigration crisis and subsequent vetos on immigration and dislike targeted towards groups of people, as though a few speak for the many, is evident.

And J. K. Rowling again got it right. Because the novels offer hope. Hope in the actions of those concerned for truth, compassion and mercy. Hope that we, too, like Harry and his friends, can make a positive difference in the narrative of fear. To fight for mercy, to be merciful, again and again.

[Harry thinks to himself] …’how they had talked about fighting a losing battle, and that it was important to fight, and to fight again, and to keep fighting, to keep evil at bay, though never quite eradicated.’

We can take positive action, in both small and big ways. Read, write, share information. Pray. Volunteer. Donate. Discuss. Take political action even. Look carefully at how we treat others and for whom we vote.

Remembering the dignity and respect that should be offered to all of humanity, even when it may be difficult or inconvenient or have an economic cost. For not everything can be counted in economic terms. Not everything is political. Most everything involves humanity, and remembering that people, you, me, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, not objects but people, are affected and are involved.

So that we keep on working for that which is good for all. There is no turning back once we realise the good.

You’ve said to us once before that there was a time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? (Hermione, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’).

Christmas, Life, new year, New Year resolutions, Women, word for the year

It’s not a word for the year. Or even a new year resolution.

white_t_shirt_by_alymunibari-d3fw9adDoing that word for a year thing seems so stale for me now. So old me.

But  to see the new year in without a promise or hope  hurts. It’s like putting a big, fat red cross on 2017 before the poor thing even properly starts.

What to do? It’s a dilemma….

Then, today, I put on my new white t-shirt. Ethically made. Simple. Clean. Clear cut lines. No adornment.

And I remember that I love white shirts. Especially white t-shirts.

Yeah, they show every dirt or stain. But -zap!- a soak in napisan and out they come, pristine. Almost.

They give a sense of a fresh start. Of Youth and of Summer. New promises, as yet unbroken. Even the many times washed white t-shirt. That looks good but not perfect. Like life, really. Promise of more with hints of that which has gone before.

I’m going to buy another new white t-shirt today. It’s like a promise to myself. Of newness and goodness and hope. To try, and to try again.

White t-shirts are a gift to the world.

In the end I find that it’s not that I need a word for the year. Or even a resolution.

What I need is a new white t-shirt (or two or three..). A symbol of hope and promise.

It’s my new New Year thing.

Catholicism, Christmas, family, Life, religion, Women

Not the Brady Bunch

The end of the year.

The Feast of the Holy Family.

I should see their love. I know it is there. Image result for the holy family

But instead I see how often others hold up the Holy Family as an idealised model. As a tool with which to bludgeon others, to make others fit into a mould, a mould into which probably even the Holy Family did not fit.

Those of us who have grow up in different families can be made to feel inferior. I know I did. So I searched for normal. Only to find that normal did not, in fact, mean a Brady Bunch perfect family.

Those of us who have lived in horrible, gut-wrenching, nit-picking, cutting-wrists relationships also know different. We know that the false image of perfection in family life is a razor sharp picture that stabs us as we try, vainly, to snip at ourselves here and there on a path of reconstruction. A reconstruction that can never be achieved. Never.

Because the feast of the Holy Family is an icon. An icon that has been used by some to make family life what they want it to be. Like re-runs of I Love Lucy or Eight is Not Enough. Romanticised reminiscing of family life.

The Holy Family, itself, however, is not an icon. The Family were people.Are people. Jesus, Mary His Mother, Joseph her Spouse. Even in holiness they had their idiosyncrasies, I am sure. Even in holiness they lived rather than acted out scenes for others to copy.

Perhaps it is the living that counts on this feast day. So that, while I am tempted to cringe at the blows and hits of others who manipulate the feast, I can remember that life is lived. In a family and with others.

Living and praying. Trying and failing. Grace and grins. Anger and sorrow. As Thomas Merton reflected, life is lived  – who we are, truly, right deep inside, before God.

‘For me to be a saint means to be myself.’ Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain

‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them’ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.

 

Catholicism, Life, Motherhood, religion, Unschooling, Women

It’s the small things

Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa
Catholicism, Life, Women

Marilyn Monroe and Pope John Paul II

marilyn

Watching Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” in an outdoor film fest, I was struck by more than the star’s beauty. In the cool summer night, amid the laughs of my fellow audience at the film’s superb comedic timing and dialogue, I saw Monroe as icon of human yearning and feminist ideals.

I am not alone in this. Feminists from Gloria Steinem to third wave feminist Erin Johansen have claimed Marilyn as their own, citing her life and roles as an example of why women need feminism. As feminist author Nancy Friday has said, Marilyn Monroe’s life sends a message to women – when the world forms young women into sex objects, the women lose themselves and, ultimately, their life.

St John Paul II echoed this warning in his work “Love and Responsibility”. He wrote that ‘A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person’, adding ‘Anyone who treats a person as the means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other’. Feminist writers have argued that the Hollywood film industry and 1950s American culture destroyed the essence of Marilyn Monroe, in  highlighting her sexuality as every man’s desire yet neglecting to see the essence of Marilyn as person.

It was this essence that enthralled in the movie “Some Like It Hot.” Having been introduced to Monroe as a comedic actress of high calibre, with august timing and exaggerated facial expressions in “How To Marry A Millionaire”, I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of a deeper quality in her work. While Monroe remains an object for the desires of others in this film, she skilfully hints at yearnings of her own, and thus at yearnings of humanity. We yearn for acknowledgement and acceptance. We yearn for a better life. We want hope in the suffering that we often experience in our every day, perhaps mundane or arduous, tasks and roles. Marilyn, as long-suffering ever hopeful Sugar, expresses these yearnings with a gaze, a pout, a glance of eyes brimming with sorrow. Indeed, the irony of the scene wherein Marilyn sings ‘I’m Through With Love’, while the club’s audience dances in oblivion to her suffering, is sublime. How often is humanity’s suffering experienced in a sea of oblivion and apathy?

It is apathy to suffering that can cost lives. Indeed, the suffering portrayed by Monroe on the screen reflected the suffering of her life. It seems that apathy to her off-screen image, in contrast to obsession with her on-screen objectification, cost Marilyn her life.

Heavy thoughts for a summer film festival. Yet, as Coppelia Kahn reminds us, comedies will mirror aspects of the human condition. And feminist authors are right in holding Marilyn as a feminist icon, suggesting that Marilyn’s life and movies encourage discussion on humanity and equality. It is such discussion that reminds us of respect for human dignity and essence while recognizing the truth of the final lines of “Some Like It Hot” – “Nobody’s perfect”.