September 15, 2014

Living Well—Nigerian Hummingbirds

 

ILLUSTRATION BY DAN MAZUR © 2014

Living Well—Nigerian Hummingbirds

I don’t watch the news. In 20 years of abstinence, I’ve grown sensitive on a more personal and subtle level. The issues are the same. I simply prefer them in homeopathic doses, and I trust that the most important headlines will find their way into my world.

When I heard about the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their beds in Nigeria, a deep wound of pain and rage reopened. The man who called and told me about the crime said, “It’s gotten out of control.”

It was out of control way before the first incident. Actions don’t arise out of nowhere but out of our concepts of ourselves and the world, of what we accept and what we do not. As a culture, we condone the objectification and sexualization of young women with billboards of “gentlemen’s clubs,” of scantily clad models straddling power tools and liquor bottles, and movies portraying two-dimensional female characters—usually as victims or side dishes. Instead of honoring femininity, we capitalize on it. I watched the CNN broadcast of two of the schoolgirls who’d managed to escape, then began drafting my column. As I typed, a hummingbird hovered near my open window. I imagined her flying inside, blessing my home with sweet joy, but, of course, s/he would be scared, trapped and could get hurt trying to escape. I smiled at the fluttering angel, gave thanks for the visit, and went back to my writing.

For the most part, I’ve held strong to my childhood vision: a world of natural beauty and genuine humanity. Simple kindness still makes me weep. Acts of patience, compassion, and generosity often leave me speechless and nature soothes me like nothing else can. Oddly enough, horror touches me in the same place. Acts of love and acts of fear both break my heart wide open. My feelings are tidal waves. When I love, I love all the way; when I hurt, I hurt like a child. I feel helpless and outraged by things that are—or seem to be—beyond my control.

I want to be an agent of change. And I can be. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can affect the weather on the other side of the globe, the questions I must ask are, “How am I responsible for this and what can I do?”

Recently at Café Gratitude, I did some witnessing. The same man who had told me about the Nigerian schoolgirls sat across from his lady eating lunch. Together they formed a vision of mutual adoration. However, as his lady spoke, another woman walked by the table toward the restroom. As she passed by, long legs and short cutoffs, my friend looked her over from top to bottom, bottom to top. When she reemerged, he repeated the gesture, then went back to “listening” to his lady.

I wondered if the walking woman noticed, and if she did, what she thought. Did she feel complimented and a little superior, or did she perhaps feel self-conscious, objectified? I’ve been that woman and in her shoes. I felt sorry for the lady at the table. I continued to watch my friend and wondered if he thought about the impact of his actions on either of these women or on others who may have witnessed it. As an elder, did he realize that younger men and teenage boys may follow his example? It was a brief moment, a passing distraction, but several minutes later, the same woman went to the restroom again, and again my friend repeated his behavior. His lady looked down, closed her eyes, then looked up again and resumed speaking. A few minutes later, another woman walked ­­­by. More shorts, more legs, more looks. This time the lady at the table got up and walked away. The man looked baffled.

I wanted to speak with him, but not in that moment and not as an adversary. He appeared to be unaware of his actions—which is part of the problem.

This morning, during meditation, I remembered another story.

A dear friend of mine made a poor choice while attending a party. She went off alone with a man, following him up a hill. Once they were far from the others, he attempted to rape her, but this non-athletic, middle-aged, Middle Eastern woman did not allow it. I remembered sitting riveted as she gave her detailed account of how, in the midst of his brutish sexual assault she claimed her power and, through the use of compassion and communication, left the scene unscathed.

There are no mistakes. I’m sitting with all three of these stories. They are connected. We are all connected, all fallible, all powerful. Today I can think globally and act locally. I can send my friend a copy of today’s column and ask him to think about it. I can honor myself and other women, I can stand for sisterhood without shaming men, I can pray for those girls in Nigeria and I can imagine a better newscast:

“Today, like yesterday, trees performed an alchemical oxygen-producing miracle, enabling life to continue on the entire planet. Children awoke, hugged their parents and went out to learn and play with their teachers in nature. The latest technological advances include Tesla’s electro-magnetic train, which will provide transport from San Francisco to New York in under three hours without the use of fossil fuels. On a local note, sixteen couples tied the knot at the Inn, divorce rates are at an all-time low and early polls show a 100 percent voter turnout; highs in the 70s, great weather to visit the ocean.”

At the end, we’d allow two-minutes for deaths, crime and unemployment followed by a moment of silence for all parties involved. The hummingbird is back, tapping at my window. I don’t know what it means, but I like it.

Sage Knight is a local ghostwriter, editor, and Literary Midwife. She welcomes your visits to SageKnight.com.