Updated: Nov 25, 2020
I’m thinking a lot of this imperfect moon from November 4, 2020, which I saw from White River Junction in Vermont that night, after a perfect dinner with one of my children.
The moon is the guide.
"Come this way to my house,"
So says the host of a wayside inn.
(photo by me; Panasonic Lumix with Leica glass)
More than ten years after the end of my second marriage, this child, who is approaching 30, with tears in her eyes, says to me how much she missed me back then, how absent she felt I had been, how abusive that wife had been to her, to her siblings, to us.
I listen and nod and am weeping myself, as discreetly as possible, but without shame, in this sleek restaurant where the waiters are masked and tables are far apart. My child is upright, in the way my Zen teacher would respect, as do I, and I listen and acknowledge and do what I have been asking Saint David’s School to do for months:
I own my responsibility for letting abuse happen back then; I say I am so sorry this happened to you and to us; I will do whatever I can to make amends and repair; you are more important to me than anything else in this life.
When we leave and go our separate ways, she says “I love you” more times than she has in years, and we hug and snub our noses at social distancing for a moment. There’s more to say, and she says she’s had enough for one evening, and that’s so true: you have to process these things in small bites.
Please seek out resources for help and connection if you are a survivor or a friend of a survivor. #metoo #RAINN
I mentally note the direct abuse I’ve experienced in my life, and the vicarious abuse (or trauma, or critical incidents), and the list is as long as your arm, and it’s possible to dispassionately go down the list, which I did last summer in a PTSD processing program for first responders: cops, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, who were dealing with the “regular” shit of their jobs as well as COVID. The retired firefighter – tattooed head to toe, Harley-rider, gunslinger, ponytailed gray hair and massive black Ford pickup truck – says to me, “I could never do what you do.” I say the same back. The police officer, a woman my daughter's age, who had detained a crazed drug addict who then died in her custody. The prison guard who had found one too many inmates hanging in their cells.
You have to include vicarious trauma, the direct, visceral, emotional impact of abuse on a bystander. Vicarious trauma, for example, is what you would feel - biologically, physically, over a long period - at witnessing your child be run over by a car.
It's what we feel as Saint David's alumni whose classmates were raped, and told us about it.
When I casually toss off being in Afghanistan during the war with the Soviets, I’m told to stop, listen to myself, at the request of the grizzled experienced doctor who runs this program. Same with being in Haiti three times after the earthquake in 2010.
"Whatever," I’m thinking.
A year ago, one man complaining about being raped by teachers there in the 1970s. Today, about twelve men, and counting.
It's all about CHILDREN, for God's sake.
What's so hard to understand?
I no longer receive alumni emails from the school because I have been such a thorn in their side as more and more men come to me, and to my abused brothers, with their own stories about being molested by Rey Buono, Bob Ludlow, or Chuck Jones; men who also describe a culture of sexual promiscuity, who report teachers slipping off into the woods during field trips to have sex.
I met my seventh grade French teacher recently for coffee. Can you imagine? Re-uniting with your teacher from seventh grade? I had had a crush on her of course. She told me that the headmaster back then had hired lower school teachers based on their legs.
She told me it was completely within character that upon hearing of the sexual “misconduct” of certain teachers, this headmaster would give a warning, a talking-to, nothing more. If it happened a second time, she said, he would then probably fire him. He was flirtatious, she said, but she never slept with him.
Stories, rumors, suspicions. Boundaries, oppositions, revelations.
In 2019, I photographed every full moon. As if that circle is so great and perfect. As if a perfect circle can reflect awakening, as it is symbolized in Zen – the ensō, the big brush stroke made without thinking.
But in looking at last week’s moon, I realized that all of the ensō I have painted (the good ones, anyway) do not complete a circle. The beginning of the brush stroke almost touches the end.
I said to my daughter something that was said to me at the beginning of my first long meditation retreat: “We all do the best we can, otherwise we’d be doing something else.”
So, you look at the moon and realize that we are like that moon: incomplete, imperfect, and forgivable. We must forgive ourselves.
(There is, however, no requirement to forgive others. When the pain of resentment becomes so big though, so hot in the chest, then it may be time to reconsider.)
In Twelve Step programs, I’ve heard it said, “Stop ‘shoulding’ on yourself.”
Pablo Neruda writes, “Let us forget, with generosity, those who cannot love us.” I love this because forgetting is an action, like a spoken prayer, hence more immediately practical than “let us forgive,” which demands a visceral sea-change, which may happen as quickly as India pushes its tectonic plates up against China (about two inches per year).
Let us forget even our abusers, eventually. Let us forget Saint David’s, which is doing the best it can. It is as imperfect as my moon.
And yet it is also as imperfect as the dangerous alcoholic whom you still love, but against whom you must, you must, erect boundaries. The dangerous alcoholic for whom you can do as much as you can, until you see how trying to take care of this un-take-care-able person, how trying to get them to see, is hurting you badly. You must humbly take care of yourself, and forget the person – or institution – who cannot, cannot (not organically capable, and therefore you don’t have to take it personally) love you.
Then you love yourself, and you find those who love you too. The three treasures in Buddhism are Buddha, dharma (teachings), and sangha (community). The Buddha himself said that the most important part of spiritual life was community. Not meditation, not book-learning, not adoration of an idol or a leader like himself, but the other people around you.
In the midst of terrible, terrible pain these past twelve months, I have found a community I never expected. There are twelve men now who are my brothers. I love them. I love me.
(ensō by Charles Huschle, Santa Fe, winter 2018)
Zen practice isn’t about a special place or a special peace or something other than being with our life just as it is. It’s one of the hardest things for people to get: that my very difficulties in this very moment are the perfection… Even if it’s fearful and distressing, it’s fine. – Charlotte Joko Beck
You don’t have to say anything in particular or do anything in particular to be helpful to people. You become a bodhisattva by wishing for your own happiness as well as the happiness of others, and by opening to your own experience in a loving way. When you love yourself and are kind enough to yourself to be who you really are, you’re showing others what they need to do in order to be free. You’re showing them what it’s like to be present in the middle of suffering. You’re right here in the world, just like them. You know about fear and anxiety, but you don’t run away. This is the way you join hands with people and walk together through birth and death. – Reb Anderson, in "Being Upright"
(wood carving above by me, 2019,
gift to Roshi Joan Halifax upon
the conferring of vows, Santa Fe,
All things are so deeply connected that at the precise moment when you are just yourself, the entire universe is just itself. -- Reb Anderson
There is pain around every buddha’s meditation seat. It forms a ring of fire. Around this is another ring of fire, composed of anger, hate, rage, aggression, disgust, nausea, rejection, aversion, ill will, and violence. This outer ring is an expression of impatiently turning away from or trying to control the flames of suffering. At the center of this precept we acknowledge and honor the tremendous force of these reactions to pain. – Reb Anderson
Sexual abuse of children doesn't go away on its own. The impact of traumatic stress does not go away by eating more kale or "manning up" or learning to be a "big girl" or "just get over it." Like a poison, it has to be chelated out.