Taylor Swift, Laurie Penny and Anger

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Many women you know are angrier than you can possibly imagine. Most are pretty good at hiding it, having been taught to do so since childhood. Laurie Penny

There are two sisters in me.   One speaks a lot. She is reasonable. She is nice. Sometimes, she is described as sweet. She is also resilient and determined to make the best of what she’s been given. So I get up on a day like today, delighting in the small joys of life.

On Friday night, Sherod and I sat at table in what can only be described as the Montgomery version of “Babette’s Feast”—lovely company enjoying a slow and sumptuous meal, candle light, wine that was wonderful without being pretentious, laughter. Anne Sexton, in her poem, For John Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further, talks about “my awkward bowl, with all its cracked stars shining”—a wonderful description, it seems to me, of all our lives; so there we sat, late into the evening, cracked stars shining, in a quiet, beautiful, gracious place.

Today has been much more about the domesticity of a day off for a priest like me. Doing laundry and roasting my coffee for the week. Talking to our daughter who is still sick in Fort Lauderdale, so far away I can’t run my fingers through her hair and give her comfort, but connected enough I can order chicken noodle soup from the Tower Deli close to where she lives, have someone it run it over to her, and imagine how that quintessential mama’s cure for so much gives my girl some kind of sense of of the warmth of love.

We’re starting to teach our new family members, Gilbert and Sunny, about finding their way outdoors so Sherod and I stood amused for a good while, watching Gilbert romp the grass, convince himself he’s big and bad-assed enough to stalk one of the chicken ladies, before turning tail and running like his life depended on it as soon as she clucked. I’ve folded and cleaned and breathed in deep enjoying the lavender candle I lit in my office a while ago. It is not hard to be grateful, and sweet, and kind when you are just this side of heaven.

The incredibly hard question for me these days, is ‘what about the anger, the sister of joy’? It seems like everywhere I look right now, there are women holding our awkward bowls with cracked stars shining, trying to keep the light of anger from shining too bright, too harsh in the places where we live, and move and have our being. A peer I respect enormously shared this article on Facebook recently.

That article, and getting to hear bits and pieces of the Taylor Swift trial, reopen the door to an anger that is kept tightly locked in me. There is one small story I am now strong enough and old enough to tell that describes the anger I am talking about.

When I was at seminary, each seminarian had to preach once a semester; we did so at daily morning prayer with the whole community. It was not unusual for a member of the faculty or administration to invite the “preacher” into her or his office for a visit and to give feedback about the sermon the seminarian had preached. It happened once that I gave a sermon about the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

I was invited to visit with a person with considerable authority so I was quite flattered by the invitation. We sat in his office and it turned out that what this man wanted to discuss with me was that  after chapel, he’d been thinking about what “picking up your cross” might mean in his life. His conclusion was that his cross would be if his wife was seriously injured and could no longer have sex with him. He went on at some length about why and how hard that would be and I was left wordless. I was 25 years old and far less experienced than many women my age. All I remember thinking was that I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me because what in God’s name could I say?

I had come to seminary without being a postulant for holy orders but still very much wanting to find a way into that possibility. This person would have very significant influence on my ability to make that happen. There were no witnesses and you figure out quickly as a woman, that in ‘he said/she said’ scenarios, especially with the kind of power differential that existed between the two of us, I wouldn’t stand a chance. So I mumbled some inane bits of response, the conversation ended with him congratulating me on the sermon, and I walked out wanting to scrub myself down, wash myself clean of his garbage.

In the larger scheme of things, this was not a huge deal—this person did not try to grope me, he did not make any advances to me. I am not even sure it would qualify for any claim of harassment. But what I see now, that I only sensed then, was that the difference in power and authority between the two of us was so enormous, that a conversation about his sex life with his wife not only missed the point of my sermon but was beyond inappropriate. I am proud of Taylor Swift, and Laurie Penny, and all the young women coming into their own, who have a clearer voice and stronger sense of their worth—and for a world that has opened up a tiny bit more space for a woman’s anger to matter.

As for me, if you grew up, as I did, fearing my own anger so I got far more comfortable with grief and sorrow, it isn’t only that the light shining out of a cracked and awkward bowl has been refracted and dimmed, though that has happened for sure (and all the while so many of us murmur, “you know, rainbows are so pretty aren’t they? And they are a reminder of God’s promises to us aren’t they?”). But it is more than that. As light broke into a multitude of colors, too many of them, but especially the red, got painted over with pink.

Perhaps the work of women like me is to wrap our hands around the too-dim, too monochromatic light, as if it was a rope, to draw it back in, slowly but surely, hand over hand, “un-refracting ” the light, reclaiming a much more complicated and colorful version of ourselves. In the spaces where fear and a desire to be liked no longer reign supreme, maybe we have the opportunity to weave the anger back into the fabric of our being, and along the way, we can take the time to make sure the light becomes more concentrated. More focused. More steady and unwavering, so what shines out through the cracks and fractures of a carefully constructed life is truer and more complete. And also shines brighter.

 

 

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