Colored pencil drawing, Tokyo, Japan, 2000
It seems women are more on my mind than usual this week. First there was the discussion at Feathers of Hope (Looking Within) and WriteOutLoud (The Things She Carried: An Open Letter to Tim O’Brian) in which a number of women voiced disbelief and shock at seeing a woman, Lynndie England, participating in acts of humiliation and coercion in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib. My initial reaction was that it seemed to me arrogant and presumptuous to ever have assumed that women are not capable of awful acts, just like men. While I still maintain that women are just as equal in this as men, I’m beginning to wonder more now if I was reaching for more justification than is warranted. In my life I have rarely encountered women who actually resort to violence and I feel that this is so everywhere. In a recent interview with England she claims that she was ordered to commit the awful acts that were photographed. And most likely this is true.
More than anything this provides a very clear picture of how it is that so many Germans (and I must point out that most Germans were not Nazis and did not descend to acts of atrocity) ended up committing the deeds that they did… just like England they were ordered to do so, and in typical military mentality, there was very little leeway for dissension.
I wonder now if England would have committed such acts, or even thought about them, if she hadn’t been ordered to do them.
But of course there will always be Nurse Ratchets in the world, so who knows?
Balanced on the other end of the seesaw came an earth shattering revelation within myself over the last two days. One thing that has always sat off kilter within me was a sense of not feeling right about both the places and peoples I lived in and with, and the suspicion that the general direction that everyone seemed to be auto-piloting their lives was missing a fundamental connection to the natural world. I always assumed this suspicion stemmed solely from my living in towns and cities that were physically disconnected from natural places and therefore I needed to find my way to some less developed habitat where I could discover my roots. The problem was that even when I did manage to get out into the mountains and woods and sea sides, there always remained a yearning and need that originated within myself, not out there. There was a hunger that drove me to keep seeking that sense of balance, but I could not discern exactly what it was that was supposed to be balanced.
Until this week when I picked up the suspense thriller “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.
Now, I usually don’t like such cliched populist books in which the dialogue always seems flippant and predictable, and the first part of the book confirmed my notions, but then the plot twisted into talk of the Christian Church and the Goddess, and something clicked into place. Not to give away the plot to those who still want to read this book, suffice it to say that the book awakened me to something that I had known and felt all along, but never recognized: it was the feminine balance in the equation that was missing in my life and all I saw around. And it was the feminine that I had been seeking all my life, why the natural world meant so much to me but could never quite fulfill the completion that it promised.
This is the spiritual poverty that the world has been carrying around for so long, why it always felt wrong to see priests celibate and men make decisions about abortion and have sole husbandry of the land and to push women into subordinate positions. Without the feminine aspect of spirituality that had been an integral part of so many traditions before the Catholic Church there could be no sense of completion in the world’s understanding of itself.
I realized this week that what I, and everyone else in the Christian world, need to bring back together, whole, is the two sides of the circle, the male and the female, the god and the goddess. I realized why it is that I am having such a hard time pinpointing my need to fill my life with the natural world, and why it is that I can’t seem to find a more wholesome balance in planning a future with the women in my life. Why I seem to be able to speak better with women than men, but at the same time miss a vital connection with men. Why so many of the attitudes and prospects of men seem to me crude and one-sided. Why so many of the men I know who are “happily” married are so because they have procured a position of power, in which the women have backed down to carrying out the whims of the men, even in this modern, “enlightened” world. Even, why it is that eroticism and sex have always danced foremost in my mind, but I always find a great wall of hesitation in candidly speaking about it, or writing about it.
Part of what surprised me so much about this revelation is that so often in the past, when coming upon images of women gathering in “goddess reawakening” rites I felt fear. I could never quite grasp where this fear came from, except that it seemed to undermine men and threatened to topple the sense of equality that I believed in, in part because so often these gatherings conspicuously counted men out. So often I lashed out in anger. But why was I so angry?
In reading “The Da Vinci Code” a kind of hidden gate seemed to have swung open, to all my lifelong tendencies and imaginings, such as an almost erotic sense of intimacy with wild places, a more empathetic connection with female dialogue about the beginnings of life and reasons for being, and dreams filled more often with conversations with women than with men.
But I am a man and have always felt an ache from not finding a suitable definition and ethos for what it means to be a man, both without women and with women. When I was a boy I fell in love with the Arthurian tales and for a long time modeled my outlook on the code of chivalry, believing deeply in self-sacrifice, doing good deeds for others, and courage in the face of all odds. But somehow it always felt artificial, whereas women always seemed to carry something within themselves that didn’t need to seek codes and lists of qualities. Ever since I have been seeking for the same state of grace within men, perhaps attempting to find the key to the garden of Eden, where men and women were one.
I suspect that my thinking, by living in the world that I do, can only bring me heartache. But somehow I feel that it is right, too. Perhaps by embracing the feminine aspect of myself I can win back the balance of the whole world within myself. Certainly that must be one reason I returned to Japan, where much of that male-female intermixing has never been lost. And perhaps that is why, over the last three years, I have been able to slip past the great male anger that I carried for so long. Men, alone in the vastness of the wilderness, without the guiding voices of women, can only hope to cry out in anger and fear.