“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” –André Gide
I’ve started and then stopped writing this many times this morning.
I was going to tell the story of when my parents put my sister and me on a plane to visit our aunt when we were 9 and 7, respectively (alone! Can you imagine?) and how, at the time, I wished I could fly strapped directly to the wing while my sister was so terrified, she threw up into the homemade pillow in her lap.
I was going to mention that one afternoon we ran through the house calling out to this aunt (I don’t remember why–Could we have another cookie? Play with her make-up? Take money from her wallet?) when she sing-songed, I’m in here! from bathroom so we barreled in to find her soaking in the tub.
I remember being a little shocked. In my mind, it’s a little goof-ball moment with one of us stopping short and the next one crashing into the first.
Our mom walked around naked, sure, but we weren’t accustomed to seeing other adults without clothes. I didn’t say anything, though. We teetered this way and that, looking but also not looking and trying to be all casual while our aunt gave off this vibe:
I am a female human in the nude. There is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. If you see my breasts floating on the surface and a dark mound of pubic hair beneath the water, it is all very natural and okay.
Uh, okay. Except that you seem VERY UNCOMFORTABLE.
We didn’t know it at the time. We didn’t know we were uncomfortable or that she was uncomfortable. We knew something was up but it was all humming low under the surface.
This Aunt, like our Mom, her sister, wanted to model the right behavior and attitudes about life and human bodies, about how to treat people and how to treat ourselves. But it wasn’t all completely resolved, if you know what I mean. It was like kelp strands undulating in the water not connected to the sea floor.
Their mom, my Nana, didn’t exactly talk about the hard or uncomfortable stuff and there was body shame and sexuality shame and many other kinds of shame and they wanted to do it differently.
Mom’s style was overly thorough. We’d ask her an innocent question, like, What are hormones? And within seconds, she’d be describing various sizes and shapes of boobs and testes and the process of menSTRUation and we’d run screaming out of the room with our fingers in our ears.
Our aunt’s style was more the elementary school teacher version. Gather round, class. Today we’re going to talk about our bodies.
Listen. You gotta love them both for even trying to tackle this stuff.
I was going to use this as a clumsy metaphor for part of what’s going on across the country, for the need of all of us to dive into the water and take a closer look at what’s there, what’s floating around untethered, what’s anchored to where.
The bath is not the ocean but it’s a tonic to have a soak, to be surrounded by the gentle pressure of what I can control. This much water. More. Less. This temperature. Hotter. Cooler.
I was going to say, I’m all for baths! But this is a time for deep sea diving.
We must be willing to lose sight of the shore.
What do we need for deep sea diving?
Well, a deep sea.
We cannot deep sea dive in a tub. Or a pool. Or a lake. We must go to the ocean, down to where it is colder, darker, murkier than we might feel prefer.
And how do we do that, Dear Reader?
I’m sure you’ve been inundated with ideas, suggestions, resources.
I am no expert. I am suiting up for my own deep sea dive.
But I will say this: Don’t skip it, skirt it, or side-step it.
Don’t waste precious time with defensiveness or guilt.
We were all born into this system.
We need all of us to change it.