A walk in the woods

Dear President Biden,

I was hoping to keep this letter on the positive side of the scale and maybe in the end it’ll have tilted that way, but reading yesterday about the woman who was raped on a train in Philadelphia while onlookers snapped pics and recorded video but did nothing to help her, has me reconsidering the cast of this communication to you. It’s true, shit of this out-in-the-open-magnitude doesn’t happen every day, but sexual assaults do happen every day, all day (and night) in our fine country and our fine country more often than not doesn’t just turn a blind eye, we choose to aid and abet it. There are scores of recent examples so I won’t waste my (written) breath cataloguing them here or on drawing out how rape culture undergirds the whole ugly mess.

Instead, what I will do is ask, when you are out walking alone at the edges of the day – or at night or in a remote locale at any time – do you carry along with you the anxiety that someone could be lurking who might try to rape you. When you are walking alone through a neighborhood before dawn or after dark do you debate with yourself whether it would be better to yell “rape” or “fire” or consider which generic man’s name – like “John” or “David” – to call for help if someone attacks you? Do you run through the self-defense moves you learned eons ago in case someone comes up behind you and grabs you so that your arms are pinned or if they’ve got you by the neck?

I venture that you have not had to make your way through the world with that sort of anxiety as your near constant companion (if you have, I’m sorry – it really sucks). If it’s true, that you’ve not had to deal with this not so subtle social control mechanism that virtually all woman-identifying humans have had to deal with for time immemorial, then I strongly suggest you spend time talking with the women in your life about what this has been and is like for them (it’s not something that goes away once menopause hits).

So how in the world was this ever going to be a letter that tilted toward the positive end of the scale? Well, the other day I took a walk through the wooded ravine near our house. It was solidly daytime so it wasn’t at a time that people would tut-tut me if something bad happened (as in, ‘what was she thinking being there at that time of day?’) and I had made enough peace with my anxiety companion such that I decided to try out a new trail even though I wasn’t sure that anyone could hear me scream if someone did intend to do me harm. In other words, I made a conscious choice to go where I wanted to go even though I have been well trained not to assume safety when I venture outside the normal bounds afforded most women and girls. And by the way, just like lynching or racist policing, it doesn’t have to happen to you or even to anyone you know and love to have one’s wings clipped. Just the knowing that it happens to people like you who were going about their lives is enough to entrain this sort of anxiety.

Getting back to the new trail…. I’d gone just a few hundred yards when I noticed a little something tied to the branch of a bush about shoulder high (for me). It was (and presumably, still is) a tiny Ziplock plastic bag (I had no idea they came that small) that someone threaded a bit of black cord through to attach it to the branch and inside is a slip of paper that reads:

It takes no more time to see the good side of life than to see the bad.
Jimmy Buffett

For nanosecond I smiled and laughed out loud with the universe. It totally makes sense to open the aperture so that the good stuff that’s happening isn’t ignored. And, I think we would all do well to remember that for most of us mere mortals, the bad stuff hangs around and haunts us far longer than the good stuff sustains us so we really should step up and do a better job taking care of one another and making sure everyone is safe. And feels safe.

May we all be and feel safe.
May we all refuse to buy into the idea that her safety, their safety is her problem, is their problem.
May we all show ourselves that we are strong enough to let go of primitive social controls.
May we accept that these changes won’t just happen because they should – we need to make them happen.

Tracy Simpson

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