Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Birth, Death, and the Nonsense In Between

I grew up watching Perry Mason and Ellery Queen, before detective shows and crime dramas became popular and gritty. Many snow days, I snuggled in with a cup of darjeeling tea and my dad's volume of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It's safe to say I idolized him, found a lot in common with him. Maybe not the pipe or the rampant experimentation with mind-altering substances, but the violin playing and bathrobe wearing we shared.

My first class in college was anthropology, simply because it was the one discipline that hadn't been offered in high school. I adored the professor, an Oliver Sacks type who had worked with the coroner or as the coroner or something and taught us ways in which the skeleton holds important data, like ancestry and the secrets of how you lived.

And died.

It's in your bones.

I fell in love, with anthropology and the professor, and a year later I took forensic anthropology and felt all sorts of spiritual fireflies in my peripheral vision saying YES, THIS is your path. Start smoking a pipe and get a funny hat, Sherlock, because you've clearly found it now. What I didn't know was that these sparkles were just a preview, a prelude to the real premonition.

It's fascinating to look at various bones and determine things like diet, age, parity, race, gender, and even the cause of death. Bones are living tissue and they respond to the subtle stresses of life, the habits and patterns we carve, the missteps we take. We carry in the core of us a record etched with secret code, hieroglyphics that I was learning to read. 

And then, there were the children.

You see, as it turns out, not all stories end at age 80+ having borne children and eaten wholesome food. Some stories end violently. Some end early.

The worst are both.

The day that changed my life was about determining old trauma that didn't lead to the death and new trauma that might have. Healed trauma. There was a slide, a three-year-old's skull that had been retrieved from a sewer. We were studying it to learn how to diagnose long-time trauma and abuse, seeing fractures heal and how the terrain of the bones changed with trauma, healing, trauma, healing.

Bones of young children are funny, in a way. They heal quickly. Maybe because they're used to picking themselves up over and over again? Maybe because that's how we survive, by diverting as much energy as possible to healing physical wounds. Their skulls look different, alien. A huge cranial vault and a tiny jaw.


How many times was your nose broken, little one?

That class changed the course of my life. 

Because instead of working in forensics and criminalizing women who do those terrible things after they've done them, instead of counting broken noses and documenting ages of abuse, I decided to time travel and focus on preventing the crime. I firmly believe that we women - we humans - do our best most of the time. We make terrible decisions because they are the best option apparent to us at the time.

So long, Sherlock. 

I thought maybe I could be part of education or options that would prevent toddlers from short lives riddled with tremendous and unspeakable abuse.

So I worked at an abortion clinic.

There is so much heat about this topic, and believe me I get it. It has been suggested to me on a number of occasions that my work in the clinic is what has rendered me infertile in this life, which is bullshit that has created its own weeping wound that never seems to fully heal. Perhaps this is my penance or my karma, but more likely it has to do with other peoples' poison.

I don't – and won't - debate the worthiness or the deplorable ripples of this horrible act. I've been there hundreds of times, holding hands as a fellow woman made the best decision she could at the time, given the circumstances. 

I resisted work as a doula for many reasons, but one was that I'd already done it countless times. Walking alongside a woman, to the edge of motherhood, as she released her fears, her sadness, the unbearable fruit of someone else's crime, her impossible choice without interjecting my own opinion. Watching as she stood alone, toes curled over the edge of the cliff, and returning a different person for the sake of her older children, her health and safety, to keep herself one step back from skeletons in the sewer. 

We make the best decisions we can with the information and resources we have access to.

I didn't work there long - 8 months or so - and so clearly I have no evidence, statistics, or really anything else to justify those services except these two things:
- we have agreed, as a country, as a community, that these services are legal
- it is a far more compassionate choice than beating and holding a child in restraints that rival the workings of Medieval torture.

You can feel that in your bones. 

We - you and I - made agreements by coming into this body at this time in this country. By remaining here as adults and participating in the community, we uphold these agreements that decisions are made in community. Sure, there are faults in the system, wrinkles to work out, corruption and a few other discouraging trends. But the beauty of this system is that there is a way to instigate change. In fact, there are many, and they are available to all of us, regardless of our educational background, political leanings, or religious and moral derangement.

The yogis say our thoughts become words, our words actions. The trick is, we don't have control over how these words affect others. Sometimes, words pacify, other times, they activate.

We never know who or what will be activated.

So we speak the truth, regardless of whether or not our opinions are requested. And we are mindful of the ways in which others will hear our stories. If our goal is to increase discord and dysfunction, all we have to do is think it. Then that poison solidifies, and we're one airport delay away from letting that fear and anger run from our lips. We use this most powerful tool to spread venom rather than disengaging from the terror and transmuting our own experience into some flavor of peace. 

So this now comes full circle for me. 

When I worked there I found it ironic – eerie – that I needed to know secret security protocols and work behind bullet proof glass. But now. Now I get it. We silence and shame these women, and our hate falls on the ears of those who don't seek the full story but rather bathe in confirmation bias. Then they buy guns – assault rifles – and reign their pain and misery out, spreading that poison.

And the wrong people die.

Others become orphans.

Leaving only their bones to tell the story. 

Sat Nam.