Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Being Quietly Pagan and Openly Christian

At times, it's difficult.

Because I sing in a church choir, it's rather obvious that there's a strongly Christian influence on my spirituality. It's something that, until I joined that choir, I hadn't acknowledged very often—even to myself—in a very long time. So I felt very relieved when I finally became familiar with the usual Sunday routine; a few weeks after I'd joined my church choir I felt like I'd been there for years, it was that comfortable.

I've always been very quietly Pagan. At first, it was out of necessity; not only would it have been frowned upon by my teachers and most of my classmates at the very Catholic high school I attended at the time of my conversion, but when it became clear that I was getting interested in non-Christian spiritual ideas and various New Age things, my father told me very clearly that he'd better not ever hear that I'd become a Wiccan "or any of that other bullshit" or he'd never speak to me again. And while I was tempted to come out as just that—although I was as visibly calm as I usually am, inside I was absolutely furious at his lack of support or willingness to accept my personal choices—I held off, because even at my least mature I recognized that my spirituality shouldn't be used by me or by my father as yet another thing for us to argue about. (And believe me, my extremely conservative, homophobic and racist-though-he-denies-it father and I still have a lot of things to argue about, which is why we usually stay away from political or religious topics when we talk and we watch a funny movie together once a week to keep the peace.) Later on, when I was in university and my parents had permanently separated, I still hid my spiritual inclinations as much out of habit as anything else. The few times I actually did mention them to anybody, it was only with people I'd become comfortable with, and (in one case) because one of the people I worked with on an English project recognized my screen name on Witchvox (where I sometimes used to post responses to the "Question of the Week" when they were still asking them, as well as commenting on articles highlighted on Wren's Nest News) as part of my main e-mail address at the time. For the most part, though, I kept quiet. My spiritual beliefs were—and still are, despite the nature of this blog—something that I consider to be highly personal and therefore not for (frequent) public discussion. I have no doubt that my long-standing dislike of proselytizers is a big part of this; if it annoys me to hear people talk about how great their own religion is and how everybody else should think it's great too or they'll be flung into the deepest, darkest, most torture-filled pits of Hell when they die, then it would certainly annoy other people to hear about my spiritual convictions.

There are times when, besides my now-usual Sunday morning activities, I also do night-time rituals that appeal to my Pagan side—not just observing the eight days that have become known as the parts of the "Wheel of the Year", but sometimes the full moon (infrequently, largely because I am not a perfect Pagan and often tend to not notice when the moon is full), some "just-because-I-feel-like-it" rituals (much more frequently) and even occasionally some ritual magic(k)* (highly infrequently). I also sometimes do a ritual of remembrance (of sorts) on days that have some personal significance to me for one reason or another—these days are usually the anniversary of something so wonderful or horrible that it had a lasting effect on my psyche.

Honestly, sometimes it feels like I'm living a spiritual double life. It's not that I don't love what I'm doing—I wouldn't do it, otherwise—but it can be very awkward. As I've said before, I know that theologically speaking, I'm on very shaky ground; my belief that all the Goddesses and Gods are all faces of a sort of "God behind the Gods" is why I'm able to make the statement of faith that I do every Sunday morning, why I pray to a Goddess as well as a God on my own time, and why the details that matter the most to me are ideas like justice, kindness and compassion, not whether the figure I keep in my mind when I pray is called "Jesus" or "Rhiannon". But because Christo-Pagans are often looked on with suspicion by Christian and Pagan alike, and because so many say that we are impossible, I do sometimes feel a bit insecure. Objectively, I know that if it feels right for me at this time, then it probably is right for me at this time. But still, I'm not totally immune to doubt, and sometimes because I'm still much more quiet about the Pagan side of my spirituality than the Christian side, I feel almost like I'm letting other Pagans down, coasting on the privilege that open Christianity gives me.

---,--'--@ ---'--,--@ ---,--'--@

*I never liked the convention of adding a "k" onto the end of the word "magic" in order to distinguish it from the magic of fantasy novels or stage magicians. I always feel like I should be pronouncing both the "c" and the "k", making it sound something like "magic-ick", which I suspect is not the most positive way to think of the act of focusing my will with the intent to use it to effect some kind of change in the world.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Bleeding-Heart Liberals"

It may not come a surprise when I say that my political views have always been fairly liberal. I admit that at first, it was largely because I was young and naïve and had taken the words "be nice" a little more seriously than most people do, without really thinking about what they really meant. When I got a little older and (I hope) a bit wiser, I retained my liberal outlook—not so much because I was still naïve, because life had definitely knocked me around a bit by then, but because I'd independently come to the conclusion that compassion, kindness, justice, respect for the environment and a helping hand to those who need it were most likely much more positive than stinginess, "I got mine" and anything even remotely related to trickle-down economics (which rarely work out well for anyone but the people from whom the wealth is supposed to "trickle down"). Apparently my dislike of injustice and greed make me a "bleeding-heart liberal".

Gods, I hate that term. It's a phrase that's often used to condemn and dismiss anyone who has even a vaguely non-conservative view of the world. It's the "bitch" of the political world—lob that label at anyone, and it supposedly invalidates everything that they stand for because everybody knows that bleeding-heart liberals are too sentimental for anyone's good, so nobody should listen to them.

But you know what? Whenever anyone calls me by that loathsome term, I wear the badge proudly, because although I hate the phrase itself, it means that I've somehow managed to choose a viewpoint that shows compassion.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

—1 Corinthians: 1-13, New International Version

Monday, June 21, 2010

An (Unsent) Angry Letter To My Choirmaster

Dear [Choirmaster],

We've known each other for just a little less than thirteen years. While we've never been particularly close, I think you know by now that I usually appreciate your sense of humour, and I'm reasonably sure that whatever your faults are, they probably don't include a tendency to be intentionally cruel to people. This is why—for now, at least—I am trying very, very hard to give you the benefit of the doubt.

But it's difficult. You see, yesterday you made a fat joke for the second time that I can remember in the past few years. You brought up that old e-mail forward about funny announcements in church bulletins, repeating a few that you remembered to the general amusement of almost everyone present. The first one you recited was the one about the Weight Watchers meeting, which asked the participants to please enter the church through the big double doors.

Oh my, how clever. The implication of the joke is that the people who are trying to lose weight are so huge that they can't fit through a normal-sized door. Why is this supposed to be funny? You may have seen me frowning and shaking my head just after you recited that joke; whatever you may have thought about that, if you even noticed, I can assure you that I was trying my hardest to hold myself back from making a fuss about a comment that had just deeply hurt and insulted me.

Because you thought that particular joke was so funny, I suspect that you don't understand why I didn't laugh at it. Perhaps I can explain it. Being human, I suspect that you probably have at least one major insecurity—or at least, you had at least one major insecurity at some point in your life. Now, imagine that this one big thing that you're so insecure about is something that is currently despised by "all right-thinking people", whoever they are. Imagine that this thing about you that makes you insecure about yourself is blamed for all sorts of things, from health care costs to pollution to poverty, and that people who have this characteristic of yours are commonly stereotyped as being lazy, stupid, greedy, smelly, dirty, sloppy, selfish and obnoxious. Imagine that you've been told by your doctor that because of this characteristic, you'll probably die at a horifically young age of at least half a dozen painful, embarrassing and/or expensively-treated diseases, syndromes, and disorders, even though you presently show no sign of ever actually developing them—oh, yeah, and that you're ridiculously ugly because of it, too. Imagine that although you can't prove it, you suspect that this characteristic has been the reason why you've been passed over for jobs you wanted that you knew you were more than adequately qualified for, and that you know from personal experience that this characteristic has probably significantly reduced, if not downright eliminated, the possibility that you will ever share your home with anyone but a few cats. You see, no matter how great a person you actually are, nobody can ever be attracted to you because of this one terrible characteristic—and if they are, they're probably desperate or some kind of crazy fetishist. People like you, the narrative goes, are unworthy of another person's love.

This is my life as a fat person. Because of these experiences, I have exercised myself into exhaustion, then berated myself for being weak, fat and useless because I couldn't keep going. I have starved myself to lose weight, to the point where I felt dizzy all the time, had a constant headache, always had hunger pangs and even experienced several skipped heartbeats per day—some of them quite violent. (Fortunately, this resolved itself once I realized that I actually had to give my body the nutrition it craved.) This is actually why I seldom eat at parties; in my self-starvation days I messed up my metabolism so badly I can't eat unless I feel some measure of hunger, because if I do…well, let's just say that I regret it very deeply within an hour. To this day, I still fight against the urge to deny myself food; more often than not, I fail. Although I regularly wake up at 6:00 in the morning, I may not actually eat anything until 3:00 in the afternoon, and even then, I'll feel guilty about every bite. I'll be hungry hours before that, of course, but because I can so visibly stand to miss a few meals—I do.

In a normal-sized person, these would probably be major warning signs of an eating disorder; in people of my size, however, they are generally considered to be the necessary actions of a penitent fatass who wants to become a real person and not remain a stereotype and scapegoat for all of society's current ills. I have been taunted by total strangers, had rotten food flung at me from a car while the occupants of the vehicle mooed at me, been shamed in the grocery store for the one bar of chocolate I bought along with a basket full of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and whole-grain bread, and even been called "a freaking tub of lard" by one person who I had previously thought was my friend—all because of my socially undesirable size. I have hated myself for my size and for my inability to shrink myself. And to top it all off, clothes shopping is a ridiculously humiliating and frustrating experience; even the few, usually hideous, things that are made in my size aren't generally made for my shape. More than once, I've wondered when the few companies who make clothes for fat people will just throw up their hands, say "Screw it!" and just start making burqas for all of us, because (as everyone apparently knows), nobody really wants to look at a fat person, and fat people don't deserve nice clothes anyway, so they may as well just try to hide us as well as they possibly can. The way most dresses for fat women are designed, they're halfway to it already.

And you know what? My experiences are hardly unique, and compared to some other fat people, I've actually had it pretty easy. Think about that for a moment.

Considering all this, a joke about Weight Watchers members having to enter a building through a large set of double doors has a very different meaning to me than it probably does to you. People don't join Weight Watchers, or do other things to reduce the size of their bodies, because they're happy with themselves and their lot in life. They do it because like me, they have experienced a lifetime of discrimination and hatred, and they just want it to stop. Just because I've decided to try not to abuse my body through starvation anymore, it doesn't mean that I don't understand the goal. And before you say I'm taking this too seriously because it's just a joke, and these aren't real people, just remember—I've had serious comments like this directed at me all my life. I am under no obligation to interpret them as "funny" just because they come from you.

By the way, this wasn't the first time I've heard you make a comment that showed a surprising amount of disdain for larger people. Back when [our other choir] was looking at the possibility of having the women purchase those blouses and skirts of ours, it was mentioned that the company that made them kept clothing up to size 28 in stock, and you laughed and said, "that's a two-person tent!" I normally wear size 24, and believe me, that's close enough to size 28 that not only did I feel hurt and insulted, but I felt a bit humiliated as well. You might as well have said, "Wow, anyone who needs to wear clothes that big is absolutely huge! Isn't that hilarious? Let's laugh at them!"

Before that evening, I had never expected that level of casual cruelty from you.

I will do my best to forgive you for making those jokes, as insulting as they were. Through our long acquaintance, you've been nothing but kind to me when dealing with me directly, and I appreciate that. Still, if it ever seems like I don't completely trust you, or if I'm a little distant in my actions towards you, this is why. I know that you can't be totally clueless about the presence of fat people in your life; I know you're even friends with a few of them. Yet you still seem to think that it's perfectly OK to make fun of fat people as a group, whatever you may think of us as individuals.

Please stop making fat jokes. They're hurtful and insulting and not really all that funny.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic

"Cautiously optimistic". Those two words pretty much sum up my general outlook these days.

For example, my church choir is planning a trip to the UK next August; I'm hoping to be able to go, as it sounds like it's going to be a great two weeks. We're having a meeting about it tonight, in fact, and anyone who wants to go is required to bring a cheque as a deposit on the trip. Once tax receipts are issued on the deposits, they'll be non-refundable. Now, there are a number of reasons why I'm afraid I might not be able to go; financial considerations are fairly obvious as a reason, as is the possibility that in the meantime, I may end up with a job that won't permit me the necessary time off. But with proper planning and a little bit of luck (and/or help from Above), I just might be able to pull it off. I do know that I've got a bit of work coming to me in the Fall, if only for about an hour every Saturday, but it's a start, and every little bit will help—especially as it's vaguely related to what I went to school for.

On a slightly-related note, I'm 27 years old and, in spite of all my hard work, education and job applications, I have been unable to find a job that will serve my needs as well as an employer's. I know I could easily get a job at a call centre, but I'm saving that particular option for a worst-case scenario, because working at those soul-sucking hellholes would probably fling me right back into depression, and I probably wouldn't even be able to keep singing with even one of my choirs. As choral music—and the people involved with it, of course—is very nearly all that's kept me sane in the last few years, giving it up would probably not be the best idea, and I won't do it without a fight. But people with worse backgrounds than mine have managed to end up doing something that satisfies them (or at least doesn't actually harm them), so I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to do so as well.

My love life has been, as I think I've mentioned before, an unmitigated disaster. And while I'm perfectly aware that I don't need a man (or a woman—after all, I am at least mildly bisexual) to make my life complete, I do sometimes get lonely; however, I've long since admitted to myself that with my looks (about as beautiful as Jabba the Hutt, but with legs instead of a tail and with a lot of long brown hair) and personality (stubborn, introspective, requiring more "alone time" than most people and often very sarcastic), I am unlikely to find a partner. However, I am cautiously optimistic that I'll find a constructive way to deal with that loneliness; perhaps I'm already halfway there.

And finally, I have by no means completely recovered from my depression. Although it doesn't hit me as frequently as it used to, I do still have some days when the thought of having to get out of bed is unpalatable at best, and although I haven't actually felt suicidal in many years, I must acknowledge that the possibility exists that I might someday feel that way again. (Hence my hope that I might be able to avoid working in a call centre—that would require reserves of strength that I simply don't have at the moment.) And yet, I am cautiously optimistic that someday, although I may not ever completely conquer my depression, I will at least learn to live with it in such a way that it no longer impairs my ability to be a full participating member of society.

Cautious optimism. It may not be the bright, cheerful and wholly positive attitude that I wish I could have, but at least it's a start. Perhaps it's even a more rational start than pure optimism could be—at this point, anyway. And it's certainly a lot better than the absolute pessimism I normally felt a couple of years ago! :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Respecting Others' Beliefs

A couple of months ago, Renee of Womanist Musings wrote a post in which she talks about the hostility that people often show towards Christianity in liberal-oriented spaces, particularly online. A good many of the comments absolutely infuriated me; it wasn't so much the fact that the issue of Christian privilege was brought up, but the way that so many people decided that it was perfectly OK to mock Renee's beliefs in her own space, and say that because Christians have Christian privilege, especially in the USA (though Renee is a Canadian and Christian privilege is often very different up here—especially since we're overall a much more secular society), it was perfectly OK to crow about how they themselves didn't believe in an invisible sky person and keep holding all Christians responsible for the worst, most despicable actions of a few who also call themselves Christians. And in talking about these things the way they did, they provided an example of the very thing that Renee was talking about—all the while saying that it was their perfect right to be hostile because Christians are the ones with privilege in North America, and if Christians can't let a little justifiable anger roll off their backs, then Christians should just bugger off because their beliefs are a destructive force of oppression. And they said this on a thread in a response to a post on one of the most progressive blogs I've ever encountered—a post in which the writer herself said,
When I enter into liberal spaces, quite often those that have been victims of fundamentalist Christians will attack the validity of my belief system by lumping us all in the same group. I know that this comes from a place of pain, but purposefully erasing me is also hurtful. Quite often I am met with the idea that Christians don’t really practice what they preach, and if there was really a conflict regarding bigotry, more Christians would be speaking out. Well, everyday on this blog I attempt to speak for marginalized bodies. I encourage everyone through my open guest posting policy to speak their truth.
Of course, there were many comments which put an emphasis on the advisability of showing respect to people of faith, but at least one person took a major offense to this idea because apparently it's too much like allowing a Privileged Person's Privilege to Remain Unexamined.

You know what? I don't think that showing respect to other people's beliefs necessarily means that we ignore the bad and allow another person's perspective to run roughshod over us. I don't even think that it means that we have to like the fact that someone else believes differently. But what I do believe it means is that if we respect someone else's beliefs, we stop attacking each other for faith (or lack thereof), we do not speak of other groups as monolithic structures of hatred and abuse, we do not make reference to "invisible sky people" and mock them for "silly little superstitions". We do not argue with them about whether it's logical or rational to believe in what they do, and we certainly do not call them names for believing what they do. We do not accuse them of being worse people because of their beliefs. And if we feel angry because somebody else has wholeheartedly embraced a belief that we do not personally subscribe to, instead of trying to argue or annoy them into seeing the world from our perspective, we simply shut up.

Call people of faith out for asshattery, by all means. There are too many people out there who see it as their right to act in hateful, hurtful ways because they're able to use readings from their preferred holy book in order to justify their attitudes. But don't be an asshole by default towards people who believe something that you don't. That kind of attitude is not only non-progressive, but it is profoundly damaging to everyone involved.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Semi-Deep Thought of the Day

If I write a blog that nobody reads, am I still a blogger? ;)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Top Ten Ridiculous Stereotypes About Women

I don't read chick lit very often, and I think I just remembered why. Today I've been reading a book that's so bad it's hilarious, but it's also sad in many ways because the main female character adheres to so many ridiculous stereotypes about women—nearly every one that's on the list that follows, actually. Not being the sort to pass up a chance to be sarcastic about something that irritates me, I decided that I just had to write about it. So, without further ado, I present:

Zillah's Top Ten List of Ridiculous Stereotypes About Women

1. OMG! SHOPPING!!! Women love shopping! Especially shopping for clothes, shoes and accessories! Women are frivolous! Women who don't like shopping are unfeminine! And there's nothing worse that you can call a woman than unfeminine, except maybe ugly, fat, or a bitch. But all those things are marks of unfemininity anyway, so it's still the same thing.

2. Must...have...children! Women live to reproduce. Babies are cute. None of us could possibly want anything more than a big brood of children. If a woman doesn't like kids, doesn't think she'd be a fit mother for kids, would face dangerous mental or physical problems if she had kids, can't have kids or doesn't want kids for any other reason, she's unfeminine.

3. Must...get...married! Because nothing defines a woman more completely than the man she marries. He'd better be sexy and rich. And her? She's worthless without a wedding ring (preferably gold or platinum, and paired with an engagement ring featuring a ridiculously big diamond.) And she had better marry a man. Lesbians are gross, unless of course they're kissing and petting each other for a heterosexual man's pleasure. Anyway, women want nothing more than to be married—except to have lots and lots of babies. They're all out to trap men into marriage. And when you get married to a woman, you'll be miserable. That's what wives are for, apparently—to trick men into marriage, nag them TO DEATH (How dare they expect a Busy Important Man to help out around the home? That's women's work!), and make them have kids.

4. Women only want to read about men, shopping, dating, makeup, kids, clothing, dieting, cooking, celebrities and sex—though not necessarily in that order. Therefore, women's magazines must reflect this. Women who find these subjects uninspiring, or who actually like to read about something else, are unnatural unfeminine freaks.

5. Mice are terrifying. They're tiny, squeaky creatures that may or may not carry disease—or is that rats? Whatever. Women are terrified of mice, regardless of any actual threat they may or may not pose.

6. Women hate other women. If a woman sees a woman who's thinner, prettier, more fashionably dressed, has more kids or is "better" in any other way than she herself is, you'd better believe there's going to be a catfight sooner rather than later. Oh, and women don't really have friends, just rival women who they shop with and do rotten things to behind their backs.

7. Women suck at math, science and computers. 2+2=7689766587658! The Periodic Table of Elements is something women eat off of when they're on the rag! And computers are scary. They're complex and you need way more intelligence than any woman could have just to turn them on and type a simple shopping list. And you use mice with them! EEK!!!

8. Women turn into total bitches when—and just before—they're menstruating. Any man who's anywhere near a menstruating woman had better put on a full suit of armour and prepare to shut up, because the slightest comment can be met with tears and/or homicidal rage. But it's really just an excuse to be all bitchy and stuff, because menstrual difficulties are just all in women's heads, and that means they're not real. They just mean that women hate being women, and it has nothing to do with mind-numbingly painful cramps, blood loss, nausea, headaches, constipation, diarrhea, or painfully tender breasts (that, coincidentally, have to be stuffed into a brassiere so they can be moulded into a shape that straight men find pleasing to the eye).

9. Women are over-emotional and will cry, scream or just plain fly off the handle without any prior notice. Women are scared of everything, so they need men to protect them. Anytime a woman gets angry, she's really just being a bitch. It's not important. She's just being a hysterical woman; she's probably menstruating. So logically—and you can Logic Real Good because you're a Man—you've got to know at least one woman who's menstruating all the time. Gross.

10. Women are simultaneously sly, cunning and conniving creatures who will do whatever it takes to get the Man Of Their Dreams, and too stupid to function in the world without the guidance of a man, because men instinctively know everything and are entitled to express their opinions about everything no matter how little they really know about it, and women must shut their pretty little mouths and listen to the Wise All-Powerful Oz MAN. Women exist to be ornaments. But they're sly, cunning, conniving and stupid ornaments. And this is in no way an oxymoron.

Isn't it nice that women are so well thought of these days?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Traumatic Past Event

There are some drawbacks to having an extremely good memory. Learning new things is easy, at least when there's enough interest in them. I remember a lot of happy and amusing things that other people who were there have long since forgotten. But I also have an excellent memory for bad things, as my musings on May 9 probably show. The incident I'm about to describe happened about five years before that, and like May 9, 2001, I will also remember May 17, 1996 as a day that changed my life, and not in a good way.

You see, that day, I was a passenger in a car that hit a young boy—he must've been two years old at most. I was thirteen.

My dad was driving me home from a horseback riding lesson I'd had that night. There were kids playing at the side of the road; one of them waved at us. Dad was driving slower than usual; he was afraid that something would happen, and it did. We were passing a car that was parked on the road, and the boy—completely unsupervised by his parents—ran out in front of us. One of the neighbours told me later that she almost hit him herself because he ran out in front of her as well and she only just managed to dodge him in time.

Dad slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw the boy, but we were in a big old boat of a Chrysler—a wine-coloured 1983-ish New Yorker or Fifth Avenue*, I don't recall which model it was, though I gather there wasn't much of a difference between the two that year—and it couldn't stop as fast as we (and that kid) needed it to. I remember the sickening thunk when the car made contact with the boy (the memory of it still has the power to rob me of my appetite and make me want to vomit) and Dad shouting "Oh, God!" as he hit the brakes. The boy lived, but he was very badly injured. He had a broken arm and a broken leg, and I learned later that one of his fingers was actually torn off his hand; it was surgically reattached. All this happened with us travelling at a speed that was under 20 kilometres per hour. I remember all the blood, and his father—only concerned about his kid now that something had actually happened—did the stupidest thing imaginable and picked the kid up and rocked him. It's a good thing he didn't have a broken back. If that had been the case, the boy's father could've paralyzed him.

Oddly enough, I remember that the boy's father was wearing a white T-shirt and shorts, and I remember seeing a smear of the boy's blood on his clothing as he rocked the kid and told him about a "magic truck" that was coming for him. Much of the drama played out right beside the passenger window of the car, which I think is part of the reason why it hurt me so badly—I could see practically everything that happened.

I can still hear the kid's screams.

I remember that evening in frightening detail, although it happened just a bit over fourteen years ago. I think I went into a minor state of shock at the time, and the event traumatized me for years; I even put off learning how to drive until I was nearly 21 because I was so frightened that something similar would happen with me behind the wheel. To this day, whenever I see kids playing on the side of the road while I'm driving, a sharp feeling of panic runs through me, almost like an unexpected sharp blast of frosty wind on a cold night. It doesn't help that about three years ago, a kid did run out in front of me, and it's only because there was no traffic coming on the other side of the street that I didn't re-live this traumatic episode from my past in a particularly tragic way—or end up a victim myself out of colliding head-on with another vehicle while trying to avoid the kid.

To this day, I still have no patience with parents who can't be arsed to keep an eye on their children. I'm far too aware of the potentially tragic consequences that this can have. I suffered panic attacks for years after it happened—I don't think it's a coincidence—and as I've already said here, it still affects me.

So when I ran across a Facebook group today that's apparently for people who got hit by cars, and I recognized the name of the kid my dad hit, I couldn't resist the temptation to read about his experience of the incident. I wish I hadn't. I know that his recovery from the incident couldn't possibly have been pleasant—he had to get a finger reattached, for Goddess' sake!—but the way he wrote about it—"That bastard MOWED ME DOWN WITH HIS CAR, AND DRAGGED ME DOWN THE STREET WHILE I WAS UNDERNEATH IT"—made it sound like Dad intentionally hit him and dragged him down the road, instead of hitting the brakes as hard as possible as soon as the kid ran in front of us. All that my dad was guilty of was being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a little kid (whose parents couldn't be bothered to keep an eye on their son and make sure he stayed away from the damn road) decided that it would be a fine idea to run out onto the street.

My dad was sued for it. We never learned the result of the lawsuit, because it was settled between the kid's family and the insurance company.

And you know what? I got angry when I read what that kid said about my father. Dad didn't want to hit him—he ran out in front of us from behind a vehicle parked on the road. If he'd been driving at the legal speed limit on that street—50 kilometres per hour—that boy would almost certainly have died.

That evening in my diary, I wrote that I didn't care if it affected me for the rest of my life; I just wanted the kid to be OK. But when the memory is still so clear fourteen years later and still has the power to make me panic and although the psychological damage that it did to me wasn't anywhere near as severe as the physical and mental damage that it did to the kid that ran in front of us, I can't help but think that the victims of collisions like that aren't just the people who get physically hurt, though they may be the most obvious ones.

It is not, by the way, my intention to downplay all the therapy, surgery and pain that the kid must've gone through as a result of running in front of the car that evening. The incident clearly left a mark on his mind as well as his body, and I can't get angry with him for being upset about it. But knowing how he's described what happened, and knowing that he apparently thinks that Dad intentionally ran him over—I got angry because he's blaming the wrong damn person for what happened. Considering that his parents didn't bother to supervise him while he was outside, I'd say that they were the people at fault for their neglect.

Perhaps there's a lesson in forgiveness to be learned here. Forgiveness for myself for my bad timing and not insisting on going home by another route, as I'd wanted to do. Forgiveness for the kid's parents for letting him run around where he could've gotten killed and where he did get very badly injured. Forgiveness for the kid himself for what he's said about it. This incident is still haunting me as badly as if I'd been physically hurt, so obviously I need to put it past me somehow. But how can I do that when I can be pretty sure that the kid Dad hit thinks it was intentional and probably hates our guts for being on that road when he decided he wanted to run onto it?

It is, after all, easier to forgive those who we love than those who we know hate us. (My opinion of the kid is fairly neutral, though his harsh words about Dad do make me angry.) Harder still when you know they have an understandable reason for being angry at you, even when the incident actually wasn't your fault. Perhaps it is hardest for me to forgive the kid's parents, because if they'd been keeping an eye on him and making sure he wasn't anywhere near the road, then the incident probably wouldn't have happened in the first place.

I pray that someday I'll be able to manage it, because it does no good for any of us to hold on to the bitterness, the anger and the fear. I know that as a passenger in the car I was probably the least of the victims of the incident, but I was very young and it did a hell of a job on my mind. It's not good that I should still be hurt by it, and I hope and pray that someday I'll be able to let go of it.

--,--'--@ --,--'--@ --,--'--@

*Edit as of June 7, 2010: I've looked up an old diary entry of mine that I wrote shortly after my mother bought the car; it was a Fifth Avenue. It was eleven years old by the time she bought it, but it was one of the really nice ones with a built-in compass (which started to malfunction less than a year after she bought the car due to the magnetic-mount ham radio antenna for her radio) and thermometer, and a "crystal" in the shape of the Chrysler logo inset on each side behind the rear passenger windows. I don't remember why Dad was driving it that night, as he had his own car—also an early 80's Fifth Avenue, which meant that our driveway was very crowded for most of the 90's, especially after my mother inherited her father's old grey-blue K-body LeBaron when he died in 1997.