The silver waters out Chatham Harbor, past Fool’s Channel, reflected, rippling the silver sky of this second full month of autumn. November. A month to make decisions. When the leaves have, as usual, fled the trees just prior to Halloween, letting the moonlight through at night, and the lowering angle of the sun during the narrowing days.
As part of my morning routine, after Sofie catches the bus, I am down at the Chatham Lighthouse. First thing I do there, after a quick sip (or two) of my mocha, is to take a 360-degree photo from the overlook. Just prior to the switch from Daylight Savings Time, the sun was just emerging from the eastern horizon, shining like a spotlight. It cut the photo directly on the axis, with the gray obelisk of the Mack Memorial at the opposite end of the circular photo I would post to Facebook.
Not that we’ve had all sun. The weather this time of year seems either raw and clammy and cloudy or all blinding, inescapable glare. Sometimes we get the silver. Sometimes we get the moderating influence of weather and we can once again discern the colors of our landscape. Not the dulled grayness of this month, nor the stark browns that are creeping in as laid bare by our distancing star. Like a natural screen or polarizing lens, sometimes we get to see things are they really are.
Sofie’s 14 now. Solidly so, a freshman in high school a few months now. That bus she takes is public transit, no yellow school bus. Although other students board as well along the route, she also rides with other humans who inhabit Cape Cod. I’ve always been fairly free range in parenting her, because I wanted her to make her own mistakes, learn how the world works and how to navigate it successfully. That’s important for any young person growing up. It is even more so for her, being a girl.
Roy Moore was in his 30s when he took a 14-year-old girl back to his place to initiate a sexual encounter. He was an assistant district attorney. This from a well-researched report from the Washington Post, which also included similar independent reports from other women who were teens at the time. Moore would have known the law about that to the letter, and its consequences.
This was decades ago, but that only means it was a more innocent time, when girls that age were not sexualized like they are today. It’s creepy. It’s wrong. It was always wrong. It always will be wrong. And if Sofie told me a story like this happening to her, my first impulse would not be to ask her for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be to grab my car keys and a baseball bat.
“I think the accusations have more credibility than the denial. I think it would be best if Roy would just step aside.” That’s the assessment of Republican Senator (and Eagle Scout) Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.
There’s a stark light shining down on our society this past month or so. It is long overdue. Men we think we know are treating women and men as disposable sexual objects.
This is not a partisan issue. Cleary there are people all along the political and sexuality spectrum who have and are engaging in behavior that ranges from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape. Primarily on the right it is men in political power – the president, Moore and others. On the left, the focus is on those in the media – Weinstein, Spacey, Louis CK. The #metoo campaign on social media, however, as exposed it as an everyday occurrence of people, especially women, everywhere at every level.
I have three sisters. There are respected men walking the streets of Chatham who ought not be.
That statement alone will cause those who are their friends to instinctively defend them, question me, and dismiss the importance. Explain it. Accept it. Minimize it. Reject it. These are otherwise enlightened, broadminded people. That is an illness that has become pervasive in America today, and it seems foreign. Not just loyalty to one’s group, but a dangerous tribalism that violently rejects the truth.
It’s not that we know something bad about people on our side. It’s greater than even not wanting to accept it. It’s that we are threatened by the idea that we might lose one of “ours.” We all like to tell ourselves stories about how if we hear that a friend, family member or coworker has treated another person horridly, we would speak up. Especially if the victim was a child. But when it really happens, would we instead weigh the value of our relationship with the abuser against that of the victim?
The obvious answer for too long has been yes, of course. Yes, because that’s why all these stories are coming out now, as the dam of enabling is breaking. It is too easy for the community to share experiences, and the isolation that is key to keeping this under wraps is disappearing to reveal that this is a very, very large part of the population.
Telling them it’s their own fault or to just move on isn’t acceptable anymore. This treatment by abusers creates real, lasting, measurable trauma. It’s a cut that leaves a scar. But our refusal – your refusal – to believe them because that will challenge your judgment in choice of friends, allies and heroes, infects the wound. It takes your tacit complicity. An abuser counts on you to defend them. It is a cynical ploy, showing how little they think of you.
Moore is a sanctimonious Bible thumping blowhard. Maybe you like that. But even his coworkers from the time said he cruised high schools looking for girls. Louis CK’s schtick of telling the world about how pathetic and horrible he is clearly was justified. Maybe you laughed at his jokes. Yet stories about his masturbating in front of subordinate women have been making the rounds for years. No one wanted to put these together because that meant losing someone on our team. Both have always been creepy and we’ve suspected all along. We’ve suspected but said nothing.
While, as a voice familiar to Chatham, Louis Brandeis, observed 100 years ago, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” it takes more than that, we know. Infections will get worse if you ignore them. But sunlight is a start.
The one thing that I’ve tried to emphasize to Sofie is that when abuse occurs, it doesn’t take two people. Both parties are not each responsible to varying degrees. It is one person taking advantage of another, treating them badly, and blaming them for it. What compounds the abuse is when the victim complains, for us to treat the abuser like the victim. Like a hero to overcome this adversity.
That is what is wrong with us today. We yearn for accountability, but only for those we believe are not on our side. There is no appreciation for universal justice. There is no sense of universal mercy.
You are the dam. You are a stone, held in place only by your own comfort and inertia. But what is amazing is that you could just as easily be someone’s first ray sunlight. Not the savior. Just the opening.
Open. Be open. Stay open.