Category: Prayers

  • Did you see the moon tonight? I noticed it while I was driving home from the next town. Living in a flat, rural area often makes me long for the hills and valleys I knew as a kid. But where I live now, on the Delmarva Peninsula, the sunsets sprawl and sometimes the moon swells beyond what seems possible. Tonight, the moon is full.

    I could describe it for you — huge, orange, and tangerine, pregnant with itself, maybe full of cheese. Set against a charcoal sky, it presented itself and the winter-black trees as a theater backdrop — almost comically beautiful.

    Did you see it, too?

    I pulled off in a small parking area at the edge of a farm field. Even though it’s well below freezing and I hate the cold, I stepped out of my car to take photos of the moon with my phone. I snapped a lot of photos, some zoomed in as far as my iPhone would allow, but the moon is a speck in all of them, so far away I couldn’t capture it to share with you. The moon could be a dust particle catching light from a flash. Still, I was glad to spend time with it in the bitter cold while it shone. Did you see it? Could you hold onto it?

    Not wanting to miss it, I got back in my car and drove on, glancing at it when I could, aware of its sweet bobbing along the horizon. I hoped it would still be glowing peach and amber when I got home. I drove past my house on Main Street to a church parking lot a few blocks away. I tried again to take photos of the moon tonight, walking away from my car to get a good shot. A light on a utility pole impeded the process, and I walked farther, to the edge of the graveyard near the back of the church property. I wondered briefly whether the people living in the home behind the church saw me and what they thought of me photographing their property.

    Can you see how close it is? Did you see the moon?

    I never got a good photo of the moon tonight to share with you. Even if I had, it wouldn’t be the same. I appreciate sunsets in photos but I’d rather be enveloped by them. I would rather the sunset burn my retinas and wrap around the sky so big I feel I am almost — but not quite — nothing. If I had recorded the moon tonight, I could not recreate the experience of it. Could you imagine how it felt to walk through the beams of headlights in the church parking lot, past a utility pole, holding an iPhone, wanting to hold onto something fleeting and delightful? At the very same moment we enjoy beauty, it breaks our hearts. Maybe it wouldn’t be beautiful if it didn’t hurt.

    One morning in 2008, I was rushing to leave the house to take my two 1-year-olds to the YMCA. In my hurry, I left the twins unsupervised in the kitchen while I ran upstairs to get something. I heard a crash and then two little voices repeating, “uh oh.”

    When I arrived at the scene of the uh-oh, my laptop was on the floor, irreparably broken. Every photo I had of my babies from 10 months to 15 months of age was lost. I tried desperately to find someone to retrieve the photos, driving to two different towns that day to visit computer experts. While I was driving to one of them, my mother called with the news that our family friend Donna had died. She had been sick a long time.

    A few months earlier, Donna played “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with my babies, Lucy and Harry. Maybe you can imagine their large eyes fixed on Donna’s warm brown eyes as the toddlers’ fat fingers stumbled their way up the spout. Can you feel the joy and pain watching the scene, knowing Donna would soon die, knowing she had forgotten some of the words, knowing how much they all enjoyed those moments together singing about a determined spider climbing against all odds, no matter the weather?

    The same morning she died, before I knew she was gone, I lost my photos of our last moments with her. If I had the photos, I would probably frame them. I would post them on social media. I would know more details about the positions of their bodies, what they all wore. I could show those photos to you, and you could marvel at the cute baby-ness and how sweet the moment must have been. I was devastated to lose Donna and to lose the photos I have of her and my babies, but I remember the moment so clearly because memory is my only record of it.

    Photos can’t do everything. They can’t build for you years of night swims in my parents’ humid backyard, a breeze blowing across the dell, tree frogs screaming, a bullfrog calling from the koi pond, my mother and Donna singing folk songs off-key while Donna’s husband and my dad roll their eyes, careful for their wives not to see. You might see Donna’s freckles and big smile in photos, but photos won’t wrap her arm around you and squeeze you tight because she knows how hard it is to be 14 and grounded and in the bad graces of your parents. A photo won’t wink at you, speak to you in French (Donna was a French teacher), or love you even when you’re rotten and riddled with guilt and angst. It won’t sing songs with your babies.

    Even if I had a picture, I couldn’t show you the moon tonight. I hope you saw it. I hope you saw something.

  • When I was 23 or 24, in the early 2000s, I worked at a small company in a small office with thin, dingy carpet on the second floor of an orange building near the industrial area of Berkeley, California.

    It was a weird work environment, but I didn’t have enough work experience to know that yet. I had some good colleagues, many of them around the same age, and we were all muddling through young work life. I had veered from my professional path in order to afford living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the dot-com boom had inflated housing costs. The company gave me a shot at something I hadn’t tried before, and that opportunity both gave me a living wage and the knowledge that I was on the wrong career track.

    I could not afford to be a beginning writer and pay $1,300 a month to rent two-thirds of the top half of a red North Berkeley bungalow with an accordion bathroom door and knocking pipes. The apartment came with a cracked window and a cracked ceiling, and my boyfriend and I spent our downtime repairing, painting, and decorating to make a home.

    Working at the small business in Berkeley, well off my career path, afforded us the opportunity to feed ourselves and buy furniture. Later, we would move to a nicer apartment on the quiet island of Alameda, just inside the San Francisco Bay from Oakland. The Alameda apartment building had a gym and a pool and was $200 cheaper. I don’t remember where we lived when my boss patted my ass.

    Here are my excuses for him:

    • He gave me an opportunity to work in a career for which I had not been formally trained. He offered me on-the-job training.
    • He promoted me from an office manager position into this better paying position, well before the event I am describing.
    • He encouraged me in the position, giving me bonuses when my work was especially productive.
    • He had never made me feel sexually uncomfortable in all the time I had worked for him.
    • To this day, I am confident it was an unfortunate slip, the way you might have ended a client call with “OK, love you. Bye,” and after ending the call, realized with horror what you had done. He had patted my ass in the affectionate way he might have patted the bottom of one of his sons or wife when they were all in the kitchen and happy and preparing a meal. We were celebrating a big success in the department and hugged, like people do in small offices when they celebrate successes or life events or holidays. I thought I saw embarrassment flash across his face.

    We hugged, he patted my ass, and all of the celebratory joy drained from my body. I was shocked and embarrassed, speechless. My cheeks were hot, and I felt nervous. He said nothing, did not acknowledge what had just happened. No, “Oh no. I am so sorry.” No, “I am embarrassed by my behavior. I apologize. It was a stupid reflex.” Not even, “Oops.” He left my part of the office without any explanation or apology.

    I stood there stupidly, feeling stupid, among my colleagues. My mind raced to question itself: Maybe he didn’t register it? Maybe I imagined it?

    I asked incredulously if anyone who stood with us had seen that. I don’t remember what most of them said, but I remember nervous chuckles and slinking back to their cubicles.

    “I saw it,” someone said.

    My colleague looked me in the eyes. He was a smart, funny man my age who exuded a cool, casual confidence. I knew him to be professional, kind, and decent. “I saw it,” he had said, and held my gaze long enough for me to know I could trust him and I could trust myself.

    I don’t know if I said, “Thank you,” or if I asked again to be sure. I don’t remember much else except overwhelming embarrassment and shame.

    I told my female boss what had happened, that others had seen it. I told her I thought it had been an accident. I told her I wanted the boss to acknowledge it and apologize. I was terrified of making waves, and in my early 20s, fear could have silenced me. But others had seen, and I was worried about my reputation.

    The battle between fears could have kept me awake, could have riddled my thoughts, could have bound me so tight I resigned to inaction. By speaking up, I risked repercussions from my boss or the company. (And for what? It had been an accident, hadn’t it? Had it even happened? Was it someone walking by I hadn’t seen?) By staying quiet, I risked the respect of my colleagues and I accepted shame.

    That could have been the end of my story: anxiety, self-doubt, diminished self-esteem, guilt, shame.

    But my colleague’s simple sentence changed the way I faced the situation: “I saw it.”

    The boss gave a horrible apology: “If I somehow unconsciously or without my knowledge … I’m sorry,” delivered with contempt, an eye roll, and after quite a bit of arguing about whether it happened. It was not his best moment. I suspected he was worried I would sue him and let that fear guide his actions the way I might have let fear lead mine, a larger life lesson for me than I realized at the time.

    But I do not tell this story because my boss didn’t behave well or because I faced an uncomfortable conversation with a person who touched me inappropriately. We know people don’t like to acknowledge their wrongdoing. We know that survivors of sexual assault face a secondary social and emotional assault from their perpetrators and society at large: doubt, blame, contempt, and shaming. We know that fear of those repercussions silences survivors.

    This story is not shocking; a pat on the ass is so common and relatively low-level that it would be easy to dismiss. How many tweed-clad strangers 40 years my senior have cupped my ass? Countless. They are good at doing it under the radar; they’ve practiced. My ass has many stories of unwanted touching. I don’t tell this story because it’s shocking.

    I tell this story because 15 years ago, a man in his mid-20s changed the way my story ended. Having a witness gave me back my power. It felt like a gift. Three quiet, serious words validated my experience, and that is what lit my path.

    Let us be witnesses. When we see wrong, let us validate the wronged. Let us say, “I saw it.” Let us lend our power to people who are feeling powerless. It doesn’t take much. Three words. I saw it. I see you. I believe you.