Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby and Brother Pat

America's Favorite TV Dad Assaults Women

This has been the recurring headline on my newsfeed for a few days. I'm stunned. And also, sadly, not surprised.

One thing I don't understand: the voices in the comments who complain about how long it took Cosby's alleged victims to report his crimes. Dude, that's Victim-Shaming 101. We're told not to talk about it. That's how we perpetuate the entire rape culture.

I should stop reading the comments.

The whole Cosby rape allegation story is disturbing, but I can't look away. Like a train wreck, or one more headline with the phrase Honey Boo Boo in it. Why do I pay attention to such depravity?

It's like how I listen to someone in our congregation read Bible stories. Talk about a camel-caravan wreck! Some of those stories in the Bible are messed up, morality tales like the best books by Sister Soulja. Especially in the Old Testament, although I've heard that Revelations is chock-ful of sick shit but I don't know because I'm too scared to read it. I don't like horror novels or slasher flicks either. Especially with religious undertones. My mom accidentally took me to see "The Exorcist" with my teenage sisters when it came out in theaters in 1973. I was three. 


I hate horror movies. I guess that makes my fascination with horrible news stories that feature real people who have committed unthinkable acts to undeserving victims even weirder.

I think it's because I want to find a reason for the atrocity. I want to dig deeper into the story to figure out where it all went wrong. I can't explain why Linda Blair became possessed by a demon in a movie. I have no real life experience with Satan. I don't even believe in one evil entity who is engaged in some overly simplistic battle with God over who controls our souls. I think that hell is the town dump, and when people shout "Go to Hell" they mean get the fuck out of here. We don't want your kind around.

Kinda like how we feel about people who commit crimes in our community. Steal your neighbor's shit: go to jail. Kill someone in the community: go to jail. Although kill someone half a globe away and call it defending your country and it's easier to ignore. They're not "our kind" to begin with. 

Communities like law and order. People like to know what rules we're supposed to follow. We need clarification and retraining before we get it right sometimes. A guide to follow. Life is tough.

Some communities follow rules from a holy book. Like how Christians and Jews and Muslims follow the ten commandments from The Bible. Other communities follow laws that were written for a secular crowd. Like our United States Constitution. Most people feel like if you break the rules, either religious or secular, you should be stripped of your right to continue to live freely within the community.

Whether you tell someone to go to hell or go to jail, you basically mean this: Get out of here! You're not one of us anymore!

I don't believe in The Devil, but I've known the demons, and they get off on isolation. I've seen them in other people and felt them inside myself.

You are sick. You should feel ashamed of yourself. Don't tell anyone or they'll think you're a bad person. 

It's hard, but I've found that when I fuck up, instead of keeping it secret, I return to a good place faster and more satisfied when I fess up and try to figure out why I did the awful thing and how I can do something different the next time I feel compelled to fuck something up. If I run away and hide, if I keep what I've done wrong a secret, it settles inside me and festers and metastasizes and consumes me. Making a mistake does not make you The Devil. Making a mistake makes you human. Forgive yourself and move on.

I think that's what Jesus meant when he said this:

Mark 12:30-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

"...you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'"

I'm not one of those people who likes a lot of rules. I prefer a couple of simple statements and then letting me figure it out myself. So here's how I paraphrase Mark 12:30-31: Love God. Love people.

Just because it's simple doesn't mean it's not fucking hard. Loving God is pretty easy when you see the spark of God within all living beings, but at the same time, it's really fucking hard because sometimes people resemble monsters. Sometimes people do cruel things that makes you not want to love them.

But that's what Jesus says to do. So I try. Why? Because it makes me feel better. Go ahead, Atheists, judge away. Jesus is my coping mechanism of choice and I deserve to feel good. 

But how do you love the rapists and child abusers? How do you love people who use their power and authority to keep others down? How do you love yourself when you've hurt someone else?

Oh, Jeez, it's so simple and so hard.

I don't like to think that Bill Cosby, the man who played one of the greatest dads in fiction, is a serial rapist. But the allegations keep popping up and I think, what if he is? Certainly I can't be expected to love someone who hurts other people.

Matthew 5:43-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."

Aww, crap. Are you kidding? I didn't sign up for this crap when I joined up. Love people is so simple and so hard.

But then I think of my brother Pat. My brother Pat died a few years ago at the age of 49.

Good people do bad things and make it worse by not talking about it, covering it up, pretending it's not true. My brother drank himself to death. He told me the pain was too much. His wife Sharon had passed away a month before Pat was diagnosed with liver failure. She was the only person who Pat felt truly understood him. When she was gone, he felt alone.

It's so strange. Pat had more friends than anyone I know. And yet he felt alone.

I know few people who had a rougher life than Pat did. He was abused by his alcoholic father, abused by our grandmother, abused by my dad who is his stepfather. Most of the authority figures in Pat's life treated him like shit. Our Mom didn't though. She loved him the best she could and she taught him to love people, all people.

Pat loved all people. He would sit on his front porch with a beer in his hand and a shot glass at his side and call out, "Hey, come have a beer with us!" to all the people walking by. He lived in midtown Kansas City in a residential neighborhood with lots of pedestrian traffic, so it was not uncommon to stop by Pat's house and see him chatting with someone on his porch.

"Hey, Beck! How's it going? Good to see you! You wanna beer? Hey, meet my friend, uh, I'm sorry but I've forgotten your name," Pat would say, looking toward the stranger on his porch, swigging down a can of Milwaukee's Best.

This is how I met all of Pat's friends. Many of them remained by his side throughout his life. Some of them moved on. Pat spent a good portion of his young adult life homeless, living on the beach in southern California, dumpster diving, drinking beer, playing his guitar, making friends. When Pat finally met the love of his life, Sharon, and they bought a house together and settled down, Pat would invite homeless people to sleep in their basement. That's how they got their dog Lo Mein. She was this homeless guy's dog. They had moved into Pat and Sharon's basement for a few weeks, and then one day the homeless guy disappeared. Lo Mein had no where else to go. The homeless guy didn't have a phone to call. They didn't know any of his family or friends. 

Every time I'd come over and sit on the porch and drink a beer with Pat and pet Lo Mein I'd think about what a great guy my brother is, to adopt a homeless man's dog. Pat would take one last bite of whatever it was he had been eating and toss the leftover to Lo Mein. That was one happy dog.

When we found out Pat was dying of liver failure, I can't tell you how many people called to wish Pat well and tell him how much they loved him and how much he made their life more meaningful.

It was great to watch Pat's face as he'd talk to an old friend on the phone. He relished the attention. He died in peace, feeling surrounded by love.

As soon as Pat died I spiraled into a deep depression. It lasted several months until I figured out a way to find relief. I started writing about the dark secrets Pat had asked me to keep when I was too young to be asked to carry such a burden.

While Pat was alive, I didn't want to write about what he had done to me when I was a little girl. Everybody loved Pat. Why would I want to turn everyone against him? I didn't. I love Pat. I want people to know why I hurt, but to also forgive the person who hurt me.

I was smart enough to understand that the people in authority who had abused Pat had taught him that abuse is normal. He probably didn't even think of what he was doing to me as abuse at all. In our sick way, when Pat would bring me into his bedroom and play his secret game with me, it felt really nice, like I was special and he was paying attention to me. But I was too little to know what I was doing, too young to give consent, too young to hold such a secret burden. Pat had told me not to tell anyone because if Mom found out about our secret game she would have another nervous breakdown and be sent to the hospital and probably never return.

I finally told. And Mom wasn't sent away. But we didn't talk about it for a long time.

When I was a teenager, discussing the abuse with my mom, she brought out a letter Pat had written to her when he ran away from home in his mid-teens. She let me read it. Pat went into horrible detail about the secret abuse he had suffered as a child when my mom divorced his dad and had to work and left the kids with her mom to babysit. 

It was disgusting, how our grandmother treated Pat. And the worst part of all? She told him never to tell anyone, because if the secret got out Mom would have another nervous breakdown and be sent to the hospital and probably never return.

It's hard to live with the knowledge that the person who sexually abused you had also been sexually abused himself. It's hard, but it leads to greater understanding, and ultimately love and forgiveness.

Sometimes people look at me weird when I tell them I forgive my brother for sexually abusing me when I was a little girl. Their eyes turn into slits and they turn their head slightly like they might have to be ready to make a break for it. Surely I am insane. You don't forgive people who have hurt you. You cover it up and pretend it never happened until the secret festers and consumes you and then you turn into the monster who preys on weaker victims to feel better about yourself.

But I say, hell no. Stop this shit. I will not let this cycle go on. I will not let this abuse go on. I will share the secret. I will let it out. I will not let it consume me.

Secrets kill our souls. Secrets condition the members of a community of well-intentioned people to believe that abuse is normal. Take the secrecy out of the abusive situation and you've got a foundation of support from the community.

No, Son. It's wrong to take advantage of a drunk woman. No, Hon, it's not your fault that it took you decades to find the courage to talk about it.

When it's normal for our society to blame victims and shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys and men like to fuck around, when we accept that the world operates this way and that no one will listen to our one little voice when we tell our stories and share our secrets, when we worry we'll be castigated and cast out of the community, healing is impossible. But when we do the hard thing and love people, all people, neighbors and enemies and even ourselves, healing is possible. We learn that love is about sharing and not hiding, love is about seeking help and helping others, love is about feeling strong enough to support others who need us. We learn we are not alone.

Keep telling your stories. The more we share, the more we know we are not alone.