It’s Sunday morning at the fellowship I attend. They sing, light candles, and meditate. They explicitly welcome all ages, races, gender identities, and sexual orientations. They even welcome all religious beliefs. You can be an atheist, and you will be welcomed. This is a great relief for someone like me who believes that the Divine is way way too big for any of our little boxes.
A little girl about seven is coming up the aisle with the other kids to the front of the church for “Children’s Time.” She’s skinny and knobby and wears thick glasses. Her scraggly hair is dishwater blond. She wears a psychedelic t-shirt that says I Love Cats, a pink tutu skirt, black and white leggings in a jaggedy pattern, and bright blue wooly mittens. She clomps up the aisle in big black combat boots. She fidgets and hops and rolls around on the floor while the other children are sitting quietly on their special rug with the big green frogs and listening to the pastor tell them a story.
She pops up in the middle of the story and stands smack in front of the pastor, raising her arms so that her belly is showing, wiggling both hands in his face. “I have a question, I have a question, I have a question!”
The pastor blinks, then asks what her question is. She says, “I was here last week.”
“Oh, really? That’s nice.”
“And I was excited to be here.”
“Oh good. I’m glad.”
“But today I’m not.”
The pastor raises his eyebrows. “No? Not excited? And…is there a question?”
The little girl says, “Oh yeah. Well, my question is, why do I have to be here every Sunday?”
Everyone laughs, of course. One part of me is amused, another part is annoyed at her fidgeting and interrupting, and another part is pitying her parents, because this is obviously a non-stop, full-time, 24/7 circus.
But there is another part of me that envies this annoying little girl, because she has no doubt whatsoever that she is worthy and lovable, that people care about her and about her questions, that the world is a safe and welcoming place where she is free to move, speak, question, and explore. She has a voice; she has no idea how lucky she is. She is unconscious of the great gift she has been given by her undoubtedly exhausted parents.
I begin imagining the rest of her life, how boldly she will explore her world and ask her questions. When people frown at her for being rude and loud and pushy she will shrug it off. When men try to abuse or harass her, she will say no, and she will say it as loudly as she needs to in order to take care of herself.
I think about all the women who are speaking out now about the harassment and abuse that they’ve experienced. This is incredible to me. I am so thrilled I can barely contain myself. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. Over the years there have been books, rallies, and marches, but not like this. Most of us have spent our lives knowing that we just had to shut up and take it, all that groping, grabbing, molesting, and raping. All the sly jokes and remarks about our bodies. All the digs about being frigid if we didn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason. All the shaming and blaming if someone assaulted us. All the rolled eyes if we wanted to be treated with respect. All the barbs about just wanting attention or money, and the assumptions that we must be lying if we dared to report anything.
And now, for the first time in the history of the world, women (and men, too) are speaking up and saying, “This is enough. This must stop. You can’t do that to us anymore.” This is perhaps the biggest, most important cultural change I have witnessed in my lifetime. It’s a watershed moment, a cultural tipping point. People are losing their jobs for harassing those who work for them. This is huge.
This annoying little girl has a voice, and she is growing up in a world where people may actually listen to her. She will ask uncomfortable questions, express unpopular opinions, make inconvenient demands, tell painful truths, challenge, disrupt, inspire. She will feel free to become whoever she wants to become, free to try new things, free to achieve, free to fail, free to speak, sing, growl, yell, lament, wail, weep, shout…
She has a voice. I have one now, but I certainly didn’t at 7, or even at 27. She’s way ahead of me, and an effing inspiration. I may just get myself some combat boots.