When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy
Photo by Jake Hills. Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton, United Kingdom. Unsplash.com

You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”

I can’t say that I was.

I was not raped.

I was not assaulted.

But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.

I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.

Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).

By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.

I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.

When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.

With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”

I want to see this.

FULL STOP.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.

He stayed.

I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.

He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.

And me?

I had identified with the woman on the screen.

‘And why?’ I asked myself.

I had not been raped.

I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.

But I never succeeded.

And now I understand.

My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.

Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.

Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.

At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.

But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.

Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?

Let’s ask for the eyes to see.

Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.

My Husband: My Stylist

My Husband: My Stylist

My husband is my stylist. For real.

There’s a small pile of clothes on my dresser right now, awaiting the judgment of my stylist, who has been away on business for a couple days.

I ordered a few fall items last week, and I won’t rip the tags off without consulting my husband first. Not because I’m looking for his permission (gosh no!), but simply because he has a better eye than me, and I appreciate his input.

I first realized this when we were dating, and he convinced me to a buy a classic navy sundress from Ann Taylor that I wore for 5 years. It was flattering. It hugged my curves in all the best places and skimmed over the less-than-perfect parts, and the color made my blue eyes pop. But I wouldn’t have picked it on my own because it was, at the time, more than I would typically spend.

My husband’s fashion sense was confirmed during our engagement as I chose a color for the bridesmaids dresses. He actually knew (and could spot) the difference between cornflower and periwinkle blue.

Have I told you that I hate to shop?

Really. Hate. To. Shop.

Years later, I complained one June about needing to buy a couple new dresses, as we had a slew of Christenings, weddings, and sundry parties to attend in the following months.

That afternoon, he waltzed into our kitchen with two new shifts that he had bought straight off the Lord & Taylor racks in under 15 minutes. One fit me perfectly. The other needed minor alterations at the shoulders.

No joke.

I told him other women would laugh at me if they knew, because they’d think I have no ability to dress myself.

He shrugged. Then added, “I appreciate your body more than you do,” and smiled in a come-hither kind of way.

Ahem.

Alright, then.

It has taken some time, but I have accepted that my husband has a legitimate point. He values me (and my body, I guess) in ways that I don’t. And he is looking out for me and the image I put forward in the world.

So – I wonder – am I doing the same for him?

I might not have his same ability to find a garment that is both “on trend” and “spot on” for someone, but am I helping to create a positive impression of him for others?

I hope so.

Do I know his faults?

Of course.

Should I tell you about them?

Probably not.

In the last week, I’ve heard a few women speak poorly of their husbands or other men in their lives. Often, it’s just venting – relieving frustration that builds up in hectic times when we aren’t leaving enough space for deep connection with one another.

But we have to be careful.

There is a fine line between venting, complaining, and disparaging – a downward cut that slices into the bonds of love between us.

We are called to build one another up, to clothe one another with affection and caring. This process happens face-to-face, and when we speak of one another while apart.

Beautifully woven life stories are created when we consistently choose to celebrate our strengths, rather than focus on our flaws.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. – 1 Peter 5:10

The Darn Near Perfect Man I Married

The Darn Near Perfect Man I Married

The only photo I have of our first date is the one in my mind.

I heard his knock at the door of my Northern Virginia apartment, and when I answered it, I saw something amazing. This guy, who I knew was from Philadelphia (where I spent my high school years, came of age, and developed a sense of humor) was wearing jeans, a shirt I liked, and…cowboy boots.

My dad wore cowboy boots.

And I really love my dad.

And somewhere in the depths of my mind, I think I already knew that this guy was darn near perfect – for me.

We were married 17 months later, but as I’ve told countless people, “If he’d asked me to marry him three weeks into our relationship, I would have said yes. It might have seemed crazy, but I wouldn’t have been wrong.” We’re coming up on 18 married years together, and he still amazes me.

My husband and me on our third date – one week into our relationship. We were headed to an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. I thought he looked quite spiffy.

Today is his birthday. We celebrate him. And here are just four of the many reasons why I love him.

His faithfulness. If you are his friend, you know this to be true. He will be there for you when you need him. There’s no way to tally the number of late-night calls he’s taken, listening to a friend.

And when there’s a family event, he makes every possible effort to attend or, at the very least, to call or send a gift. He knows that actions count, and so he takes action to make sure that those who are important to him know where his heart lies.

His thoughtfulness. For my first birthday after we were married, he gave me a 1920 Pathe Freres Victrola, along with antique records of foxtrots and waltzes. I cried with joy. Its sound was almost deafening in our WWII-era apartment, with its ultra-thin carpets and hardwood floors, but oh how I loved it. It’s still my favorite gift, and there have been many over the years. He has a knack for giving, because he thoughtfully considers the enjoyment of the receipient. Again – his heart is in the effort, and it shows.

His humility. Sometime in those early years before we had kids, we had a conversation about education. He said he was grateful for his Catholic schools, and thought it would be good to give back. “Maybe some day we could send a kid to school,” he said, “someone who couldn’t afford it otherwise.” I looked at him with wonder and felt gooshy inside. “Yes,” I said, “Sometimes you hear about people doing that.” He looked right into my eyes and said, “Well, no one would know. It would have to be anonymous.”

I was gobsmacked. Giving so generously without seeking credit was something that had never occurred to me. I was in awe of him – in awe of the way he was emphatic about this. There would be no changing his mind. With three kids in Catholic schools now, and college on the horizon, we are still a ways off from being able to make a gift of this size. But if we ever do, you will never know.

His desire to grow. My husband has a way of speaking that conveys an air of authority. At first, this unnerved me. So much so that when we were dating, I suggested he start prefacing statements with, “I think,” so as to sound a bit less declarative. And to my shock, he immediately thought that was a very good idea. He continues to look for ways to develop his mind, body, and spirit, and this habit still impresses me.

There is so much more to every person than meets the eye. And no one has taught me this more than the man I married.

Over the years, we have grown together in countless ways. But he is still the most generous and least stubborn of the two of us. He is the better friend. And he is so humble and willing to do what’s right that he is pretty much always the first to apologize when we’ve had a disagreement.

And his apologies? They are never of the throwaway, ‘Yes, Dear,’ sort. He means it. He does not hold grudges. He wants to reset our relationship. He wants us to start again – as a team.

If God wants us to see an image of Himself in other people, He gave me a beautiful one in my ‘darn near perfect’ husband. And oh, how grateful I am.