I was imagining all day yesterday how it might have gone.
I keep thinking of it like my Universalist-Dream-Ballet version of the horrifying/captivating Senate Hearings. That is, a version of events fueled by my most idealistic notions of redemption and reconciliation. And, a version that would obviously include spectacle, ornate costumes and over-the-top musical flourishes, and/or non-linear plot devices – because it’s that disconnected from reality.
Which did not stop me from thinking about it.
Like most everyone I know, I listened to almost all of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony. I listened reflexively, out of loyalty more than curiosity. After all, I’ve been off-book on this script for most of my life. All the words, and players, how it turns out. I’ve had it all down at least as far back as that same life stage they were working so hard to recall today.
There are plenty of things I don’t rememember about being a teenager. (And, at least 90% of what I used to remember got swept away in the fog of early motherhood…) Still, there will always be those things I will never forget, even if I try…My first long, slow, increasingly desperate survey of the school cafeteria wondering who to sit with. Staring down the swimming lane at state finals. Beating all the boys at the math competition. Getting the love note from the boy everyone said liked me. Saying goodbye to my sisters and my parents once they dropped me and all my stuff at the dorms. And a month or so later, that night in the frat house
The therapist who greeted me the day I realized the memory was not going away agreed with me, it wasn’t rape. But it was questionable – in the consent arena. Fuzzy lines made fuzzier by alcohol and the dark rooms of Greek row. I was 17 when I went to college, still very much a teenager. A couple years older than Dr. Blasey-Ford, the same age as Judge Kavanaugh. When he held her down, and covered her mouth, and she wondered if she would survive.
I don’t remember everything about it. Definitely not enough to withstand Lindsey Graham and his temper tantrums. But enough to know still his name. His face. His smell.
In my Dream Ballet version of the Hearing, Brett Kavanaugh still doesn’t remember doing it, still isn’t sure. It isn’t required for reconciliation to begin, I’ve realized. Because I’ve seen it enough now, the power of denial. The stories we tell about ourselves, stories that if you topple them, would mean toppling over entirely. Facts are no match for these stories. And at 53, he’s been telling himself these stories for decades. “I went to an all-boys Catholic high school where I was focused on academics and athletics and going to church every Sunday and working on my service projects and friendships.”
These sorts of moments challenge Universalists (and others oriented towards a commitment to compassion and our common humanity). Because we don’t believe in writing anyone off. Because we often don’t have a fully formed theology of evil. Because we do have an over-functioning theology of human goodness. Not to mention a totally-unscientific faith in human reasoning. Because we too confuse today’s US court system with anything resembling real reconciliation, or restoration.
A couple weeks ago I offered a service on the Jewish High Holy Days, focusing in on the time between Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) – a time known as Teshuvah, or, the turning. This intervening time represents the work required to get to atonement (at-one-ment), the work that is often left unsaid and untended to – in our courts, and in our lives. The work that of real reconciliation.
It is a process that requires multiple steps, what I call the 5 R’s:
- Recognize yourself in ways you have not been willing to know yourself before. Recognize the injury. Study it. Not from your own life perspective, but from within. Recognize your role, without excuses or explanations. Accept responsibility.
- Remorse comes naturally after a full recognition. Remorse is more than regret. Remorse means we know ourselves as the one who has caused another pain.
- It’s this real remorse that inspires our Refusal to ever repeat the same mistake again. Without this commitment, all the other steps are meaningless.
- It’s not always possible to Repair the damage that was done, but trying matters too. Do whatever you can to put the pieces back together. Repay the money. Restore the reputation.
- And finally, it requires Revelation. As in, your own out-loud utterance of every other R – outloud to the person you injured, outloud to the surrounding community. Out loud to God, the universe. Bring what has been previously hidden and secret into the open so that it can be accountable.
Despite what any of us might wish, time does not automatically do the work of the 5 Rs. Even the time that passes from age 17 to 53. A law degree does not do it either. Nor does a successful career as a judge, or a nice house with a beautiful family. The work requires actual work. Intention. Starting with that first move towards recognition.
In my fantasy version of the Hearing, Brett Kavanaugh does not have to topple over. (Even in a Dream Ballet, we can’t imagine that denial can be undone in one moment.) But even an opening towards the pain Dr. Blasey-Ford is expressing would be a start, a move towards connection, restoration. Rather than amplifying his own sense of pain, and entitlement. Channelling anger for what was being done to him.
A willingness to acknowledge: it is possible that he does not have all the information. It is possible that his memory is imperfect. (Dr. Blasey-Ford could teach him a little about the scientific reasons why memory can be deceptive and self-protective.) Any move towards wholeness would have to begin here. With an acknowledgment that there are always things out of our view, a humility, and a willingness to see anew.
Imagine how differently things might have gone – if he’d made even the slightest move towards this recognition. In the courtroom, or even better – in the first hour he learned of her coming forward. Or even more incredibly, in any of the days between that night at the party, and the day his name was put forward for a lifetime appointment to the highest court of in our (less so every day) justice system.
Imagine. Instead of trying to accept that we are appointing a self-righteous sexual predator to the Supreme Court, today we might even be giving thanks that we’d be appointing someone who knows what real justice looks like. This is the power of this path of real turning, real redemption and restoration.
I know. It’s a wild fantasy.
But it’s a fantasy we need not abandon for all time.
When we are talking to our kids about the lessons of this Hearing. About the lessons of the #MeToo movement. About the sorts of humans that we can and must be for each other. About consent. And respect. And love.
We can and must also speak about failure, and regret, and repair. Because we are not perfect creatures. None of us. And because science actually shows we are mostly profoundly irrational, illogical, inconsistent. Because I want my kids to know not only that if they have something terrible happen to them, they can and should expect this degree of accountability, and repair – but that if they do something terrible, there is a path to repair. Because it remains true that no one is ever outside the possibility of redemption. And because even when all seems lost, truth continues to be revealed. Even for Judge Kavanaugh.
PS. In case you’re wondering. I believe her. But as I said last March in my #MeToo sermon, I’m not sure that “believing” is really the issue. I’m guessing Lindsey Graham mostly believes too, despite his wild dramatics. I’m guessing the large majority of the Republican Senators believe her. The issue isn’t belief. It’s about whose life and whose suffering matters enough to respond.