An interesting topic came up over dinner this evening with the kids, and though at the time my mouth was full of spinach and gala apple salad, and the conversation quickly moved on to hide-and-seek and other things, I wanted to make a note here of some of my own passing thoughts. For I think that in many ways, we still live with the lessons of our own childhoods and, especially for women, these lessons have not always been the healthiest, physically, emotionally or spiritually. There are a great many things that, looking back, I wish someone had told me when I was a young girl, about how the world works and why people do what they do and think the way they think. And one of those things I wish someone would have told me is: sometimes it's okay to avoid a person, even if it's rude.
To remove oneself from unpleasant or unhealthy company is only one of many rude things frowned upon in women (yes, even today), but it's one that vibrates a sympathetic chord deep in the quiet center of my being, and I find myself desperately wanting to explain to my partner's two oldest daughters that it is, in fact, definitely and completely okay to avoid a person, especially if that person is mean, manipulative or expects you to think and behave in certain ways that you do not, in your heart of hearts, agree with or feel to be right. These girls are on the verge of preadolescence, and the thought that they might grow up thinking that women are expected to always be accommodating and easy-going in whatever company, without thought to their own personal boundaries, needs or self-respect... well, it bothers me. This is basic stuff, of the "say no to drugs/peer-pressure/bridge-jumping" variety. And yet, as I've mentioned here before, they have been raised thus far in a decidedly extroverted and in some ways very gender-traditional household (despite their mother being a self-proclaimed witch), which has left them with the impression that to decline social interaction is, especially in females, the height of rudeness. As both a feminist and an introvert, I feel the need to speak up and represent, for the sake of all my fellow kindly recluses.
Of course, it's a complicated matter. While avoiding a person can sometimes be the wisest and healthiest thing to do, it is different from merely avoiding confrontation, which is also something highly prized in women. It's important to understand how these two things differ. Avoiding oneself physically from a conflict can in some cases be the most radical kind of confrontation: the very "presence" of one's absence can provoke and challenge, especially at times when one is expected to be present (or at least go through the motions of presence). There are times when showing up and merely "walking through the part" — this kind of false presence of pretending social niceties — is the real avoidance, and what is sacrificed is not only self-respect and honesty, but the sacredness of real presence, and the meaningfulness of real absence.
And this is where the Pagan spiritual life comes to play an important role for me, though there are echoes of Buddhism here as well. For the Pagan parent embraces both the light and the dark of the natural world, the day and the night, the bright sunshine filtering in and filling every space, and the emptiness of the night's void gaping between the faraway stars. The void is not something to fear or shrink from, but has its own role to play in the dance of harmony and balance. And so too does avoidance, which once meant not just to escape or evade, but to withdraw, clear out or empty oneself. It is this same process of emptying oneself that gives us the precious space of solitude and the sacred capacity for connection, through which we can learn to open to our capacity to imagine, and to relate to others. Through ritual and trance, such as that of the shaman, it gives way to what we call "shapeshifting" and journeying through the Otherworlds. But this ability to seek solitude and empty oneself is also a source of stability and strength that can enable us to be kind and loving towards others as well.
In our solitude, we enter more completely into our own presence, we begin to know it better and experience its fullness and power. And we learn that our presence is something precious that we can choose (or choose not) to share with others. It is not something to be frittered away uncaringly or lived only half-heartedly, it is not something that can be demanded or expected, it is never obligatory or compulsory: it is a gift. When we realize this, not only do we appreciate ourselves more and protect more fiercely that sparkling individuality that gives our presence its uniqueness and meaning, but we also come to see that our being present — fully and truly and whole-heartedly present — can be a gift of loving-kindness and transformative connection that we give to others. We are less inclined to take it for granted, but likewise we are all the more capable of giving it knowingly, even to those who we think might not appreciate it, because we understand the real nature of the giving. But all this rests on our ability to give it freely, to choose to give our presence to others; or, through our absence, to demonstrate the withdrawal of our support for unhealthy conditions or to point to or illustrate an absence that we already feel is lurking beneath the surface of acceptability and politeness.
The Pagan life is chock-full of many rude things. Playing in the mud, laughing during religious ceremonies, going braless or barefoot or unshaven or skyclad, dancing in the firelight to the beating of drums, bragging, boasting, flouting, flirting, fucking, eating and drinking and wandering wild in the woods under waling moonlit winds, so many rude and naughty and socially frowned-upon things. Let us not confuse what is rude with what is cruel, or callous, or stupid, or wrong. Let us be rude to the utmost of our love, and seek silence, and sing, and be joyous and honest and present and free.