Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Kind of Stranger Are You?

"What kind of stranger are you?"

The small black girl paused in her climb up the playground equipment and asked me that question. She was speeding around the playground with my white daughter and another little black girl. The three preschool age girls united in laughter, daredevilry, and energy were challenging each other to scrambling up, over, and under everything in sight. 

I tried to be inconspicuous as a spotter as they climbed on the equipment, trying to eye all of them equally for potential falls. Halfway through scaling the wooden framework, one of the little girls turned and looked at me. 

"Is that your daughter?"


"Can we play with her?"


"Are you a stranger?"

"Um, yes, I am a stranger to you, but not to her." 

"What kind of stranger are you?"

I froze for a moment, cutting my eyes away from hers. For a kindergarten aged black girl in Anchorage, Alaska, what kind of stranger am I? What kind of stranger am I to her mom or dad, her older brother, her next door neighbor, her teachers, her cousin, her pastor or community leader? 

"Well," I said carefully. "I am the kind of stranger who you can ask for help if you are hurt or lost or scared. But you should not go anywhere with me or take anything from me. I am the kind of stranger who will be kind to you, but I still want you to know that not all strangers are the same." 

There's no way to explain to any child that strangers are not always the danger. That sometimes the danger is in your house or your school or the people in positions to protect you. I didn't say that I am a stranger who has fought for things for all Alaskans- like Medicaid expansion, more Medicare doctors, community policing, and more detox beds in the Anchorage Bowl. I didn't tell her that I'm the kind of stranger who wrestles with privilege and frustration and anger. I didn't tell her that I'm the kind of stranger who has a #BlackLivesMatter pin stuck into my bright pink pussy hat and I mean both symbols wholeheartedly. 

As far as she knows, I'm the kind of stranger who watches out for all the kids on the playground. I'm the kind of stranger who will push her on the swing. I'm the kind of stranger whose daughter will refer to other girls whose names she does not know as "my sister". (I don't actually know why she does this, but V told me once that all girls are her sisters. I didn't argue.) I'm the kind of stranger who will pretend to be a tickle monster under the slide, but will only tickle hands and arms of children to whom I am not related. I am the kind of stranger who will offer a bandaid for a scrape, but not a snack because I don't want children I don't know to be in the habit of taking food from people they don't know outside of an organized setting or a grownup's permission. 

I'm the kind of stranger who is not close to being perfect or even that good, but I'm strange enough to keep persisting in being better. 

What kind of stranger are you? 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wonder(ful) Woman

I loved Wonder Woman.

I loved it so much that I didn't want to leave the theater. When I got up, I didn't want to talk about the movie. I wanted to stay in the bubble where it was accepted that women are badasses and to be treated as equals (or even more powerful when they are!). I wanted to linger and wallow in the place where the presented and accepted truth is that women can kick butt AND love babies AND speak multiple languages AND be sexually interesting AND be warriors AND be leaders AND grieve AND can be funny AND can read maps AND can be gracious AND can silence detractors.

There was a whole lot of AND in the movie. Not so much OR.

The world is wide enough for AND.

Mostly, though, I gripped the armrests and wanted to cling to the place where I had seen something that was new to me in film.

There was a shape. A shape I see all the time. A shape that literally and metaphorically defines my life. I saw this shape in Wonder Woman and, for the first time ever, the shape was made by a female body.

In the climatic battle scene, Diana rises as she fights Ares. She rises with her arms spread from her shoulders. She rises with one leg down and the other slightly bent.

She rises and rises.

And, at the height of battle, she is in the cruciform position.

Her body makes the shape of the cross.

This is the ULTIMATE generic and specific hero body pose. It is not a subtle nod to Christian faith or human history. It is a literal appeal to the Jungian trope that has entered human consciousness in the last two-thousand years. The fighter, the bringer of salvation, the one who is on the right side of the fight will spread arms and resist power (and evil) through unconventional means. The specific physicality of the cruciform position indicates vulnerability and strength, humility and power, transgression and transformation.

The two scenes that always come to mind are at the end of Grand Torino and in the egg scene of Cool Hand Luke. The protagonists are seen- arms out, legs straight or slightly bent- triumphant, even in death.

But I've never seen a woman in this position.

There are so few movies with significant battling female heroines. In embodying female or femme heroism, our bodies are pictured as embracing, shielding, arguing, hiding, or taken by surprise.

There are likely examples that I don't know of, but for me... and I suspect for most people... the body of a woman, the savior of the movie, in the very, very familiar shape of the Western cross... seeing this was huge and transformative.

There are branches of modern Christianity that work to emphasize Jesus' maleness, as though the possession of a circumcised penis was the most significant part of the Incarnation. Jesus was male. Historically, that is factual. When read carefully, he is atypical of the men of his day- willing to talk to women, to be obedient to his mother, to acknowledge the fiscal gifts of women, and to take part in the healing of their bodies and restoring them to community. While Jesus was fully male, his male-ness did not blind him to the fullness of the creation he had always known- of which, female bodies, gifts, and lives were a significant part.

Wonder Woman is not magnificent as a film because it posits a female savior (of the film). That's not new, except in big tent comic book films. What was new was that Diana's body and spirit filled the space that heretofore we have only seen occupied by men. She was a boss- in word and deed. And the men around her knew it.

And when she rose, when she rose with her body in the shape that I try to live into every day...

When she rose with her body in the shape of the cross, not for glory, but for service and for love, I wanted to stay forever in the place where that was seen and accepted as real, good, and to be expected  (as in, of course a woman can do that).

Cruciform imagery, bodies in the shape of the cross, plays a significant role in all types of art. It matters that we see women's bodies in this position, not because they have been martyred, but because they have persisted and risen to the challenges of life and we recognize them as the heroes, the leaders, the goddesses, and children of God that they are.

Wonder Woman moved me, not because it showed me what I could be.

It reminded me of who I am.