Category Archives: On My Mind

#MeToo

There is only one way to begin this post, which is to acknowledge that I have been incredibly, incredibly lucky and that I’m writing from a place and position of privilege, safety, and security. I’m writing to honor the women and men who have come forward with their stories and to encourage those who remain locked in worlds of hurt and shame. If you haven’t spoken up because you feel that you have no one to tell, I’m here to listen to you.

I thought about writing this when the #MeToo movement first gained ground, but I didn’t. Again, I am incredibly lucky. I didn’t want my uncomfortable experience to be misconstrued as a cry for attention and I didn’t want it to take away from the “real stories” that people were telling. And frankly, my grandparents read this blog and this isn’t something I want them to read. (Sorry, grandparents.)

But the more I thought about it, half the problem is that I feel like I need to justify what I’m going to say. And then today happened.


A man filmed me while I was running this afternoon. I realized this as I ran towards him and he didn’t move from where he was standing on the path, holding up his phone. There was a glint in his eyes that went right through me and a leer that made his actions apparent. Instead of knocking his phone out of his hands or spitting at him, both of which I was close enough to do because I was hellbent on making it obvious that I knew what he was doing, I snapped, “Totally in the way” loudly enough for him to hear me and ran past him.

My heart rate sped up and I felt my legs begin to pump faster. Hello, fight or flight. I tried to relax my breathing and stopped running. I sat on the rocks by the beach until my body felt normal again.

This experience reminded me of being tickled from behind for the entirety of a crammed three-hour bus ride. It reminded me of all the times I’ve been whistled at, catcalled, stared at, and approached while walking down the street. I thought of the podcast I heard this morning about sexual assault in the entertainment industry. And I thought about the time I repeatedly used the words, “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, and “get off” before he finally did.

The only time I’ve ever alluded to this experience on this blog was when I wrote about my online dating experiences in New York. The guy I’m talking about is one I named “The Guy With Two Faces”. That post was supposed to be light, airy, and humorous.

This one is not.


The first night we went out, he walked me home and then asked if he could come up and use my washroom. I knew that was coming because he hadn’t let go of my hand for the entire walk. New York isn’t a city known for its public washrooms and it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Against my better judgement and because I really do understand that plight, I said yes.

He wasn’t the first person who had walked me home but he was the first to ask to come upstairs and I didn’t know how to get rid of him. I didn’t want him in my apartment. I didn’t want what was next in the script of “boy pays for a nice evening and girls pays him back”. But that’s the script we was running.

What made me uncomfortable wasn’t anything we did that night, but his insistence that we do it. In my experience, people are usually a little cautious at first and let me lead. That was not how this worked. He was very strong and forced on me things that I did not want. And I didn’t kick him or punch him or scream because I figured it was easier to play along. I also figured I’d given enough mixed signals because of my own confusion that he actually may not have realized that I did not want to participate. In many aspects of life, I am bad at saying no. This was no different.

We went out again because we did have a lot to talk about and he was really sweet over text messages. I reasoned that nothing had really been that bad, that I hadn’t gotten hurt, and that this time I just wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Easy enough.

But I hadn’t solved the problem of not knowing what to say when he asked if he could use my washroom. So again, he came upstairs. Again, I couldn’t get him to leave. I couldn’t figure out how to simply open the door and say goodbye. I failed at acting as my own agent.

This time, he wouldn’t put on a condom and all of my protesting and squirming didn’t seem to register. He whispered in my ear, “Don’t you trust me?”

Done playing, I replied, “No. I hardly know you.” And that was when I figured myself out. I kicked myself out from underneath him and shoved him off, which was easier than I had expected, likely because it came as a surprise. I told him to get out of my apartment.

I can’t actually remember what happened next. Part of me thinks he asked to take a shower and part of me thinks that if this happened, I probably said yes. But part of me thinks he just left. I’m sure it’s written in a journal somewhere but I really can’t remember. When I described this to several girlfriends later, I said he’d “given me sass about using a condom.” All could relate, too familiar with that scenario.

Reader, we out again. I was lonely, it was a nice day, and walking around the city with a buddy seemed like more fun than doing it on my own. He kept trying to direct our walk towards my neighborhood. I kept turning the other way. He finally said, “Look, I don’t have all day.” I made up a story about my roommate having friends staying with us.

“So?” he asked.

“I’m shy,” I said.

His hands were all over me in the middle of the street and he muttered, “You don’t look shy to me.”

I saw people on the opposite side of the street and loudly demanded, “Stop” and pulled away. He saw the people, too. He stopped and we kept walking. Eventually, he said he had work to do and led us towards his office. On a random street corner with no office in sight, he announced that we’d reached his destination. We said goodbye. I went into the first coffee shop I passed and sat there for hours.

I didn’t reply to the message he sent me weeks later and never saw him again.


Although I have a number of concerns and questions about the #MeToo movement, this is not the time for those. This is the time to say that yes, me.

And you, and you, and you.

I do not know anyone who has not been touched by this movement in some way, even if it’s just through degrees of separation. And in case someone in my world hasn’t understood that yet, here’s my story. So now you’re part of this, too.

As a society, I hope we can do two things to move forward. First, I hope we can talk to young people about what it means to have a relationship. We talk to students a lot about actions (this is what sex is, this an STD, this how to use a condom) but very little about what it means to love, value, and respect another person. Love is a verb. What does that verb mean? What does that verb require of you and of someone else? We need to talk about that. We need to talk about consent. We need to talk about how we enter into relationships and why the agreement of both parties matters. We need to talk about how we relate as humans and how we come to know each other. Consenting to embark on any journey together is essential to the journey’s success. We need to have conversations about that.

Secondly, we need to allow adults to have conversations about the very human desire for intimacy. It’s still strange to me that so many people meet in the workplace and then feel the need to keep their relationships secret. After all, the workplace is where you’re supposed to turn off the part of yourself that is human. This then becomes the place where you’re probably the least honest with yourself and with those around you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask a stranger to coffee, but you’re not supposed to think of a colleague, someone you actually know, in the same way. And if you do, and if you voice those thoughts, you run the risk of a sexual harassment claim even if a rejection is respected and never brought up again. Why is that? Why are we prohibited to be human around the people with whom we spend the most time?

I think these are questions worth considering and I know there’s more to ask, to say, and to do. We will have come a long way when #MeToo leads us to rebuild the society we live in.

On Being Loved

If you have as many true friends as you can count on one hand, that’s a lot.

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but it’s stayed with me for years. It has held me up when I’ve been alone, afraid, and unconvinced that there was such a thing as feeling better. It’s what keeps me holding my friends close and trying to be to others who they are to me.

Since friends are special and since Valentine’s Day is coming up, I wanted to say a few things about friends, about the people who have come to be my people. February 14 is the day we’re supposed to remind our people that we love them, though I try not to let mine forget.

True friends are the people who have stopped what they were doing to be happy or sad with me, who tell me when I’m wrong and cheerfully admit when I’m right, who have welcomed me into their arms and homes and lives all over the world, who have seen me grow, who want for me what I want and don’t mind how often that changes. These are the people who I turn to at any time for any reason because they’re always glad to have me. These are the people who I can (and have) called at odd hours with laughter and with tears. These are the people who witness my life the way that I witness theirs.

Like any relationship, that with friends ebbs and flows. The people who immediately come to mind when I think of counting on one hand (which, admittedly, is a very rare occurrence) have remained largely static for some time, but I always find it interesting to observe how, why, and when that changes. Life changes. People change.

But what doesn’t change is the warmth and love that all of these people make me feel. Being reminded, flooded, with all of that love augments my desire to bring warmth and love to everyone else. I’ve found loving-kindness meditation to be particularly helpful in guiding me to let go of frustrations, irritations, and anger that get in the way of the compassion and caring that I prefer to feel. It’s also a good reminder of everyone who loves me – and I admit that sometimes I do need a reminder.

Valentine’s Day can be difficult for people who don’t feel like they have people. The circle of people in loving-kindness meditation ultimately extends to all humanity, so I can assure you that you’ve got me.

DSC02290 (1)
Made by Hmong women in Sapa, Vietnam

To all of my people, thank you for everything. Love you now, love you always.

Building Peace Means Letting Go

I saw something beautiful yesterday.

I saw two small children, giggling. They were playing on what is supposed to be a pull-up bar in one of the exercise parks that are all over Singapore. The three adults with them held the children’s hands over the bar and pumped their legs back and forth. The children laughed and squirmed, ready to get down. Once on the ground, they ran off on unsteady, fat little legs. I watched tight little curls and wisp of a ponytail bouncing. The adults reached for the children’s hands and the children reached for each other’s. They couldn’t have been much more than two years old. I watched this scene until the group turned down a lane at the end of the road.

Those children will grow up fast. I wonder what the world will look like as they do. I hope it’s a more peaceful world than the one we have now, and I’m beginning to think that creating that world means letting go of much of what separates us from each other, what makes us see “us” and “them” and not just “people”.

War
Like every Ashkenazi Jewish family, my family has a Holocaust history. But since all of my grandparents and one or two great-grandparents were born in Canada, it’s such that those who didn’t come to Canada before the war (with one exception, I think) didn’t survive. We’ve been Canadian for a long time and it’s my grandparents’ stories about Canada in the 40s and 50s that I grew up hearing.

My sister and I were recently talking about our shared desire to visit Eastern Europe and the conversation revealed different understandings of the role that Poland, Russia, and Lithuania play in our lives. She spoke about feeling ancestral ties to those countries but also regret for not being able to see what our ancestors saw because none of that is there anymore. On the other hand, I’m interested in the people’s history rather than the government and military history that I learned in school. I’m interested in economic recovery and development. It didn’t occur to me to have ancestral ties to anywhere.

We also talked about the concentration camps, which my sister said she had never really been interested in seeing. We talked about the fatigue that is a side-effect of so much study of so much tragedy. There is a point at which you simply can’t take in any more and you stop. I was glued to Holocaust books as a kid and even into college. I haven’t read one since.

But I am and have always been interested in seeing the concentration camps. I’ve always thought of it as an act of defiance. An act of standing my ground and proclaiming my existence. You didn’t want me here. But here I am.

Reconciliation
A conversation with a friend about a month later, however, prompted me to rethink the whole thing. Going over both conversations in my head while out for a run brought a new realization to light and prompted me to write this post. It seems that the way I’ve been thinking about everything above is misaligned with my firm belief in the necessity of peace. I went through a transition with my thinking on peace last year, specifically when I revisited all of my ideas about Israel. It seems that I’ve taken a step back (or perhaps sideways, if I’m being generous to myself) and I would like to correct it.

This is began to understand on my run:

For as long as I can remember, I thought I’d visit the concentration camps with an attitude of victory. We won, you lost. And I’d never really thought past that. But in this scenario, there’s still an “us”, still a “them”. There’s still the misunderstanding and fear that lead to hatred, the result of which is all too apparent far too often.

But now I think that attitude actually misses the entire point. The camps have been preserved to bear witness, to provide evidence, to serve as a constant reminder of what happens when we separate ourselves, invent distinctions between groups, and cut one another off. The camps are a monument and a memorial. They are where the ghosts of the past urge us to do better, to be better. They are not about winning or losing.

So, it is quite another thing for me to visit the concentration camps the way I have visited the beaches at Normandy or killing fields of Cambodia. Visiting the camps in this light means mourning, paying respects to those whose lives were lost too soon. It means being a witness to what happens when we look at life through a lens that compartmentalizes individuals into categories. It means finding the courage, like countless others throughout history, to stand up for what is right in the face of the strongest adversity.

Peace
When I do make that trip to Eastern Europe, I need to make a dedicated effort to deepen my understanding of humanity and the importance of holding all humans together under one umbrella. As a teacher of peace, I cannot approach a conflict without first looking at the humans affected by that conflict. It’s when regular people become the focus of our teaching, our looking back at history, that we can hope to let go of everything that pulled us apart.

That is what peace means.

Peace means looking at the world that we live in and choosing to come together because it’s the only world we have. It means respecting each other’s losses, being happy for each other’s gains, and working for the good of all humanity. It means letting go of what separates us from each other and fighting to maintain what brings us together. It means doing whatever we can so that children the world over can laugh like the children I watched yesterday.

Peace has to come from me. It has to come from you. From all of us. I will do that by letting go of the anger that morphed into defiance that miscolored my perception of how to move forward. Peace is not a contest. It’s not a race. There is no winning and there is no losing. Rather, peace is about opening my arms and letting in the world with all of its bruises, scars, rights, and wrongs. It’s about recognizing myself in you and you in me. Peace is about gratitude for having found you there.

This is where peace comes from. This is the way I want to live and the world I’m committed to building.