Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taking It Back...

Well behaved women rarely make history.
~~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I went into a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall yesterday. My old Kingdom Hall. The one where I was last a JW. The one my parents still attend. Wait, let me back up this story a bit.

So, I have a history of peacemaking at my own expense. In the past I allowed people to stomp on my boundaries. Well, that was then, this is now. A series of events has transpired in recent weeks, well I'm sure it's actually a case of years. And the proverbial straw broke this penguin's back. My initial response was to do the letting it go thing, to "take the high road", to rise above it. I noticed my right eye started twitching. And I knew my body was speaking what was really going on in my unconscious. The twitching eye is my particular sign for repressed rage. It remembered how often I let things go. Abuses. Boundary violations. Bullshit. How often I'd pushed down quite justified rage with the love band-aid. But the wound still stank. And I knew it.

I woke up yesterday morning, my eye twitching, and a heat running through the core of my body. And I decided to spend the day with the rage and let it all come to the surface, allow it to work its way through me, rather than stuff it down. I had previously made plans to spend a few days off at my brother's place while he's out of town. My brother lives right in the heart of my old JW territory. The bus I take to get to his place goes right by the old Kingdom Hall I attended.

As I'm riding the subway toward my brother's home, I allow the rage to well up. I do my best to just watch it, letting go of any particular story as to why I was angry. I just let it come up and felt it to the core.

I transfered from the subway over to the bus platform. As I'm sitting there, up walks an older JW elder from my last congregation, along with his wife, who recognizes me, although she can't recall my name. I tell her who I am. She asks how I am, says it's been so long since they've seen me at the Kingdom Hall. I say, "Yes, it's been three years."

Her husband avoids eye contact with me and I get the impression he's not too pleased that his wife is continuing to speak to me. Shunning is the protocol for an "apostate", the label I have been given by the JW dogma, and oddly, his wife is not complying. But he does respond with a quick "fine" when I ask him how he's been.

Wifey proceeds to ask questions about how my life is going...are you working? are you getting married? do you still talk to your parents...cuz you know it doesn't matter how old you get, they still gave you life and you should not forget that. (At this point, I want to tell her that the only strain on my relationship with my parents is the tenets of her mindfuck of a cult, but I instead ignore her comment and say I contact my parents when I like.)

The conversation ends, I wish them well and we get on the bus. A few stops down the road they get off in front of the old Kingdom Hall. I look at my watch. It's approaching their Sunday meeting time. Hmm...

I make my way to my brother's place, drop off my things and turn right back out the door and start walking towards the Kingdom Hall. For the past three years, I've cringed every time I saw that building. A mix of grief, self-pity and plain disgust kept me from ever wanting to step foot in that place again. Frankly, it scared me. But today was different. I'm different. And I had rage on my side, propelling my feet along the street at a feverish pace.

I arrived at the Hall just before the meeting was to begin. People were still socializing in the main area. I walked into the room and there standing in front of me was my favorite elder, the man who I once looked at as a spiritual father. We exchanged a hello. He said, "Please, find yourself a seat."

I said, "No thank you. I'm just going to stand here."

I looked out through the crowd, a sea of painted smiles, and the room looked so small. The people looked small. Everything looked so small, like when you go back to your grade school and sit at your old desk and wonder how you ever fit in it. I saw the faces of some old friends, who wore smiles of confusion. They weren't sure what to make of my presence there. Of course, I did stick out like a sore thumb, having walked in with my street clothes on. Jeans. Spaghetti strap black tank top. Slicked back hair in a pony tail. Fire engine red lip gloss. Ipod headphones around my neck. Oh, and my skull runners. Their dress code no longer applied to me. And I realized that it never did. None of their dogma did. It only had as much power as I allowed it to have.

I'm standing there, chin up, smiling from ear to ear and a few people, who don't know me, start love-bombing the newbie.

"Oh, I'm J, what's your name?"


"Oh, that's such a pretty name. What background is that?"

I tell him it has a meaning in Sanskrit and Russian.

"Oh and is this your first time here?"

I laugh. "No, I've been here a few times before."

By this time, there is growing concern on a few of the faces of those looking on. I'm sure they want to leap in and protect these unsuspecting souls from speaking to an apostate, afraid that they'll be tainted by sheer eye contact with the Devil's pawn. As I stand there being love-bombed it strikes me that if these people knew I'd left the faith, they would do an about- face and begin shunning me as everyone else there was.

I excuse myself from the cordialities and turn back to my fave elder. I look him in the eye and say, "L, you are a good man. You've always been a good man...and it has nothing to do with this place," I say motioning my arm across the room. "It's just who you are."

He looks at me and then puts his head down. He says nothing.

I then make my way downstairs to look at the smaller meeting rooms where I took the children when they got bored or restless or needed to sleep, the bathrooms where I cried many a meeting alone and finally the library which was used for elder's meetings and closed door interrogation processes that I had at times been a part of, always as the one being interrogated, of course. And again, I was struck by how small the room was. And I could see these men, these "men of God" sitting around this table, feeling that they had the right to every detail of my private life. And I laughed and I swore and I took my power from every one of them, realizing that they'd only had that power because I gave it to them to begin with. And I vowed never to allow another human being to take what didn't belong to them.

As I walked back upstairs, still grinning like an idiot, another of my beloved elders was at the top of the stairs. I said hello. He says, "Would you like to come and take a seat?"

I said, "No thank you. I'm finished here. Take care."

And I left. And I danced down the street and let out a "Hurrah!" It was just a building. It was always just a building. And they were just people. They were always just people. And I laughed at how much time I'd spent over the course of a lifetime worrying what any of these people thought of me. None of it mattered. It never did.

And guess what? My eye stopped twitching.

tall penguin


CyberLizard said...

Brilliant! What a fantastic way to handle it. Good on you! It takes a tremendous amount of courage to face something like that with the amount of grace and poise that you did.


matt said...

Wow, and what an onrush of feeling that must have been, pre and post.

I kind of gathered the same strength for when I went to the memorial this year, but it wasn't in my total control or on my terms like you had.
What an amazing step you've taken, you're very powerful. :)

I can easily envision everything that transpired!

zensim said...


I was transfixed by every word and felt like I was with you each single step of the way - the train ride, the initial meeting of the woman and her husband, the decision to turn back and walk into the KH, the smallness and shabbiness of the place, the people and rooms which lacked any power.

It is so easy to put myself in your shoes and I know how much courage it took - but at the same time how effortless it was because IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE!

Oooh - I want to give you a BIG hug. How far we have moved on - it's amazing, liberating and life is so much more beautiful for having left :)

Vanessa said...

Wow Anya. Your strength is amazing. Watch out world!

Paul said...

This is a wonderful article. Congratulations on your breakthrough.

tall penguin said...

Thanks all.

"It is so easy to put myself in your shoes and I know how much courage it took - but at the same time how effortless it was because IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE!"

Yes, exactly! It didn't even feel like courage. It just felt like...I don't even know that it felt like anything. I just showed up and stayed with the experience to see what would unfold. It was curiosity and wonder and 'oh my, what's going to happen next?'

It's a funny thing when you realize that the story no longer matters, that it doesn't define you, and so you can find yourself in any old story and enjoy it for what it is. Just to watch it as it's happening. It's the most amazing bliss.

It surpasses words really. And the words felt quite bumbly as I typed them. Thank you all for being able to feel what I was writing as you read it. It is always my hope that you can feel me through this blog. I do my best to bring you all into my presence as I write. Glad that comes through.

Tammie said...

this is amazing.

i'm beyond happy for you

jdbartlett said...


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. And I love your new name. ~PM

Brian said...

Great job, Anya! Way to take the power back.

Rahul said...