Security watch. Security clearance. Why has all this focus on security made me feel so much more insecure? What does anyone mean when they speak of security? Why are we suddenly a nation and a people who strive for security above all else?
In fact, security is essentially elusive, impossible. We all die. We all get sick. We all get old. People leave us. People surprise us. People change us. Nothing is secure. And this is the good news. But only if you are not seeking security as the point of your life.
When security is paramount you canít travel very far or venture too far outside a certain circle. You canít allow too many conflicting ideas into your mind at one time, as they might confuse you or challenge you. You canít open yourself to new experiences, new people, and new ways of doing things. They might take you off course.
You canít not know who you are; itís more secure to cling to hard-matter identity. So you become a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew, you are an Indian, or an Egyptian or an Italian or an American. You are heterosexual or homosexual or you never have sex or at least thatís what you say when you identify yourself. You become part of an US, and in order to be secure, you must defend against THEM. You cling to your land because it is your secure place, and you must fight anyone who encroaches on it.
You become your nation, you become your religion. You become whatever it is that will freeze you, numb you, and protect you from change or doubt. But all this does is shut down your mind. In reality, you are not a drop safer. A meteor could still fall from the sky, a tsunami could rise up next to your beach house, someone could fly a plane through your building.
All this striving for security has in fact made you much more insecure. Because now you have to watch out all the time. There are people not like you, people you now call enemies. You have places you cannot go, thoughts you cannot think, worlds you can no longer inhabit. So you spend your days fighting things off, defending your territory, and becoming more entrenched in your narrow thinking. Your days become devoted to protecting yourself. This becomes your mission. This is all you do. You collect canned goods or bottles of water. You ?nd ways to get as much money as you can, and food and oil, in spite of how much you have to take from other people or the methods you have to devise in order to take it. You submit to security systems to check your pockets and IDs and bags. Every object becomes a potential weapon. One week itís tweezers, the next week itís rubber bands.
Of course you can no longer feel what another person feels because that might shatter your heart, contradict your stereotype, destroy the whole structure. Ideas get shorteróthey become sound bites. There are evildoers and saviors. Criminals and victims. There are those who, if they are not with us, are against us.
It gets easier to hurt people because you do not feel whatís inside them. It gets easier to lock them up, force them to be naked, humiliate them, occupy them, invade them, kill themóbecause they do not exist. They are merely obstacles to your security.
How did we, as Americans, come to be completely obsessed with our individual security and comfort above all else? What do we think we mean when we talk about security, and what do we really mean? Whose security are we talking about? Is it possible to live surrendering to the reality of insecurity, embracing it, allowing it to open us and transform us and be our teacher? What would we need in order to stop panicking, clinging, consuming, and start opening, givingó becoming more ourselves the less secure we realize we actually are? How has the so-called war on terrorism given rise to this mad national obsession for homeland security, which has actually made us much more insecure at home and in the world?
In this book, I have gone back to chart the events that have personally and politically led me to ask these questions. I grew up in a middle-class family and neighborhood in the United States. I had plenty of food, clothes. I had my teeth straightened. I took ballet classes. We went on vacations. I had a good education.
This security did not come for free. It was my fatherís money and he created reality. From early on, my emotional and psychological well-being were sacrificed for this economic security. My father was a raging alcoholic. His anger permeated and infected my world. His fists, his hand, his belts, marked my young body and my being. I was always ready to be hit or yelled at or erased. I was told over and over how lucky I was to have a nice house, to live in a good neighborhood. So early on, I came to equate my economic security with violence.
I never dreamed of growing up and getting married, having children. Never. It simply didnít occur to me. There were many reasons. One, I was born in the early fifties and my consciousness was shaped in the sixties. I was a hippie. I gravitated toward drugs, free love, non-monogamy, communes, and anything that had to do with escaping the nuclear family. That nuclear unit was just that for me: nuclearóan atom bomb that annihilated my self, my worth, my confidence, and my identity. My fatherís rage, his power, his opinion, his money, his moods, controlled and determined all of us, including my mother. Our house, our family, was his empire. I was his subject. Or his tortured prisoner.
I never dreamed of growing up and getting married and having children because I never dreamed of growing up, living that long. I could never imagine life past thirty, and I came close to making sure I didnít get there. I never dreamed of having children, as I was so scared of repeating what had been done to me. I was so scared that I had my father in me. And in fact, I did. I held his rage, his impatience, and his judgments for many years.
It is not surprising that I have grown up to become nomadic. I was unable to have a dining room table until my early fifties, as it was the set piece of so much humiliation and violence. Until my late thirties I kept my bedroom out in the open in my living room so no one could get me. My dreams were limited, simple. All I wanted was to grow up and not be hit or molested. I lived as a survivor. Happy every day not to be screamed at, ridiculed, beaten, terrorized, or thrown out. I did not care about a career. I did not think what kind of a person might be right for me. It was all about what was not happening, all about the pain stopping, all about safety, security. I wanted a man or a woman who would not hit me. This, as you can well imagine, is not the greatest prerequisite for a relationship. Not a very high standard. And itís broad. And, to be honest, until you have gone back and retraced and experienced and purged and transformed that initial violation, it is impossible not to keep being attracted to what you are trying to escape.
I think you have several options when you experience enormous terror and violence as a child. You can shut down completely, you can pretend it didnít happen, you can become violent yourself, or you can create situations that mirror your initial situation in an attempt to understand and master it. I have, at some point, embraced all of these. My life has been a journey to find a way to make sense of violence and terror and make peace with insecurity.
In the last ten years I have traveled to many placesómore than forty countries. Looking back, I see that a pattern emerges. I see how I was consistently and compulsively drawn to that which I feared, to those situations that seemed utterly incomprehensible. I see how this search to understand brutality and violence began as a search for logic and security but became the journey that freed me of the false need for these protections, dissolving my moorings, undoing my falsely constructed notions of security.
I have spent time in refugee camps, war-torn countries, battered-women and homeless shelters, prisons, border towns, and postdisaster sites. I have lived through a near plane crash, an almost bombing. I have left a fifteen-year relationship. I have embraced a weeping fifty-year-old man in his burnt-out backyard in Kosova. I have held the hand of a woman whose face was melted off by acid in Islamabad, Pakistan. I have clung to the body of an Afghan woman in the middle of a seizure as she remembered the torture and murder that took place in a stadium in Kabul. I have stood face-to-face with a raging member of the Taliban, his whip in hand as he prepared to flog me. I have watched the World Trade Center towers fall in my beloved city. I have sat with thousands of women from Srebrenica in a stadium as they wailed in grief over their lost men. I have spent days in dusty Ciudad JuŠrez, Mexico searching for bodies of dead women, and in the hot sun of Crawford, Texas, as Cindy Sheehan stood up to President Bush.
I live alone today after cohabiting with partners for more than thirty years. Many of the vestiges that tied me to the ground, to one person, to one place, are gone. In fact, I have become a traveler, a woman who exists in motion, a nomadic being, a citizen of the world. I have been fortunate that the work I do has literally taken me around the planet. But travel is by no means a prerequisite to getting lost. We are able to cross and dissolve all kinds of borders if we are willing to go to the political, emotional, and spiritual places we most fear and resist.
I write and perform and I love my friends all over the world. I work to stop violence against women. I work to prevent and stop war. I sometimes have anxiety. I have bouts of terrible low self-esteem. I feel lonely on occasion, but mainly I feel alive, free. I feel myself.
This may or may not appeal to youóthis moving, this nomadic existence, and this nonattached life. I am not suggesting we all leave our relationships and homes and children. Not at all. I am proposing that we reconceive the dream. That we consider what would happen if security were not the point of our existence. That we find freedom, aliveness, and power not from what contains, locates, or protects us but from what dissolves, reveals, and expands us.