Monday, August 3, 2015

When a hero is not heroic, and other off-quilting musings...

First off, I need to make a disclaimer.  This particular blog entry is not about quilting, so feel free to skip it.  It’s the middle of the night and my middle aged hormones and too much iced tea have me awake, and this particular, heavy happening is weighing me down.  I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to be controversial or in any way stir up trouble, but I really feel the need to work through this thing.  I know I’m not the only person who is upset about this and unfortunately we are all damaged by it whether we think we are or not, so I hope that in working through this aloud I can maybe help others with it.  This is a blog about creativity and the journey, but it’s also about spirituality, and this weighs on my spirit.  The “this” I’m talking about is Bill Cosby and all the allegations, some he has already admitted to, of using drugs to rape scores of women.

 [Please read no further if you don’t wish to, I get it. In fact, skip to the very last paragraph of this blog, also in red.

I keep asking myself, does what he did negate the good that he did?  Is he nothing but an evil predator and liar?  Did he actually mean anything he said, ever?  I feel so keenly about it that I want to try to make some sense of it not just for me but for us as human beings.

Years ago - when I was first married I think - it was revealed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had had one or more affairs.  I was devastated.  He had always been such a hero to me, I was crushed to think that he could be so venial as to cheat on his wife.  I cried buckets over it.  I felt so deceived, my entire view of him was tarnished.  He wasn’t the man I thought he was.  He was a liar and a cheat, I said to my husband, and I could no longer admire him.  It changed everything, I thought.  My husband sat quietly and hugged me.  He then asked me one simple question “Does his cheating on his wife change what he accomplished?” Of course the answer was “No.”  He may have been a less than admirable husband, but he still made this country a better place, he still did what he did, he was still a hero, and while I would not model my marital behavior after his, I could still learn so much from him, his philosophy and the good that he absolutely did do and say was done, and this revelation didn’t take away from it.

Just that one question has had a huge impact on me over the years.  Of course it’s naïve to lionize anyone – we all have feet of clay.  Just because we’re strong or true or even extraordinary in one way doesn’t take away our humanity or struggles (Michael Phelps comes to mind).  I realized, too that maybe our expectations are too high for people we consider heroes.  Because in the end, no matter what anyone accomplishes, they are still in this human skin, and we are all deeply flawed and make mistakes.    
So a few years later, when The Monica Lewinsky scandal broke I was able to see that it was not the only or even the most important thing about the Clinton presidency.  And over the years, with some or even a lot of effort at some times, I’ve come to see that this realization leads to forgiveness and helps me let go of judgement a lot easier, even of myself.  (At least sometimes, anyway.)

But this stuff about Bill Cosby – this cut is deep.  What he did, his pattern of behavior is deeply destructive.  He has long been a hero of mine.  I grew up listening to his records, and watching his specials and his Jell-O commercials, and the Cosby show is, or at least it was, one of my all-time favorites – I mean, it was perfection.  This is one of those go-to shows for me over the years  - when I needed a laugh or just wanted to be entertained by life, this was one of the ones I could count on to bring joy.

I admired what I thought he stood for, what he said and did, and how he, in my mind, helped our struggling country with deeply divisive race issues.  He was erudite, classy, and he stood for something, I thought.  He wasn't afraid to say what he thought, even if it angered the African American community.  I listened when he talked, because I really thought he had some wisdom to offer.  And he was hilarious, to boot!  For me, there was an innocence to his humor that was delightful – he wasn’t crass or crude, didn’t curse too much or talk about private things – he made us laugh, at least I thought, in a pure, genuine way. 

When all the allegations against him came out I was outraged.  I was convinced that some ignorant racist (black or white) scumbag was trying to punish him for speaking out, for being defiant.  He had just written a letter which I had read about being tired of putting up with other people’s ideas of how he should think or be, and it was controversial, so I figured it was just the usual jerks trying to make him look bad.  I resolved to ignore the whole thing.

There was a point, however, when doubt started to creep in – I mean, there were so many allegations, and it just went on and on.  I remembered something else my husband had said in a similar situation a few years earlier – “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  That axiom has been proven right in many circumstances over the years, too.   But my heart squeezed -- how could this incredible person be a sexual predator – not someone who just cheated on his wife, but someone who has so much anger, disdain, and maybe even hatred for other human beings, namely women, that he would actually plan how to drug them and then degrade and rape them?  

It’s so much darker, and so seemingly completely incongruent, with what Bill Cosby has said and done publicly over the years.  So I’m wondering here - these things he’s done - they mean he’s not an admirable person, right? He’s a disgusting pig, right?  His so-called “contributions” were just lies - right?  It’s unforgiveable - right?

That is my struggle with this thing.   If I believe my spiritual teachers (and I do), the answer is, easily, that he does deserve forgiveness. Okay, that part’s not so hard to accept.  But the other questions’ answers don’t come so readily - does this heinous behavior change or even erase the positive contributions he made?  Will anyone ever be able to just sit and enjoy an episode of The Cosby show again? 

I admit that I’m devastated at the revelations that a person who influenced me and whom I deeply admired could have such a deeply distressing, horrible side.  I’m also admittedly, more than a little angry at anyone who could have spoken up about it years ago who didn’t.  But I know too that our society tends to blame the victim - why did they go to his room alone,blah blah blah…But - I can tell you in all honesty that if he had invited me up to his hotel room, I’d have gone – I thought he was completely devoted to his wife and family, I thought he meant what he said about people and equality. I’m not saying I would have definitely ignored warning signs - if there were any - but I might have.  I mean, he literally was a father figure to me.  So no - I don’t have any admiration left for him or those who helped him cover up, and the simple truth is that anyone who took hush money from him was basically enabling him to continue his inexcusable treatment of women.  That is a fact, by the way, not a judgement. 

I can also unequivocally say I believe he deserves any consequences that society imposes - including jailing his sorry old ass - he gets. 
Because there are consequences for that kind of sick behavior, Bill.  Karma does exist, dude, and you have created a helluva a lot of the bad kind.  I don’t know if you can fix it in this lifetime; I can only hope you will try, but even if you don’t, it’s still there, and it’s still yours to deal with – whenever.
Well now.  Having explored this in writing and thinking and meditating about it, here’s my personal conclusion:

Like other flawed heroes, Bill Cosby still achieved what he achieved.  He still made me and millions of other people laugh – a lot. And he did have some important and relevant things to say and he thought he meant them. He is not a completely evil person – he does have a shiny goodness inside him still – and that part is real, too. It just got overshadowed and overtaken by a gargantuan ego. 

While Bill Cosby's behavior is completely unjustifiable, and in some ways does take away from his achievements, his contributions, while diminished, still stand.  The Cosby show was funny, and I don’t have to feel bad for laughing at it or for believing the truths that he did say when his ego wasn't running the show, because truth is still truth, even out of a snake's mouth..

But what it really means is that Bill Cosby is not the admirable person I thought he was, and worse - he's not even the person HE thinks he is.  What he is in fact, tragically, is someone who knows nothing about and has experienced even less, true equality and even worse - love.  I feel so very sorry for him.

It’s not too late for him to learn, but it’s up to him.  I hope for his sake and for all of us that he does because it would create an opportunity for all of us to show true love and forgiveness.  And we could all benefit from that.
 If you’ve stuck with me through all this, I just want to say that I’m off my soapbox now, and promise to go back to writing about art and creativity again.  In fact when I sat down to write I thought I was going to write about my struggles with my Riley Blake challenge quilt, which I will share next time.  But again, I really believe that this situation affects us all as human beings – we all struggle with forgiveness and being flawed. As I’ve repeatedly said, that’s in part what this blog is about – my struggle with my own flaws.  So I hope I don’t lose you over this, dear readers and quilting community – you mean a lot to me in so many ways. I hope that if you chose not to read this you will still come back again.  But I’m sharing this because I feel compelled by love and humanity to do so.  I’m not going to promise it will never happen again, either, because like I said, I’m human. But I can promise that this blog is mostly about creativity and art and the journey, and that I will laugh at myself often and that I will be open and honest about the zigs and zags and zippers I meet along the creative pathway.