The two people closest to my thinking during the daylight hours over this time were Ray and John…Ray Carver for his attenuating me to the dirty realism I encountered every day, and John Chrysostom for the fullness of social and psychological insight he offered and their relationship to his own persecution, exile, and demise.
But most of the time between 4 a.m. and seven was spent pondering the connections between Nel Noddings and Mary Field Belenky and four women who lived more than twenty-five hundred years ago. This worked its way out in my doctoral work and teaching of a dozen women how to know themselves better and start to claim their own value in an isolated society that literally hated women.
Internally, it was a furious season.
Externally here’s what I walked into as I stepped outside my door every day…
- There was an armed standoff between the sheriff and his deputies and a disgruntled truck driver on a town street a block from my home.
- Townspeople saw nothing unusual about firing guns off in their own yards.
- Teachers routinely used profanity to bully their students and it was not unusual to shame a student by yelling at them that they were stupid.
- In my first year there three child suicides occurred – this amounted to sixteen times the national average.
- Women were routinely harassed and abused.
- In my first week the sheriff arrived in my church office to inform me how I was to respond to people travelling through the area looking for assistance.
- I met the meanest man I ever met, who had served time for murder and kept the town on edge whenever he came home from the oil fields – his adult children had literally left the country decades before – in the end I performed his funeral.
- Churches of various denominations were actively hostile toward one another.
- No person of colour was welcome in town, and were told that to their face. No realty would ever be shown to Hispanics, Blacks, or Native Americans. Bigotry was rampant.
- Several parishioners had been a part of a lynching thirty years prior.
- People routinely carried handguns in their vehicles sitting beside them on the front seat, unloaded, per the law, but with a loaded clip sitting beside them.
- The immediate region was the national centre of crystalmeth production at the time.
- Dogs were housed in filthy conditions outdoors in several remote puppy mills in the area.
- The monstrous feedlot had polluted all town water supplies downstream with nitrates to the point that these other towns’ water was totally unusable there for any purpose whatsoever.
- Hunting and fishing limits and laws were routinely flaunted.
- There was no testing of students of any sort in the schools.
- Teenage alcoholism was rampant, reflecting broader adult substance abuse. Parties took place on a regular basis on remote rural properties and teen alcohol-related driving deaths were common.
- Tornadoes, hail the size of baseballs, dust storms so severe you could not see fifty yards down the road, months of summer blistering heat, and winter blizzards were common.
- Rattlesnakes, mountain lions, bobcats, and three varieties of thorns were always causes for concern in the outdoors.
- Sexual infidelity was commonplace, with streams of cars on the road in the pre-dawn hours coming home from the latest tryst.
- Physical violence happened regularly.
- People would do anything for money.
- There were many psychologically warped ex-military in the region.
The situation was genuinely overwhelming to any professional who moved in from outside. There were no resources available from the state.
Young people did not dare to question this order of things. If they did they were routinely informed that, It ain’t no better no place else.
Time and again I heard in the coffee shops that suicide was a honourable way out if people could not take the pressure.
Some people in the church I served knew better. These were eager to both learn new behaviours and to intervene in the lives of the abused and vulnerable in their town. Many others, however, were fully enculturated and used fundamentalist doctrine to justify their culture and inaction. For the later incessant Bible study served to deaden them to the actual call of Christ to intervention. And I was accused of all sorts of crazy things that were not true by these during my tenure there.
In short, it was a hateful place. Oh. And of the three churches of my denomination in that area, mine was the most reconciliatory.
Over the years I joined with other trained outsiders living in the region to offer courses both in and out of the church that aimed in particular at alerting both young people and women to how dangerous this society was and to help them imagine a better life elsewhere. I saw my job as getting people out of there alive.