Tuesday, February 23, 2010
"Weeping Nude" by Edvard Munch
Yesterday, I linked to this Lenten Reflection from my Facebook page. Perhaps if I had merely posted the link, and left my ‘commentary’ out of it, it would have been a virtual non-event, quickly and unceremoniously buried in what is the swift-moving stream of the Facebook News Feed. Instead, I prefaced the link with these words: “The only kind of Lent I can conceive of or practice right now…” and thus began a firestorm of sorts. Now, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the comments that followed on my Facebook wall. Less than a handful of friends responded publicly, and those who did were either empathetic or, seemingly, on the same page.
It was the private response my words elicited that planted the seeds that blossomed into this post.
On the one hand, I both understood and appreciated the motive of the people who began addressing me privately. As a culture, we have been trained to protect the ones we love by keeping their personal business private. And for God’s sake, there are still plenty of private details I’d prefer to keep under lock and key, thank you very much. But, I have to admit that I was struck, in this particular instance, by the immediate instinct of others to move the conversation behind closed doors. Perhaps my confusion stems from the fact that I had already willingly posted those words way out in the open, for my nearly 700 Facebook friends to see. Transparency was not exactly something I was running from, if my medium was any indication.
But then it occurred to me. The folks who engaged me outside the realm of Facebook did so using a very particular type of language. They used words like “dark,” “disturbing” and “desperate.” And as I examined the way they addressed me (privately), and the words they used in doing so (words we tend to associate with socially unacceptable emotions), I began to understand their attempts at engaging me via a different forum. I began to imagine that perhaps, in addition to feeling concern for me, they may have also been embarrassed for me. They might have concluded that I’d be less likely to publicly humiliate myself (any further) if they quickly pulled me aside, and offered me a more private audience for my melancholy. Perhaps they felt it safest for me to air my “desperation” (their words, not mine) in a setting more akin to a therapist’s couch, rather than from the much more public podium I’d utilized. I think they may have even hoped to shield me from appearing hysterical. IN. PUBLIC.
And while I can see how my status (and the blog entry that prompted it ), might seem desperate or disturbing to some- neither of those adjectives (nor the associated feelings) were what prompted me to link to the post. Nor were they foremost in my mind as I reflected upon it. You see, I don't believe that post, or the sentiments it contains, to be overwhelmingly depressing or dark. To the contrary, actually.
I think that our feelings- of loneliness, confusion, pain, and isolation, are given the most power to create desperation if and when we bottle them up or try to bear them alone. What Ronna and Anne Lamott are expressing, even advocating, (and that which I found myself drawn to and agreeing with) is the idea that being open and honest- not sugarcoating the hard stuff- is what makes it all bearable. It's what reminds us that we're not alone...that everyone has hurts and battles and scars that mirror our own- it's the universal human condition! And where we find release and relief from those hurts, those agonies, is in sharing them. I don't think it’s so much about issuing ear-shattering cries of desperation for their own sake. But when given an outlet, a voice, they are much more likely to live and die as struggles, perhaps even crises, rather than eating us alive from the inside out, harbored as smoldering secrets, individual shame, and singularly shouldered despair.
The articulation of such ideas is precisely why I've always been drawn to writers like Anne Lamott. (And Mary Karr. Sue Monk Kidd, and now, Ronna Detrick.) Because they're not likely to shy away from talking about the really shitty stuff. And precisely because of that, they seem to be able to get a handle on it. To bear up under it. Even to thrive in spite of it, while also finding the strength to help other people do the same.
I think we most often stay silent in our hurts and struggles and failures, because we are afraid that if we call them out into the world, that we will be shushed, shamed, or silenced. (Especially as women.) But I also think that the power that we (again, especially as women) possess is the tenderness and truthfulness that are necessary in order to carve out safe spaces in which unfiltered real life and gritty true stories can find expression. No matter how heartbreaking, life-altering, or power-structure-shaking they may be. It is precisely in the telling of our tales, the airing of our secrets, and the sharing of our former shame, that these shackles begin to loosen and relinquish their power over our lives. The hurt begins to dissipate, the wounds to heal, the shame to evaporate. And the Phoenix rises out of the ashes.
So, yes, when I posted what I did- I meant it. Wholeheartedly and unapologetically. I have struggles- sometimes it feels like more than my share. Big questions- the kind that overwhelm and, sometimes, even threaten to overtake me. There are days when I'd like to give in- to pound my fists and flail around on the ground throwing a hissy fit worthy of a 2 year old's reputation. (In fact....is it considered bad form to admit that occasionally my behavior is frighteningly similar to the aforementioned scene?)
I often wonder if casting my gaze downward, putting one foot in front of the other, and settling for contentment in the stead of joy isn't the most practical and reasonable concession I can make. There are hardships and hurts that I haven't finished grieving- and I certainly sense that the world's position on that is that I ought to gloss it over and just get on with it.
So I guess that my point in posting what I did, is to begin to free myself (and in the process, other people) to unleash our voices. To legitimize our collective hurts, as well as the pain that is uniquely ours, and in doing so to watch them begin to diminsh. (Although truth be told, I don’t believe that there’s a whole heckuva lot of unique pain out there. Take comfort, friends!)
I want to empower myself, my friends, and even complete strangers to ignore the societal pressures and protocols that tell us to shut up, get over ourselves, and file pain and heartache away as private matters. A one-woman load. I want to loudly challenge (and ultimately, convert) the voices that tell us we'd better stop being so messy in the public square. That we need to quiet down and fall into line. I want other women to quit trying to conform to the patriarchal constructs that insist that the deep throbbing language of our hearts, and the loud, prophetic echoes of our individual and collective voice are sentimental or silly.
Because I believe that the more often we say these difficult things out loud- these big, scary words and world-shifting ideas that challenge the prevailing notion of what is socially acceptable to 'put out there', the more likely we are to find truer paths to healing. To kindness and goodness. Toward community and compassion. In the direction of peace on earth, good will toward all women (and men).