Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Ones Who Know

About 8 months ago, I buried a congregation member who had been a Marine during the Battle of Iwo Jima.  He survived that battle, received a purple heart, and came home.  Once home, his Purple Heart, his medals, his pictures, his uniforms, all went into a box in the back of a closet.  When I asked him why, he told me, "it didn't matter to anyone."  But it turns out that wasn't precisely true.  When I conducted Earl's funeral, his pallbearers were not family or even church members; his pallbearers were several Houston Police officers in their 20's.  By chance and the tangling of fate, Earl met Jimmy and they discovered they were both Marines.  Jimmy told his other cop-marine buddies about Earl and they all became fast friends.  Earl told me about their friendship while I visited him, and he said, "we fought in different wars, but in some ways we fought the same war.  They knew what I went through."  At the end of his life, Earl found himself able to share about his struggles, his triumphs, and his loss; it just took finding the right people.  He needed to find ones who knew.

One of the cliche phrases of popular Christianity is that people are created "for community."  Putting aside all the religious jargon, what this means is that we instinctively crave tribes with whom we can share ourselves.  The internet makes it easier to connect with folks in your particular niche ("You like dressing up as a giant fox? ME TOO!"), but that doesn't mean every particular life scenario is fully represented with a corresponding affinity group.  I know that because "I'm in vocational ministry and my husband has committed a sex crime and been incarcerated leaving me alone to raise our child, help" doesn't produce much when you type it into google.  There are forums (PrisonTalk being one I used) through which families of offenders can communicate, but my experience with them was that they were more advice/trouble shooting places.  I needed someone to grieve with, someone who knew.

But there was no one.  So I started to write this blog instead.

Perhaps there is no small portion of narcissism involved in laying bare your grief for the feckless attention of the internet.  I won't argue that point with anyone.  But beyond a desire to be seen, I also wanted something to exist for the women (or men) who came after me.  I hoped that no one would ever have to walk through the valley of shadows that became my home, but I'm too much of a realist about human nature to actually believe that.   Vulnerability is a necessary part of faith of my faith, an outgrowth of following a God who cried, suffered, and died in a very public way.  So, I publicly named my grief, my struggle, my hurts, my hopes; I published them to be read by ones, tens and very rarely, 100s.  Somewhere along the way....

I have become "the one who knows."

Every few months I get a Facebook message, a text message, an email, a phone call, that starts with a version of the statement: "I have friend that you may be able to help..."  There are lots of particular life experiences in which I am qualified to "hold court", but I have learned that these conversations are never related to my time in theatre or my days running a Chaotic Good Cleric.  100% of the time, someone's friend is reeling from the life-shattering disaster of sexual misconduct or worse.  Just yesterday,  I reached out to a friend going through a flat-out horrifying version of my own story.  It didn't occur to me to wait for her to message me; I instinctively knew that she needed to hear from someone who knew.  I'm almost 6 years out from my ex-husband's arrest, almost 5 years out from his incarceration; my wounds are more scars than bleeding edges.  Sometimes I wonder if my story or my experiences need sharing anymore...then I get another message.

Every so often I read an article or think-piece about how narcissistic memoirs are, how my generation overshares experiences and the lack of privacy is contemptible.  All I can respond with: "I guess it's nice to always be surrounded by people who totally get you and your struggles."  Cultures and generations that have valued privacy over vulnerability have created the false impression that a suffering person is alone in their experience, that no one could possibly understand their grief.  But ITS NOT TRUE.  So many people go through divorce; so many people suffer through abuse; so many people struggle with fertility; so many people struggle with chronic illnesses and pain.  Talking openly about these hardships won't necessarily cure them, but it will help to forge lines of support and commiseration that in and of themselves can be healing.  I'm a Board member for the Young ClergyWomen Project, the motto of which is "You Are Not Alone."

Do you hear me?


Perhaps what I am saying is this: Don't be afraid to share your struggles.  To name what hurts.  To explicitly lay out how life is difficult and not what you expected.  I promise you, there is someone out there that needs to hear your words because they are their words too.   Whether you are in the fire or finally walking away from the ashes of a dumpster-fire of a life, someone out there needs to know that they are not alone.  Here's my challenge: dare to be vulnerable, to show your scars; believe it or not, even a scar can be good news to the walking wounded.  It means wounds can be survived.

They can be.

I promise.

Image Credit: Ansonlobo

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