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An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

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An Epidemic of Shame in the U.S.

There are aren’t enough words to describe our collective cycling emotions since the Tuesday of Darkness.

After church on Sunday, we gathered for prayer and began by sharing how we were feeling. Strong words cascaded around our circle: betrayed, heartbroken, outraged, terrified, grieving, overwhelmed, hurt. Many were afraid on behalf of at-risk people that they care for: teachers of Hispanic kids, nurses of low-income people, caregivers of handicapped people, parents of little girls and children of color.

These are good people, people who follow the biblical mandate to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.” They are reacting the way I would imagine Jesus would react to the ascendency of a man who preaches hate, violence, and racism. They are deeply grieved.

I’ve had all of those feelings and then some, but the one that surprises me most is shame. I am ashamed of my fellow Americans, ashamed of my fellow Christians who voted for the president-elect, ashamed of my country. I find myself whispering over and over: “I thought we were better than that, I thought we were better than that.”

I don’t usually take on corporate or institutional shame. I have enough of my own personal shame to keep me busy for a lifetime. This isn’t guilt, which I’ve heard many folks express. I wasn’t complacent. I donated. I volunteered. No, this is pure shame. It’s hard to avoid the fact that my country has put the whole world in deep jeopardy. And I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I need to pray and meditate and journal. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in this.

My most popular blog post of all time remains a post from four years ago entitled What Color is Shame? It fascinates me that so many people search that question on Google. Just weird. I get a few hits on the story each day from all around the world, mostly England.

But since last Tuesday? I am getting 10-15 hits every single day, all from the United States of America.

Take care of yourselves, friends.

sympathy card

Looking for Clues

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“The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest clues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are, even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t ‘found God’ is that we are not looking in the right places.”

I read this little excerpt from Frederick Buechner this morning on one of the spiritual email lists I subscribe to but don’t usually read. The little blurbs have nice inspirational titles like A Pause for Beauty and Inward/Outward and Contemplative Living, but they mostly just look like clutter in my inbox. When I bother to click, though, they often contain gems like Buechner’s.

I suspect Buechner’s quote resonated with me because I’ve been having a lot of these moments lately, these “clues” that make me feel as if I’m in the flow of life, rather than fighting against the current as I often seem to be. Sometimes I recognize them as clues, sometimes I don’t.

If you’re one of those people who “don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet,” perhaps you wouldn’t see these as clues. I get that. The world is an effed up place in many ways, and I can see why some people don’t believe in a loving God.

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Here’s why I think Buechner’s “clues” point to God:

  • “The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips.” I experienced this the other night at a gathering of old environmental lobbyist friends, many of whom I worked with for twenty-plus years. Since I retired six years ago, I rarely connect with any of them except for an occasional Facebook comment. I find this odd, since I had felt so integrally connected with them all. I know how it is, though — I remember the busyness and how Capitol Hill eats your life so that nothing else seems to matter. And part of the separation is my own choice — I haven’t had much time to connect, being so busy with school and taking care of my sick brother. At any rate, as I passed through the crowd the other night, I heard my name over and over. “Melanie’s here . . . did you see Melanie? Remember how Mel used to say . . . ?” Every time I heard my name, I could feel my spirit-self relaxing into a warm, comforting bubblebath, a bubblebath of belonging. They know me, they remember me, I belong here. I think the magic word belonging is one clue to God: we were created as one spiritual whole; we just get disconnected. God puts the longing in our hearts for the unity, the oneness, the belonging. Sadly, it is often organized and compartmentalized religion that causes the disconnect.
  • “The good dream . . .” Oh yes, please. We often remember scary dreams and dreams of loss and fear, and although these can be great teachers if we take the time to work with them, it’s such a gift and a blessing when a “good dream” comes along. These dreams, I think, are a sign that there’s a spirit of goodness floating around in the ether and it communicates with our subconscious. I remember when my older sister, who is vehemently anti-God, told me that she had discovered that the Universe is Good. This filled me with joy because she’s a serious introvert with few connections, so the fact that she ran across this lovely truth through her private meditations meant to me that the good spirit in the ether had taken the initiative to connect with her.
  • “The odd coincidence.” These are the strangest, because the exact same thing could happen to a God-believer and a non-God-believer and their conclusions would be completely different. I love coincidences because they remind me that there’s a plan. That when I’m in the flow, weird little things happen that I could never have dreamed up on my own, like lovely sun-warmed boulders in the river of life on which I can rest for a short time and get a better view of the journey.
  • “The moment that brings tears to your eyes,” reminding us that we are all human and we all share emotional bonds that buoy us up and carry us through the hard times. I tear up a lot, whether it’s sharing someone else’s pain, watching a little girl bang a tambourine and dance at church, or laughing with my friends till we cry and then our eyes connect and we know that we are blessed to be in each other’s lives. Through our tears, God reminds us that we are not alone, that joy and grief are universal. Plus, I think it’s awesome that our creator made tears to lower stress, elevate mood, and carry away toxins from our bodies. How cool is that?
  • “The person who brings life to your life.” Hmmm. I suppose this line could make me sad, since I don’t have one particular person that “brings life to my life” at the moment. No lover, no kids. And it makes me miss my brother, who was also my best buddy. But somehow it doesn’t make me feel sad — I feel like I have a huge community of people who bring life into my life. Different ages, different races, different backgrounds, different interests. I love my life. I’m crazy-blessed. I suppose Buechner’s point here is larger — it’s about love. Unconditional, absurdly generous love. And that, my friends, is the biggest clue to God. We’re swimming in it, if we “look in the right places.”

 

A Beautiful but Dangerous Frame of Mind

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I saw it yesterday, the very image you are requesting. Powerful is too tame a word for it; the whole world was transformed — dramatic and primal, beautiful and dangerous at the same time. 

Standing on my screened porch, which had seemed perfectly safe and sturdy until that moment, I watched the storm blow in. The trees were dead-still one minute and then whipping about the next, as if a wind-snake of monstrous proportions were writhing and whirling overhead. 

Quiet. Then chaotic. Then calm again. Then wild. Branches squealed and moaned. My skin tingled and my heart raced. 

“Don’t be silly,” I told myself, “you love storms.” 

Fear. Dread. Tornadoes. Falling trees. 

I weenied out and went inside. I clicked on Facebook, a safe and familiar refuge. The screen flashed a dozen photos — Check out this rainbow! Go outside NOW and see the rainbow! Double rainbow! Gorgeous sunset through the black clouds!

I looked out the window. Black as death. No sign of any other color. My friend texted from a pub three blocks away — “did u c the rainbow?” I looked out again — the black was turning charcoal grey, but I saw no rainbows. Thunder rumbled.

I clicked on a few random articles — gun rights and transgendered rights and women’s rights and civil rights — and then looked out the window again. The entire sky had turned a brilliant gold in a matter of minutes. I don’t mean that muddy yellow you see before a tornado, I mean an intense you-have-died-and-gone-to-heaven golden blaze.

The color you never see in the real world except in those landscapes from the Hudson River School painters like Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt.

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas Wikipedia Commons

Bierstadt; Sierra Nevadas
Wikipedia Commons

As the gold faded and the sun reached the horizon, the sky turned pink, then scarlet, and then rich plum. And then the stars ventured out.

So, WordPress Daily Prompt, you want me to paint my current mood onto a canvas and tell you what the painting would look like? That was it. Yesterday’s storm. 

Black and grey and magnificent gold and radiant scarlet, changing moment by moment and sometimes all at the same time. Deep and primal; menacing, yet captivating. 

You know there’s a rainbow, but you can’t see it yet.

I know this canvas. This is my painting. This is grief, six months, two weeks, and two days after my brother’s passing.  

Women Wrestling With Writing

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“I’m afraid to write.” The woman looks down and gives the dirt a few timid kicks with the toe of her Nike-clad foot.

“I don’t get that,” says her twenty-something daughter. “I blogged a lot when I was trying to work through my family stuff a few years ago.”

“Yes, that helped you, didn’t it?” The older woman says, more to herself than to her daughter. “But still, I couldn’t.”

Couldn’t what, exactly? It’s not as if we were talking about publishing  – I had simply suggested that journaling might help her sort through the tangle of what’s-next-in-my-life thoughts that tumbled out of her mouth. What was she afraid of? The thing is, I’ve heard this trepidation expressed often, especially from “women of a certain age.” When I mention that I’ve left my career and gone back to school for a Master’s in Writing, their response is often an expression of awe and fear that would be more appropriate if I were taking up alligator wrestling.

I suppose that could be partly a reaction to me leaving a good paying job to pursue freelance writing. Yes, that’s crazy. But they’ll follow it up with, “I could never write. I’d be too afraid.” If you ask what of, they’ll say they don’t know.

Are they afraid they won’t write well? That they’ll be judged? Won’t measure up to some imagined standard? Feel stupid?

The most important thing about putting pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, is at least a mild willingness to contemplate truth. Writing can be like moderating a conversation with the voices in your own head as they meander their way towards an emerging truth. When you’re writing, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Don’t share it if you don’t want to. But you do have to be willing to let the truth settle out, like flakes of gold through silty water.

What some people fear, I expect, is looking at the truth. And that’s because the truth is often not an intellectual thing, but a matter of the heart and the emotions. These women don’t want to confront their feelings. Writing can be very revealing and therapeutic, but therapy is hard. And scary. They seem afraid to look inside themselves, afraid of what might be down there. Having been raised to be “nice” women who don’t make waves, they’ve likely got a cap on things like resentment and disappointment and unexpressed anger. Or maybe they fear there is nothing in there at all. Nobody home, or at least nobody worth noticing.

I don’t know what issues the woman in the Nikes was dealing with, and she probably doesn’t either. I do know that in the ten minutes we chatted, she repeatedly apologized for herself and called herself stupid twice. I could feel the toxicity of her shame. I almost wanted to beg her to write.

“You’ve got to expose those wounds,” I wanted to say. “Let it all bleed out onto the page so the infection can get some air and light.” Just Do It, Nike Lady!

One of the reasons I’ve decided to study writing is to learn how I can help others discover the healing power of the pen. I’ve kept a journal since I was fifteen. I dredge up my crap, dump it on paper, and then sift through the muck looking for lessons, obsessions, warped motivations, and worries I’ve picked up that don’t have my name on them. Even if I start out making a grocery list, my psyche knows that it’s safe between those covers, and it will shortly deliver whatever needs to be processed.

If you don’t journal, Blog People, I hope you will start, or maybe try again if you’ve quit. Personal journaling might reduce navel-gazing on the web, and I’m certain it would make the world, and your brain, a healthier place.

I’m realizing as I write that I’ve got my own fears to confront. I have never read the dozens of old journals stacked in my closet. Once or twice I’ve scanned through some years of sexanddrugsandrock&roll, and what I read was painful. I felt sympathy for the desperately needy person I used to be, and sometimes disgust at the way I treated myself and others. It wasn’t fun reading. But it will surely enrich my writing if I can muster the courage to dive in. Fear is overrated.

“The courage to create is the courage to make something out of what we are feeling.”

Julia Cameron

 

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