In Part 1 I told you about a time when violence took me by surprise.
Community can take me surprise, too, which is why I have hope.
My family didn’t look like any other family that I knew. It was the only way we ever looked, though, so to me it was normal. To you, your family is normal. That’s the awesome thing about families: even the weird stuff is normal in your own family.
Sometimes being different did feel isolating, but it wasn’t often. Honestly, it was only as a young adult that I was able to reflect on how difficult life must have been for my brother, Todd. When you’re a kid you just take what you get.
The beautiful thing is there were always people for us. Mom didn’t have a ton of people inviting her for coffee and playdates but she had enough. Enough to let us know we belonged, enough to drown out the mean voices. It was those people who helped the good outweigh the bad.
Once Erik came along it was really interesting how people either took him or not. Those that liked him really liked him, and those that didn’t never did. Of course he was kind of like a cat and kept showing up at the houses where he seemed particularly unwelcome.
I think he may still be a little like that.
My parents always stressed the importance of focusing on the good things. The good things that happened, the good about ALL the people in our lives – even the ones that give us trouble. Mom and Dad taught me that everyone has value.
Essentially, Mom and Dad taught me to believe in the good of community.
Yes, we had bad experiences just like everyone. We also encountered some really stellar people, like a guy we’ll call Stephen McStephenson. I was in fifth or sixth grade, so around 11 or 12 years old. Stephen was newish to our school and the news on him was that he was a type of animal; a zebra.
I had no idea what that meant, I just heard it whispered amongst kids at school.
One day he ticked me off, as boys that age tended to do, and I used that name on him. I still had no clue what it meant, but I shouted it and the room hushed. Immediately I knew I had done something forbidden. I don’t even recall Stephen’s reaction.
Someone clued me in on what that name meant. I felt sick the rest of the day. I felt ashamed and disgusted by myself. I walked home alone slowly, unable to look anyone in the eye. I sat at my kitchen table with my snack. After five minutes of not being able to eat I knew I needed to take a walk.
I went to Stephen’s house and apologized. I apologized to his mother and to him. I cried, probably the ugly cry. Then the three of us sat at their table and talked.
That boy and I were not best friends after that, but there was definitely an understanding.
I didn’t know it then, but I had a few choices with my shame. “According to Dr Hartling, in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 46)
According to Brown, sharing our story, our shame, releases it’s hold on us. That’s exactly what I experienced when I went to the person I had hurt and confessed my shame. Puff. It was gone, never to have hold over me again.
There’d be plenty of other times, though, when I didn’t do the best thing with shame when it came knocking.
I have to think that’s what people who are racist (or any kind of -ist) do. They have shame but turn it the wrong way. Individual life experiences coupled with They hole up with people who think the exact same way and insulate themselves against any type of growth.
Aren’t we all guilty of that, to a degree? I’d gravitate toward hanging out with people who think the way I do. It’s just more comfortable.
The gift of my childhood was that I was able to see the very best of people – and the very worst.
And that’s where my hope for us all comes in.
Due to the uniqueness of my family I was exposed to the truth of humanity: we are not all good and we are not all bad. The hurtful things that we can do to one another will never surprise me. However, the amazing kindness that comes from us is what leaves me the most changed.
After watching events unfold in Charlottesville it was hard to not give into the feeling that neo-Nazi’s were everywhere waiting to take to every street. That’s the problem with the media. The news is only able to focus on a handful of events at a time.
The media will not focus on the stuff that unites.
The news has no way of portraying all the things – good and bad – happening all at once around our towns, countries, and the world. They’re focused on the most buzz-worthy stories, the stuff that will pull us in and keep us coming back for more, or never leaving. We can watch news 24 hours a day if we choose.
Or we can be smarter than they think we are.
We can leave our homes and get out into our communities. We can find organizations to get involved with that will educate us on race issues, immigration, and anything else that you might be interested in. Don’t get your info from social media feeds and websites. Get out there and be a part of it.
I’m preaching to myself here.
What would it look like to give each other room to share our stories? Even the ugly ones. Especially the ugly ones. Though, Brown cautions against sharing our shame with people who aren’t safe. Only special people get to hear that stuff.
I guess what I’m talking about is having relationships with people who think in ways that are uncomfortable for us. Learn how to have conversations with people you don’t agree with and love them anyway. We don’t always have to choose the easiest ones. Read more of what Brene Brown has to say here. I really know we can do this together – as long as we don’t pretend it’s not happening.
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. ~ Romans 5:5
I have hope because I have community. I have hope because I can share that community with others. Hope will not put us to shame. Keep track of the hope-giving moments in our world and hold on to those. That’s how we’ll learn how to move through the life-sucking moments.