What it really means to honor someone

Something to think about:

Lately I have, for whatever reason, overheard people with injuries in conversations joking about being a victim of domestic violence. Examples of what I’m referring to include something similar to the following statements:

•Woman who broke her tooth playing softball: “I’ve been telling my husband he better behave or I’ll start telling people that he’s the one who knocked my tooth out!”

•Man who busted lip falling down the stairs: “I busted my lip falling down the stairs but since that’s an embarrassing story I’m just gonna start telling people my wife did it!”

•Woman who has bruise on her leg from a slipping on the wet kitchen floor. “I’m telling everybody that Tom (husband) did it, just because it’s so much funnier.”

Most of these statements, when made, are followed by laughter. Which is to be expected, because THEY ARE JOKES. They are intended 100% to be funny. It is funny, after all, to joke about your spouse doing something he or she would never do in real life.

The only problem with this is that it’s actually the extreme opposite of funny for those who have experienced this in real life.

Make no mistake. Domestic violence is one of the worst forms of trauma any individual can go through. Trauma is trauma in all forms, and I’ve never been a fan of making judgments around which traumas are “worse” than others. However, we know, through research, that trauma experienced from domestic violence is awful and insidious in its long term effects on entire family units.

This particular kind of trauma is one that I feel I need to try and speak about because, as some of you who read this blog may know, I was in a relationship where I experienced domestic violence for ten years.

So, as you can imagine, when I overhear these conversations in real life, or when I see jokes on social media about this, I want to say something BADLY to confront the person making a joke. I want them to know that when you joke about domestic violence, it does two things:

  • It normalizes it.
  • It continues to perpetuate the cycle of victims not speaking up. If it’s a joke, why speak up? Maybe it’s not that bad, etc.

And let me tell you, there are people RIGHT NOW in your life who are going through this and you have no idea. People who experience this often become experts at hiding their shame.

But back to the moment when I want to SAY these things. I want to speak up, to use my voice, to be an advocate. But without fail, the same thing happens: I freeze. I want to speak the words or type the words in a message in a way that lovingly confronts, without inflicting too much judgment on the person whose intentions are typically benign, but I FREEZE. The words do not come, I feel a pit in my stomach, and I withdraw.

And then I start to think something along the lines of, “I can’t be that person that shares something, because everyone will think I’m overly sensitive since I’m the one who went through it. Maybe they won’t even believe me?”

(There is not a worse feeling for those who have experienced trauma than feeling like others don’t believe you. Experiencing that feeling is almost as bad as actually remembering the trauma.)

But back to me freezing up: perhaps this feeling that I’m scared to speak up is similar to or a small percentage of what people of color or women feel when they are in a situation where they are witnessing or experiencing racism or sexism and they don’t want to speak up because they feel that people will label them as “overly sensitive” or “making a big deal” when they, in fact, are EXPERTS on racism or sexism because of what they have experienced and so all the other people who have not experienced it need to simply sit down, close their mouths, and listen to them share their knowledge and experiences.

When you are victim of something, you naturally begin to study that very thing that has hurt you. You recognize it, you internalize it, and you SEE it and feel it and take it seriously. Because you know the ill, systemic effects of this awful thing becoming NORMALIZED and not taken seriously or even dehumanized.

That thing that we went through that broke our hearts–THAT THING is something we become an expert on. And it is not okay for anyone to take our expertise away from us.

Everyone has “a thing.” Some of us are blessed with more than one. But if a subject comes up that’s not “your thing,” your job is simple: close your mouth and listen to the people who went through “the thing” if they feel comfortable sharing. Because those people are COURAGEOUS and your only job is to listen. Don’t start talking about someone you know who went through “the same thing.” Nope. Don’t do it. Not your moment. The only job you have in that pivotal moment is to listen.

And then, once you know a little bit more, you can become an ally to people who went through that thing, and start speaking up to honor their pain. Because you didn’t have to go through the pain, trauma, and suffering of that thing–somebody else did. Your job, after you have listened, is to confront traumatic experiences being joked about, not taken seriously, and dehumanized. Confront it-speak up. Have courage. Remember, you didn’t have to go through that thing–it may be easier for you to speak up than someone who did.

So why is it that our culture doesn’t understand this? I don’t know. I truly don’t understand. Racism, domestic violence, sexism, and other kinds of trauma are not funny at all. And if a joke is being made, the only people who truly have a right to joke about it if they so feel inclined is THE PERSON WHO WENT THROUGH THAT THING.

When I think back to some of the experiences I had when I was in my ten year relationship where I experienced abuse–both emotional and physical–one of the themes I see in those experiences is that I felt ashamed. I felt broken. I felt confused. I felt completely discombobulated. No one enters an abusive relationship thinking they are going to be abused. And yet, here they are. And it’s a living death. I had arrived at a point where I was emotionally dead, disassociated from those around me. By the grace of God, the birth of my child, somehow slapped me into taking a step into walking away.

However others are not so lucky. Some people have died from the abuse. Some have simply never left. Others are still in denial and won’t speak about it to anyone. It is for those people, and not for me, that I ask that you say something when you hear someone joke about trauma. Think of it as honoring those who cannot speak–either because it’s too painful or they physically are not even alive anymore to speak about it. This goes for all kinds of trauma–racism, sexism, bullying, neglect, refugee trauma, etc. Honor those who cannot speak. Because you can.

And here’s a photo below of the aforementioned slap that woke me up and gave me courage to take a step. I will never forget how lucky I am for doing a thing I didn’t think I could ever do. For I am no better nor more smarter than anyone else. There are many things I will draw a line on in the sand, but this is not one of them: some people leave abuse and others don’t. No one is better or smarter than anyone else. I do not know why I have been given this gift of a second chance. It’s like similar to being the person who walks away from a car crash, still alive, while others are seriously injured, or worse, deceased.

May the thing that broke you open give you an awareness and love and empathy for others. May it give you strength to do hard things. May you feel heard when you want to speak up.

What I’m Thinking About

During the last hour, the following thoughts have popped in my head: 

  • How do I unclog my bathtub drain since my landlords are being unresponsive?
  • Why did I ever let my daughter watch the Disney Channel WHY oh WHY oh WHY just shoot me
  • I wish that someone would deliver me Doritos
  • OMG Irma and Harvey. What can I do to help Florida and Houston? Me being stuck in bathtub water pales in comparison to that. 

But these thoughts don’t compare to a bigger thought that’s been on my brain: how can I fight the hate and racism I see aimed at people of color in this world? What do I need to change? And how do I convince more white people that this is important? 

It seems that many white Americans were shocked by what happened in Charlottesville. Among the people of color I spoke with, shock was not the primary emotion expressed. They have been fighting the battle against hate, stereotypes, and inequality for SO LONG. This is the narrative they have experienced. 

But here’s the thing. We white Americans need to realize it’s OUR story, too. It’s the story of our country. It’s a story that involves us taking responsibility for the disparaging inequality in our country that is fueled by hate, fear, and stupidity. 

I think that even the most “progressive” white people haven’t taken adequate time to really stop and examine the stories of the  victims of police brutality that have come into light over the last couple of years. I don’t think white Americans, including myself, have paid attention enough or felt enough empathy to FIGHT against the discrimination that is aimed at our brothers and sisters of color everyday. Every. Single. Freaking. Day. 

It concerns me that we are fueled by fear not based on facts. 

It concerns me that there are people in this country right now who have a disturbing idea of what love is. There are members of the white supremacist movement who say they are in it because they just love white people and love their country.  I’m speaking to white Americans now when I say… do you hear how disturbing and disconcerting that sounds–to use the word, love, to give you permission to hate? 

I was at a meeting last week where the topic of discussion was racism and inequity. A white woman had a sudden revelation. She raised her hand and said, “If people of color could have won the war on racism by themselves, it would have already been won by now. White people really need to see that. We need to join the fight,” and I looked at her in wonderment because I knew she was right. White Americans need to feel the urgency of this problem.

Part of doing the work and fighting the fight, is acknowledging that many institutions have policies in place which allow racism to occur. And the reason those policies are there is because racism is a pervasive and insidious beast. Have you seen this graphic? 

(Via Showing Up for Racial Justice)

Look at that damn triangle there. Look at the statements both inside and outside of it. ALL of this needs to be examined and carefully looked at by White people, including myself. 

How many times have people of color told their stories of inequality, prejudice, and discrimination to white individuals, and they haven’t believed them? How many times have white people stated that white privilege “isn’t real” or even that racism isn’t real? 

Do you know what happens when you, or a member of your family has experienced trauma, disparagement, or even violence, and you tell your story to another person and he or she doesn’t believe you? Or doesn’t think it could be “that bad?” Or tries to tell you a story about something that happened to him or her as a way to get you to stop thinking about what happened to you? 

I can tell you what happens. You become hurt, scared, or even angry. When you speak of personal or familial trauma, disparagement, or violence, and your story isn’t acknowledged or taken seriously, it can    actually make the trauma worse.

This is why I can’t tolerate someone saying, “All lives matter,” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It’s like me standing up and telling you that I want to speak to you about women who are victims of domestic violence that need help, and your response is, “well all women need help.” 

Like seriously, what in the actual HECK is causing people to not listen right now?  I would say it is time to fight this war on racism, but the thing is, it has BEEN the time to fight for such a long time, that now it’s actually a time for urgent responsibility. I cannot ask you to fight with me if you don’t take responsibility-responsibility for the violence, discrimination, and inequality in our country that is surviving because it’s fed by statements like, “don’t blame me.”

Please. Please have the courage to show up with urgency. 

Child of God

On Tuesday, I drove up to Kokomo to be with my dad at his doctor’s appointment. On the way there, I stopped to grab some coffee. 

I went inside the coffee shop and ordered. As I was waiting for my organic, almond milk, local pumpkin “spiced” latte, (I know, I’m annoying), I sat down on a couch and peered out the window. 

Outside there was a child with a beautiful round face playing with legos at a table while a woman (presumably the child’s  mother) chatted with a few of her friends. 

The child came up to the window and waved at me through the glass. I waved back, smiling, and wondered what gender the child was. It was hard for me to discern, and I found myself wanting to know. 

And then I sighed. And just sat there, mesmerized by this child’s smile, until I heard the barista say, “Order for Emily!”

And as I walked away, I suddenly snapped out of my wondering. I am not sure why. Maybe it was just the emotional state I was in. I was trying to go into the doctor’s appointment with an open heart, trusting what was about to happen, despite my fear.  And so I heard a voice inside me say, “You don’t really need to know everything, Emily. Don’t put that beautiful child in a box. Separate yourself from this world of boxes and labels.”

And I began to think about my own baby, who is really not a baby anymore, but a vibrant 8 year old. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, when people ask her, “What are you mixed with?” I feel weird and awkward and like some boundary has been crossed. I am still stunned when strangers and acquaintances ask that question so effortlessly. It slides of their tongues like smooth butter. 

“What is she mixed with?”

“What is she?” 

“Are you her mom? What is her dad?”

It’s a label–a category–that people want. And it bugs me. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive. Or perhaps I’m not. 

But here I was with this beautiful child, in the coffee shop, wanting the same. I wanted a label. A box. A category. Male or female? I’m embarrassed to admit that my psyche may have wanted to know, so that it could structure my interactions with this child based upon knowledge of his or her gender. 

And that is NOT someone I want to be. 

I suppose my brain knows that deep down–which is why it started talking to me about boxes and labels. The child is a child is a child. The child has his or her own identity which is being shaped and formed and I have no business being involved in that process. 

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, (who recently divorced her husband) announced that she’s in love with another female, who happens to be badass soccer player, Abby Wambach. Everyone is suddenly like, “Is Glennon gay? Is she bisexual? What IS she?”

And there’s something about those questions that I find unnverving. It’s like, we humans are so obsessed with checking boxes. These are some of the common boxes we like to check: 

  • Gender 
  • Race
  • Sexuality

And there’s a lot more. But those above are the three biggies. And there’s a reason for that–people treat you differently based upon their associations and/or unsettling beliefs they associate with those labels. 

There are people in this world who are very uncomfortable without labels; these are the people who can’t stand not knowing what “categories” others fall into. They find comfort in categories and do not like ambiguity. 

And yet, if there’s one thing to be certain of in life, it is that our lives WILL be filled with ambiguity. We are not omniscient nor were we designed to be.

And so I was thinking about ALL the things I just said (I’ve a busy brain) as I entered my dad’s doctor appointment with his neurologist. And as the neurologist gave me his diagnosis, “Your dad is in the beginning to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” I made a conscious decision right then and there to not let this diagnositic label DEFINE him. 

I saw my dad’s face, as the neurologist told him that the disease is not curable. He was unable to make eye contact with the doctor. He was somber. He did not ask questions. So I did. 

“What does this mean?” I asked. 

“It means he needs to start this medication I’m prescribing as soon as possible to prolong the quality of his life,” the doctor said. 

He went on to explain that with this medication, we are buying at least 8-11 more years of a life that is true to him. 

When I looked over at my dad, I thought I would cry, but instead I just felt overwhelming love and compassion for him. I looked him square in the eyes when we left and told him that this is a condition… but it’s not WHO he is. 

We cannot let these labels–these boxes, these words–DEFINE each other. They are cages. You know what my most important identity is? Child of God. That’s it. Because I’ve had important labels taken away from me–wife, niece, granddaughter, and friend. And yet, I’ve gone on living. 

People build walls in the name of labels; when what we REALLY need is proximity. 

As for me, I am going to do my best to fall in love with the ambiguity, while  decreasing the distance between myself and those different from me. 

And I’m going to keep reminding my dad of his most important identity: child of God. I love you, dad.