Questions, Questions, Questions

I love questions. I love thinking them up. I love talking them through. I love hearing them. I love asking them. Even the silly questions small children ask can be fun. Not that I don’t periodically feign having something to do so that I can walk away. But I try to do so without letting on that I am bored because I would never want to quash a questioner.

To me, it is the figurative experience of poking and prodding to see how stable or sturdy something is. It reveals strength or lack of it. Some might think I am specifically looking for a weak position or that I relish tearing something down through the course of my questioning. But that is not true. I love to learn. And it helps that I have a sort of detached relationship with knowledge. When something does not hold up, I would rather know so that I can reconstruct. Rarely do I abandon the entire structure that makes up what I think or believe. Rather questioning is the way to discover what needs to be reconsidered. And ultimately the work makes those thoughts and beliefs better. It’s like finding a leak in the roof and fixing it before a big storm comes.

Questions about religion, faith, God… those can be big, complicated, difficult questions. My religious landscape is like a great outdoor expanse. I construct very little, spending most of my time exploring the possibilities. People looking for certainty aren’t going to find my answers particularly comforting. And so I try to discern when it is best to listen and say little, and when it is best to answer honestly. It helps to recognize when a question is genuinely being asked and different perspectives are welcomed, versus a question that seeks affirmation. It’s the proverbial “Does this make me look fat?” question. You know what you have to say. Nothing good comes from the answer, “maybe just a little” when the person only wants to hear, “No! You look great!”

What I find essential with any serious question is conversation. Conversation allows for differing opinions. Conversation recognizes the limitations each of us brings. Conversation proves to be more about learning from each other than convincing the other. And yet we don’t do conversation well. Just look at what happens with most “conversations” about religion or politics. It resorts, often very quickly, to discrediting the other voice. A narrow perspective makes one live a very small life in a very small world. That is why we need more meaningful conversation and with people who think and see things differently.

This kind of conversation is difficult. We become vulnerable as we expose our thoughts and ideas to others, and can feel threatened by thoughts and ideas that challenge our own. And yet I believe many of us crave conversations that bring us together in spite of our differences. For those of us who want to be part of reconciliation, we know we have to do this better. These are my rules for meaningful conversation:

  1. Listen. Sounds easy, but rarely is done well. Often the “listener” starts working on a response before the talker has finished making his/her point.
  2. Be honest. Defensiveness and anger are typically masked hurts. Be real with yourself and others about what you are feeling rather. This takes time and patience with self and others.
  3. Be respectful regardless of how much you disagree.
  4. Always looks for what you can learn, rather than what you can teach.
  5. Recognize that no matter how smart you are, you don’t know it all.
  6. Don’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes you don’t know until you’ve begun that a reasonable conversation isn’t going to happen.
  7. Don’t be an asshole.

While social media is a terrible place for meaningful conversation, it can be a good place to start it. Send me your questions. Message me or post it in the comments section. Let’s explore some of our big questions together.  And when a question deeply stirs you, I hope you will find someone to talk with in person, or better yet find a few people. That is where the magic really happens. It also takes more work. I am convinced that to have a few people in your life to whom you can say anything makes all the difference in feeling loved, supported, and connected. And that’s something we all need. No question about  it.


Blowing Up Mother’s Day

I had a wonderfully relaxing Mother’s Day. My oldest came home from college so both kids were there along with an attentive husband who took care of nearly all the day’s details. I relaxed. I received a beautiful gift. We ate. We laughed. We enjoyed being together. Or at least I enjoyed being with them. I didn’t ask if they enjoyed being with me because it was my day to not worry about what they wanted or needed.

While I indulged in being the center of attention, I couldn’t help but think of those I love who no longer have their moms around to hug or call. I found myself wanting to gather them together, to acknowledge their loss and give them the opportunity to say and do what they needed for this Mother’s Day. I wanted to do something fun with them to celebrate their moms. I wanted to laugh and cry and reminisce with them. But I didn’t want to invade their space or take from them what they needed in the day. Admittedly I can overdo something. It doesn’t take an elephant in the room for me to speak up. Even the anticipation of an elephant causes me to want to talk about it.

As I held myself back, I started to think about even the casual friends and acquaintances I know who no longer have a mom around. And I was surprised by how many there are. When did this happen? Why have I not thought of this before? As I processed my revelation, it wasn’t that I didn’t know. But I hadn’t thought what Mother’s Day would feel like for someone else.

What about the women who aren’t mothers but wish they were? The women who are mothers but with major regrets? The people with terrible mothers? The women and men who are mothers by way of their love and nurturing, but without the official title? The seemingly innocuous holiday began to scream out for more than a sweet card and dinner out. I found myself wanting to embrace the motherless, apologize to the abused, hold the unloved, laugh with the lonely, cry with the mourner, and celebrate with all the men and women who are surrogate moms. The mom in me wanted to do this not only for the children young and old, but for the moms who couldn’t. Or wouldn’t.

While I am all for being celebrated, Mother’s Day isn’t just about me. It is for my family and extended family. It is for my friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Mother’s Day should be a celebration of love and support. It should be a reminder that family can emerge anywhere. Moms are so much more than biology, legality, or gender. I think it is time to blow up Mother’s Day.

Of course this could all just be in my head. I might be trying to fix something that isn’t broken. The good news is I have a family who loves me in spite of my crazy ideas. If I find myself hosting an open house next Mother’s Day, I’m sure they’ll go along, if only because it is Mother’s Day.


Finding Peace in the Past

The problem with being reflective is that you eventually encounter the long-buried, unresolved shit in your past. Just when you think you have made great progress and acquired some wisdom, you are smacked in the face with a realization so significant that it nearly brings you to your knees. It is a reality that has become so intertwined with your thoughts and actions that at first it is hard to tell where IT ends and YOU begin.

For me it was a hurt of sorts. It wasn’t a traumatic event; those are easy to recognize. This was a quieter sort of thing. Not one event but something that unfolded over time and took its toll. If I told you what it was, you might just shrug your shoulders in confusion.

I am now seeing clearly all that has been impacted over the years, like the ripples in a lake after you have thrown a stone into it. As the ripples keep rippling, knowing it is too late to take back my stone’s throw, I am left with only one choice. I have done too much work to deny its effects any longer. And so I sit by the water’s edge, figuratively speaking, and watch the ripples grow. I feel the feelings that come with those ripples and I cry as I realize the impact. I cry for the years I had tried to protect myself. I cry for how ineffective that protection really was. I cry for what would never be. I cry for what I had lost…

I suspect some can relate. Whether it is a hurt, a regret, a lost love, a do-over you would give anything to have, there is a similarity among the experiences. It is either deeply embedded within, so subtle that its presence is hardly known, or it haunts and never lets one forget. Or maybe it is a bit of both. The ripples keep coming whether we watch for them or not. And when we periodically get a glimpse of a ripple that we intuitively know is connected, we close our eyes or look away. Or we rationalize. Or we reinterpret to suit our logic.

I was aware for a long time of the hurt I held, although I would not have called it a hurt. I had a very rational, reasonable explanation for what had happened way back then. But I irrationally denied its impact. And thus I was shaped by it far more than I realized. I can now see the hurt that was caused by outside forces. But what is both freeing and horrifying simultaneously is how the lasting impact of that hurt has been largely my doing. My rationalization might have satisfied my mind, but the little kid in me still continued to seek healing. Thus I carried the hurt with me like a heavy carcass, which impacted nearly every step, nearly every turn, nearly every perception. And I did so subconsciously.

Now I sit with it as it is. And although I am watching the ripples, they seem to be smoothing themselves out. By bringing the hurt into the light, or simply by naming it for what it is, I am disarming it. I can feel it losing its grip on me. It’s like the space between the unknown and the diagnosis. You hold your breath anticipating what will come. As soon as you know, it doesn’t go away, but you now know what you are dealing with. I hold my breath for just a moment, whisper what I have been feeling all along, I make peace with myself and my past. No more excuses. No more reframing. No more denying. It happened. It is part of me. And I am going to be okay.