Friday, December 6, 2013

...i am powerless over a lot*

Some days Advent is an exhausting journey. Worthy. But exhausting.
[photo, Atlanta Zoo 2009]

* [see title] - ...and given to hyperbole.

I was all set to write a post (AKA a vent) about the cowardice of passive-agressive behavior. Betrayal has struck recently. First, an e-friend who is a mature, caring person recently discovered that she had been mocked online in, as we say in the south, a very tacky manner. My response, in part: “Some things hurt. But Advent is a reminder that those moments pass. And hopefully we become more compassionate. We grow stronger rather than harder.”

Quick words. Sincere. Incomplete. Within days, another betrayal occurred. The worst sort...because, this time, it was all about Me...yep, with a capital M. A harmless enough but (here it comes again) tacky chat between two people I know. No great scandal that would rock my world, much less anyone else’s. A purposefully private conversation I’d had with The Repeater about things political was, well,  repeated. No people had been sliced and diced nor had any animals been injured in our exchange of ideas. Was the gossip a thoughtless joke fest? Or an attempt to curry favor with someone who holds differing views but a degree of (perceived) power? Or simply that moldie oldie, “I know something you don’t know and I can’t wait to tell” perhaps?

Oddly enough, the Repeater and I share similar views. An unexpected sting seems somehow more painful. I am grateful for safe places which allow me to move outside my comfort zone. If you’ve ever visited unsafe places, you can appreciate this. A place where I can acknowledge feelings and thoughts that mirror my authentic self. Where I can explore, unformed but open, ideas - and questions - that this southern girl was raised to leave unspoken. Oh, I ignored politically correct advice in most ways. But a nagging feeling has long persisted: that I held back, that my silence was complicit betrayal...of myself, of all that I hold holy.

I don’t know what prompted the gossipy exchange and I wish to goodness I didn’t care. At almost every level, I don’t. But there is this tiny part of me....the one that says “I trusted you with a vulnerable piece of myself and, in the words of the late, great Lewis Grizzard, you stomped that sucker flat.” Funny, how these things seem to come around, isn’t it?

Dialog can’t happen. At least not now. Perhaps never. Dialog requires two people who not only want to talk but who are interested in listening. Most importantly, between people who hold trust inviolable. In truth, I’m the one who misjudged. The one who invited the “talker” into my trust.

Here’s what takes all joy out of denouncing the betrayer. How do I denounce another’s passive-agressive behavior with consummate sincerity when I haven’t totally denounced my own? I thought I had given this up for Lent a few years back. Maybe not. Do I too often pull back rather than offend tender sensitivities. Is this born of compassion or a desire not to rock the boat? If the latter, I’m not a real friend. Because a real friend is honest...kind, but honest...willing to give you the space to walk away if you choose.

The argument that I should have the courage to be public with every view I hold has its merit. But the choice is not always simple. I’m a parent, a step-parent, a friend to people who are questioning, who are vulnerable in their own relationships. I want them to feel safe in their journey of discovery. In order to keep the lines of communication open, I am honest with them. And private. In conversation with casual acquaintances, I try avoid shrillness. My sin is usually queasy politeness. Some days I do better than others. I’m a work in progress. As the old saying goes, I’m not what I want to be, but at least, thank God, I’m not what I used to be.

I’d say I wish I were more like Bill (I do) but I’m hesitant to do so. Because I grew up in a culture where wives were sometimes deferential in the most manipulative sense of the word. My own mother couldn’t believe I voted for a different presidential candidate than my husband. “Well, I never!” And I’m sure she wasn’t lying. Her opinion: if she voted against my dad, she’d cancel his vote. When I pointed out that this was my intent, her eyebrows went into overdrive. “Where did I go wrong?”  I asked if they rotated elections so that each had an opportunity to exercise this most sacred democratic privilege. You would have thought I'd asked to murder my second cousin. Or clip my fingernails at the dinner table. In our polite little world, these options carried the same weight. Just for the record, I questioned my dad. He shook his head and said, “You know your mother. Bless her heart.” I speak “bless your heart” fluently. I heard him, loud and clear. And I now understand her world more clearly. I stand on the shoulders of women who paid a high price to rock some boats and trim the sails that pointed us in a different direction.

Based on conversations and the respect that passes between us, I know that Bill wants me to form my own thoughts. To grow. He’s given me space. Lord only knows, he was my first real sounding-board. Helped me with Lamaze breathing (and my occasional curses) through the labor pains of birthing authentic expression. Fact is, we don’t cancel each other out.  I married my BFFLB. (The first part of that acronym is obvious. The second, private. I’m allowed. Get over it.) Hallelujah, I’m  more authentic and enjoying it more these days.

Please understand, I won’t betray a friend because you think I should. If you don’t like my friend’s lifestyle, opinions, politics, or religion, take it up with my friend. All of them are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. If pushed to join in the denouncement, I will not. No how, no way. If you don’t like this, fine. It’s a free country. [See above “walk away” reference.]

Feel free to disagree with me about anything. To my face, preferably, rather than behind my back. I expect the same of myself. Because if I take the coward’s way out, I invite not only you but others, indirectly, into a gossip-fest that distorts truth and hurts everyone. I can paint my words nine ways to Sunday with Christian outrage and concern. Alas no one would be able to hear what I'm saying over the noise of my - you got it - tacky actions.

I believe in attraction over promotion, in the healing power of a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, in trust. Even when others forget. I have found that when I mirror - in words and actions - what I believe, without acrimony or judgment, even those who disagree tend to hear a little bit. Dialog happens. Sometimes.

To my “daughters", to struggling sisters, don’t just take my word for this. Listen to that great thinker, Yves St. Laurent,: “The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.” My own experience is that passion trumps fashion. Our messy bits are touching places. In the book, Ahab’s Wife, or the Star Gazer, Sena Jeter Naslund writes, “If you meet a woman of whatever complexion who sails her life with strength and grace and assurance, talk to her! And what you will find is that there has been a suffering, that at some time she has left herself for hanging dead.” Find comfort in this. May not be what you want to hear but it’s true. Don’t settle for a one-size-fits-all life. Madeleine L’Engle, one of my heroes, wrote, “I do not think that I will ever reach a stage when I will say, 'This is what I believe. Finished.’ What I believe is alive...and open to growth.” I suggest to trust no “finished” person nor a finite “fact”. Facts and Truth are separate things. Truth is a living thing that cannot be quantified and is no longer true if qualified.

As for beliefs, we don’t have to travel the same road to get along. In my own experience, “God” is a much-abused synonym for some cosmic butler/State Farm agent that acts when summoned or handed a wish list. For me, God is The Great Goodness. That cosmic (as in “bigger than me”), collective Absolute. Love. I believe this because I have seen great can’t exist without the other. I also believe in the discipline of science. These are not mutually exclusive for me. Ours is an individual journey. Here’s to consummate respect. For each other. For sacred anonymity.


Judy H (LB) said...

You are so THERE, Celeste! Thank you for these words, and for your passionate life. I enjoy knowing you! You write wonderfully, and I look forward to more.

John Robins said...

"Queasy politeness" struck a chord with me, not, however,that I am given to committing this sin too often. Some situations, though, necessitate this weaselly way of interaction. I had to resort to this some time ago to avoid creating a rift in my family. I believe that I was correct in the opinion which I had proffered on a certain matter but it was met with an angry response. To mollify the other party I resorted to "queasy politeness" not, I hasten to add, that I was particularly happy in having to do so.

Celeste Bracewell said...

There are times when love trumps everything, John Robins...queasiness notwithstanding. In family situations or in the workplace when keeping one’s job tends to matter. Some people can’t enter into civil discourse so I don’t waste my breath there. Where I get truly queasy: when I could just as easily say something as inocuous as “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” and at least be honest. Did I say that I also have a tendency to be lazy at times?

Jeannette said...

oh dear...I thoroughly enjoyed your post and yet am so tired from the day's journeythat I will not have but wilted words to encourage you...but if I tell myself I will return when fresher to write to you, that may not happen, so simply...may you keep being tender and honest, tempered with discernment... oh and forgiving

John Robins said...

Ditto, Celeste.

Celeste Bracewell said...

Forgiveness is key, Jeannette. I am grieving for the loss of trust, for the demonization and incivility that prevails. We are all brothers and sisters on this good earth. As in all families, squabbles happen but love can trump. As for this good earth, we need to treat our host with lovingkindness, too.

Jeannette said...

Happy upcoming Holy is almost Easter. There is lots of "good stuff" in this essay...a lot of it worthy of expansion.

I really understand the complexity of standing amongst many that are in your circle and yet on different switchbacks of the trail... and yes the delicacies of that can lead one to ask am i being inauthentic or respectful? The answer is probably both yes and yes and no and no. I appreciate how you have shared your feelings and insights in this realm.