You know who’s the best? You guys. After my last post I had so many people reach out to me, by email, text, comment, phone, Facebook message, husband, currier pigeon, pony express, smoke signal, morse code, and, dangnabbit, even in person. And just about everyone was saying, “Yes, I hear you, I’m in this place too.” or “I was in this place.” or “I think I’m headed for this place.” I’m humbled and honored by those of you who opened up to me about your own struggles and I’m buoyed by the love and kindness sent my way. And of course it has gotten me thinking a lot.
Why, if so many of us are burdened and struggling with one thing or another, is it so hard for us to talk about it? If there is a wealth of understanding and support out there, why can’t we just be honest with where we are at from day to day? Are we really going to be social lepers if we quit pretending that we aren’t a wreck when we actually are? Maybe. I don’t know. But I suspect not. I think we all crave intimate connection but most of us are well trained to keep our less pretty emotions tucked away. My Norwegian ancestors keep a close eye on me and they don’t mind shaming me from the grave for crossing the line of what’s appropriate. “Stop making a scene,” they say tersely, “and don’t embarrass anyone.”
I’m actually terrified of embarrassment, mine and other people’s. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist thought I was pregnant when I wasn’t. It was like being thrown into a humiliation casserole. I was embarrassed, of course, over my size and shape, but also embarrassed for her for making such an ostentatious social gaff. I was full of guilt that my own body could cause such awkwardness between people and ashamed that I had no snappy comeback, just hot, red cheeks and sweaty armpits in an office full of other embarrassed people. While that experience had nothing to do with emotional openness, it had the result of everyone feeling mortified and I never want to be the cause of that. Still though, I know that the subjects that sometimes make people uncomfortable are the ones we need to share the most. I want to be bold and open and real, but I’m a wuss when it comes right down to it. I find it easier to share my inner workings in writing, here and in less public settings, because I can avoid seeing the reaction on someone’s face and if people disapprove or find me immodest, chances are they won’t tell me about it.
A friend recommended a podcast called ‘Terrible, Thanks For Asking‘. I’ve only listened to the first few installments, but I really like the concept. The idea is that every episode is an interview with someone who has experienced something hard (or awful in some cases) and the difficult emotional recovery that comes with it. It’s people who are unapologetically honest with their pain and shortcomings, even if it causes some discomfort. Some of the stories are hard to listen to, but it’s a refreshing look at how the dark sides of life make us who we are. Obviously, it’s right up my alley.
That podcast, combined with the feedback I’ve gotten on my last post has made me wish we had a different way to communicate with each other about how we really are from day to day. Of course it’s going to be hard to be totally honest when you see an acquaintance at the kid’s swimming lessons or while meeting a potential client or waiting in line to buy tampons, but what if there was another way? Humor me for a minute and just imagine:
Every morning after we get up and start the day we put on a name tag. But instead of writing our name, we write how we are really feeling. Write it in green and it means you are open to talking about it. Write it in red and it means you aren’t. Then you go to work or school or the grocery store and everyone is walking around with a tag. I’m lonely. My husband is cheating on me. I’m so excited for my trip tomorrow. I think I’m pregnant. I’m sick of people giving me advice. Abandonment issues. I got a great job that I’m completely unqualified for. This sunny day makes me feel like frolicking. I ate an entire bag of Cheetos. In laws. I screamed at my kid and I feel horrible about it. I’m falling in love. My wife has cancer. Bankrupt. I want someone to take care of me. I’m jealous of everyone who is better looking than I am. I had a hard time leaving the house because of my anxiety. I’m happy for no reason.
Of course this alternate universe relies on us always knowing what we are feeling and why, being aware of our issues and able to articulate them. As far fetched as that is, when we have a glimmer of insight I think it’s worth trying to be brave and vulnerable and generous with our truth. Most of us are floundering through life looking for the people with whom we are simpatico. It’s hard to keep in mind, when wallowing around in our own emotional shit, that people long to say “I get it, I understand.” as much as they want to be understood themselves.
Authenticity might be my favorite quality in a person. My own moments of faker-ness come more often than I would like but I’m striving to be more candid in the way I present myself to the world. When someone shares their real self with me, it brings richness to my life, another complex layer of flavor. Being open with our truth is a gift to those hearts that are in harmony with our own. It makes us softer and more trusting. It feeds the compassionate parts of human nature instead of the judgmental ones. It’s an awkward stumble into grace.
“Engrave this upon my heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” – Mary Lou Kownacki
(Except that I’m too realistic to be completely sold on this. There are plenty of people that I will continue to dislike even if I hear their story, because some people are just plain obnoxious. But I like the quote anyway.)