I went to hear Anne Lamott speak and read from her book Hallelujah Anyway. It’s about mercy. She says the synonyms for mercy are grace, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
Love…Love. That is a big, big word. Isn’t it? It’s so easy to say, and we use it in so many different ways: I love that color on you! I love coffee (chocolate, cats, pretending none of this is happening). I love you.
So, so easy to say “I love you.” Say it right now…rolls right off your tongue. Love you, honey. I love you, sweetheart. I love you, baby. Love you.
But how do you love other people when you don’t know how to love yourself? When you don’t know how to extend kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, love to yourself? When you don’t or can’t or won’t extend mercy to you? If you can’t love you, how do you know you can love your husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or child or cat or dog? I’m sure you can, and do…but are you loving them well? As much as you can? How do you love you friends and your family properly when you can’t look in a mirror every morning and love what you see? When you stand in front of it, hating your eyebrows or your thighs or your flabby upper arms or thick wrists? When you hear your voice on a recording and hate it? When you think about things you’ve said or done to other people out of anger or ego or need…and you feel shame and hate and disgust? When you feel like you don’t deserve to be loved? How do you extend kindness and compassion to other people you desperately want to love, but you don’t know how? Because you never learned how to love yourself.
It starts in childhood. Anne says this, and I am going to testify to its truth. Not blaming my parents–they loved me and I loved them immensely. And they were damaged, too. It all starts in childhood. We come into the world free and ready and open-hearted. Somewhere along the way, we learn (Anne says) to stop being authentic–it’s not what people want from us. Don’t cry, that’s annoying. Don’t ask for that, it’s stupid. How can you think that? That’s weird. Why are you doing that? You’ll never be good at it.
I remember looking at Melissa lying in the plexiglass hospital bassinet next to me, at 2:00 in the morning, fresh to the world, 2 hours into her descent towards the end of a life here, and thinking: Oh my god, look at you. You are literally as perfect as any human can be right now. Your skin has never seen the sun. There are no scratches or bruises on it. You don’t understand hate or fear or anger or distrust. You don’t know what the pain of humiliation feels like. Or how to manipulate anyone yet. You’re not ashamed of your body. You don’t know what being shamed even feels like. Your heart has never been broken. You’re not worried about diseases and death. All you want, right now, is to be fed and held. That is all you need right now–food and love and protection.
Then, it changed. Example: she overeats and is pre-diabetic–I did a crap job when she was teeny little, and I gave her portion sizes that were too big. I have conflicted feelings about the daycare we put her in–a teacher there fell in love with her, and would grab her at lunch time and share her food with her…fried chicken, french fries, potato chips, cookies, cupcakes. I love that she was doted upon, I’m angry they introduced her to that without asking first, annoyed I didn’t speak up about it, disgusted with myself I gave into it and did it to her, too.
Food is a constant source of contention between her dad and me–his worries are completely founded, I understand them but I worry about what we’re doing to her relationship to food. Type 2 diabetes runs in both of our families, and he’s struggling with it. And has beaten colon cancer. We both struggle with our weight. I get it, I agree. But I’m passing along body shaming…no, scratch that. I have already passed it to her. I have handed her the dagger: “Here, baby. This is sharp, hold it carefully. And put down that down. You just ate an hour ago. STOP EATING.” (No, seriously…I actually say this to my child: STOP EATING. Who does that?? Who says things like that to another human being?? When food is not a privilege or a luxury, it’s an absolute essential for staying alive.) And now, at 8 years old, my little girl talks about how big her tummy is, or insists it’s getting flatter, or hates on herself about how much she eats. “I’m sorry I snuck two juice pouches, Mommy,” is a constant refrain when she’s with me. My little girl already struggles with body image. And I–C and I–did it to her. We’ve handed her self-hatred, the same kind we ourselves struggle with, the same kind my mom struggled with (at 5, I put myself on a “diet,” by deciding to stop eating ice cream after dinner so I could get skinny like my mommy was doing).
So I’m reading this book on mercy. I’m thinking about all of the times, all of the moments…the days, the nights, the brief flashes, the bizarre freakouts…when I absolutely have not been able or even very willing to love me. Where I’ve hated myself and extended my damage to another soul. Without grace. Without love. Without mercy.
What I love about Anne Lamott is that, like me, she struggles with anxiety, jealousy, petty thoughts, hidden resentments (aka unmet expectations), small-minded feelings. She’s OCD…I’m ADD. Her thoughts on how this came to be are simple and real. The fix for it is not; it is a constant process, a continuous growth, a willingness to humble yourself when someone is STILL not getting it. A submission to forfeit a win for the sake of love. Sometimes it IS better to choose love rather than choose being right. Sitting in the church listening to her go offtrack (like me–I completely understand offtrackers like Anne) in her responses to people’s questions and whatever it was she decided to talk about, was heart-melting–me and my heart had gone in sad but angry, and we walked out sad still, but released. I went back to my car when it was over and sat and cried. For about 10-15 minutes.
Then I went home and ate some of Melissa’s Easter Egg Hunt candy, but just the jelly beans because they’re fat-free. And looked up a poem and an article Anne had said to look for. And they did make me feel better, hopeful, just like she said they would. And then I went to bed and cried some more. And I asked God, the Universe, Whatever was listening to help, please please help. Whenever I say this prayer, Something usually does help. Sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a small way. But something shifts.
Because I think It is real, and It does care. I don’t care if you’re scientifically-minded and want to explain experiences and coincidences away as some sort of brain area electrical synaptic firing. I don’t care if you’re snarky and sarcastic about spiritual people, and like to roll your eyes and talk about the Sky Spaghetti Monster. That’s fine, that’s you…but it doesn’t change that you’re here to have an experience, and to grow. And to do good deeds and right your wrongs.
I believe the Universe conspires to help us, if we ask Her to and are willing to help Her help us. He roots for you. They want you to win. And when you fail, God/the Universe loves you anyway. They/She/He/It know you will pick yourself up and go on, maybe have to learn the hard lesson again or maybe do better next time. God is love, forgiveness, compassion, grace. God is mercy. Mercy is about making yourself a cup of tea and hugging yourself and not allowing yourself to be mean to you anymore. It’s about looking at your naked body in a mirror and going–my stomach looks like that because I had a baby, a beautiful girl who’s part of this experience now just like me, who’s going to get hurt and make mistakes and hurt other people and get scars. Just like me. It’s about taking yourself for a walk in the woods and then having a glass of wine or water with lime and lemon in it, and pep talking yourself out of a funk. Just like you’d do for a good friend, or your child, or like a friend or your child would do for you.
The next day I woke up, went to church, and sat and cried some more. Because the talks there are about healing, and spirit. Here’s one on anger and friendship I heard a couple of weeks ago that makes me cry a lot right now. …I like Unity…it’s the only Christ-based religion I can handle right now, because they read the Bible metaphysically and believe there is more than one path to God–we have all ethnicities and colors in the sanctuary each Sunday, and Jews/Muslims/Christians/agnostics/etc in the audience. There is no judgment, only peace and love and acceptance. Everyone says hello with Namaste and hugs, and they sing cool songs like Tao of Heaven and Jesus is Alright. These are my people, and once I find my niche and a few to click with, a tribe. Melissa has already made a friend named Penelope, whose mom teaches Greek and Latin and their family hates religion but wants to teach their children about spirit and love and kindness…if that’s you too, this is the “church” to do that.
At any rate, I’m big into connections. It’s not lost on me that (1) I started going back to Unity, (2) the Universe has been knocking on my door for about 5 years it’s time for me to go work somewhere else, and (3) Anne Lamott came to town Palm Sunday weekend, and I didn’t even think–I jumped and bought a ticket…and my heart melted. It had been full of anger (go read my past 3-4 entries here) and it clicked: I’m an asshole. But it’s not my fault, and I can focus and do better. I will always be a jerk, but you self-love and you make conscious choices.
Anne told a story about how she once retweeted something snarky and mean on Twitter about a transgender person. She loves transgender people, but not this one. Unfortunately, this one is the world’s most famous transgender person. The backlash was staggering–the person’s fans came out in angry droves. “My attackers were like a mob with pitchforks,” she writes, “shaming adorable, progressive me. One of my son’s best friends transitioned female to male, a man we both adore, so my son was horrified.” Her son asked her to apologize publicly; it was the right thing to do. She resisted–her ego was in charge. Finally, she apologized. “I wrote to the public I was deeply, unambiguously sorry, even though I secretly still felt misunderstood, as I had actually only quoted someone else’s snarky comment.” She writes that her apology was imperfect, but she did the best she could in admitting she was wrong. And it was awful; her son was grateful, but distant for awhile: “I love you, I’ll talk to you when I can,” he said in an email afterward. Extending mercy had cost him, but it cost her even more deeply..but it grew them both.
And that, dear Internet, is where I am at currently. I am in tremendous need to extend mercy to myself and to several people I’ve hurt terribly. My anger issues run deep, sometimes overwhelmingly deep. I take to social media and I use words as weapons–I understand words, I know their power. Because there’s a screen and I can’t see the hurt cross the person’s face, I don’t think about what I’m saying. Because I’m not inside of another person and I can’t feel their heart and don’t know their damage, it is nothing to be to speak the brutal truth and lash out horrifically. Without mercy. Everything may be true, but that doesn’t make it okay. I think, now, we need to see each other as children, babies lying in plexiglass hospital bassinets, fresh to the world. We need to not say the things that were said to us, no matter how true they are. Is there a kinder way to say to a little girl with a sugar addiction: “Honey, put that donut down, you’ve had 2 already.” Can we let go of ego and hear what our friends and family members are saying to us when they come to us with all their bizarre and outlandish paranoias? Or try to convince us to participate in things we know aren’t good for us? Yes, there is. You find your mercy. You say the wrong thing, then you back up and you find your mercy. And you extend it to yourself–so you called that person a horrible name, so you flipped that guy off. You wrote a poem that was mean, knowing the person would read it and know it was about them. You find mercy, and you ask for forgiveness. And you find mercy for yourself and give yourself forgiveness.
So here is what I’ve decided. Listen–social media. I gotta do something, y’all. Twitter has become kind of a place of poison for me. I go there to dump all my political poison, but also sometimes my heart poison. This is not good…I have offline journals. Man, if you all could read what’s in those…you guys don’t even KNOW. I got a lotta spiritual healing work to do. But I need to reign it in online. So I’m taking a big, long Twitter break. Don’t know for how long. But awhile. It’s brought situations to me that are bad, bad, bad for my spiritual health. It’s brought a lot of really wonderful, amazing people into my life, some I’ve met offline but most are just online connections who have really, really helped me. Always will love them and keep them…and maybe one day I’ll be ready to go back and try again, and be open to more. But for now, I’m off Twitter.
Facebook, which I lovingly refer to as Fakebook. Reeling that in, too. Not leaving, because it’s mainly positive and dear family and friends and current and ex-coworkers I love a lot are on there. Instagram…that’s my life chronicle: here’s how I looked on Monday afternoon at 2:30 coming back to work after Spring Break, ugh. Here’s Melissa…here’s this crazy thing I did/saw/love/ate. But I’m decided: I need to get off the Internet and get more fresh air, read more books. And WRITE. Write things that are not inane, navel-gazing, angry or whiny blogs.
This blog’s web address is paid for through November, but can I be honest and just say it feels done? It was started as a response to needing to leave my old blog–the man who stalked and harassed me icked me out and I set up this place. He’s gone now (phew), but this place has become something that doesn’t feel like it serves me anymore. I’ve been dumping on it, and not in a good way. And so I’m going to take a slight break and go think about what I want to do next…do I want to set up a fresh place? Blog anonymously? Or just write in a private, offline journal and write stories I can send out into the world to be published. I don’t know, but whatever I decide I’ll be back in a week or so to let you know (if you care…it’s okay if you don’t).
But most of all, I want to say THIS about myself. You know those ridiculous quiz/meme thingies you can take on Facebook? Three-fourths of all my contacts there do them, including me. Today I did one that told me my nose is 200% Russian and my lips are 120% German. (In reality, I am 50% Welsh, 25% English, 25% German-Dutch, and 300% Basket Case of Raging Insecurity and Petty Ego.) Here are the results to one I took the other day, it made me feel better. I don’t know that it’s really all true yet, but I’m going to work from the inside out and make it so.
And so it is, and forever will be. (As we might say at the end of a Unity prayer.)