Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Road Home

One of the earliest, hardest lessons I had to learn as a kid was taught to me by my Grandmother. I was a young child, and I'd just come smack up against some terrible perceived family injustice. I complained loudly, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!" And Grandma replied calmly, "Life's not fair." That was quite a painful revelation for my child's brain to try to process.

In some sense, it's taken me a lifetime to process it. There are various ways that we try to do that. We can reject the unfairness. We can fight it. We can devote our lives to fighting wrongs. Or we can feel overcome by it. We can feel sorry for ourselves. Or we can find some level of acceptance of the reality of it, and build our lives in the crannies and crevices of an unjust social order.

My next major lesson about the unfairness of life I learned as a teenager in Ms. Kunz's eleventh grade Social Studies class. We learned about the study that had played a pivotal role in the Supreme Court decision abolishing segregation in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education). Little black girls, when asked to choose between light-skinned dolls and dark-skinned dolls, preferred the light-skinned dolls, because they were more "beautiful."

I think all decent people, when the reality of that study sinks in, can't help but be revolted by the implications. That study made so painfully clear that these little black girls, in rejecting dark-skinned dolls as "ugly," were rejecting themselves. So that study made crystal clear the full extent and nature of the damage done by American racism. We realized that a racist system didn't just affect us in our outer life, in our social relations, in the realms of economics and law. It touched us in the most sacred realm of our inner life, in our conceptions of ourselves as superior or inferior, as beautiful or ugly. It touched us in our ability to love ourselves, or to love our neighbors as ourselves. And once the full implications sunk in, America was never the same again. Decent people could not, would never accept the old compromises that relegated human beings to inferior statuses.

Social unfairness is most profoundly unfair because it distorts our image and our understanding of ourselves.

So, when I witness confusion like that expressed here by Andrew, I am not surprised, though I am still saddened. No, there's not a single gay or lesbian person who, at some point, didn't have to come face to face with this reality, as he put it: "It doesn’t matter if you’re celibate; you’re still failing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a gay relationship; you’re still failing. It doesn’t matter if you adopt or otherwise have children; you’re still failing." So many of us have had to wrestle this sense that there is something profoundly, irreparably wrong with us that we can't fix, and that makes us a colossal failure, a disappointment, a freak.

When I confronted it myself fully, honestly and completely in the spring of 1986, the result was near suicide. I happen to know there's no way out of that pit that anyone ultimately can offer you. There's some profound existential sense in which we face that demon alone. Others can try to point to you a way out, a way forward, but you might be blind to it. You have to see it -- and take it -- for yourself.

What it took time and maturity and much struggle in a dark night of the soul for me to realize was that even my psyche -- even my ego, my image of myself -- was not the most sacred, most inner part of me. There is a me that is purer, more sacred, more eternal than that part of me that can be distorted by social inequities. There is an inner kernel of me -- the true me -- that cannot be sullied, that cannot be touched by these things. It is that part of me that is closest to God, that recognizes itself as a child of God; that knows its inherent worth; and that motivates me to live my life with dignity and with compassion. It is that part of me that enables me to forgive first myself and then others, and then engage in the all important work of healing the injuries sustained in a world that is just not fair.

Many of us are motivated in the work of justice by anger. We're still rebelling against the unfairness of an unjust social order. But we haven't necessarily healed those deep wounds yet within ourselves. So we fight instinctively out of fear or rage. Eventually, we burn out.

But some of us have come through to that deeper place.

I won't give up, and I'm finding an inner strength that I recognize won't burn out. Because for me this is no longer about anger or fear, or about the self-doubt that is the product of social distortion. Yes, I'm still healing from some of those wounds. Perhaps the healing process won't ever be 100% in this life. But for me, this new struggle is about love.

What has most helped me access that inner wellspring of truth, beauty, justice and love? My husband. Our son. Our family. The struggles, pains, and challenges of a shared life have granted me insight into and access to those most powerful, ancient magics.

Somehow, it's easier for me to see the inherent beauty, purity and dignity of the human soul reflected in others. When I'm comforting my son because something someone said at school deeply injured him, wounded his ego, I see his inner beauty, his deep, inherent worth -- the worth that no one can give and no one can take away. That's the part of him that I see, that I speak to when I comfort him. That's the part of my spouse that I see, that I speak to, when he comes home after a really rough day at work and feels too tired and too discouraged to go on any longer.

There's nothing that anyone can say any more that can take this insight away from me. What I am, all the things that are a core part of me, I know to be good, because that is the part of me that God sees, that God speaks to when God comforts me. I know that my capacity for intimate love is part of that core part of me because it is also through that intimate love between me and Göran that I am able to access that deepest, purest, best most beautiful part of myself.

So I'm in this marriage fight for the duration. You all can keep trying to strip me of my dignity, tell me something's wrong with me, something's broken, I'm a freak, my love is unnatural. That I ought to be locked up in a concentration camp till I die. All the things the world tells me every day. Whatever you do to try to make me less than you, mars your own soul. It contributes to the distortion that keeps you from becoming everything you possibly can be. I owe it to myself, and I owe it to you to try to be better than that.

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