When I was a little girl, I remember going out to eat with my family. I was five years old, chatty, and like most five-year-olds, enjoyed taking the hand of an adult and gamboling alongside. To this day, I love that picture of children beside their parents, smiling and happy in their own world.
And their world is good. Adults are to be trusted. They have none of the hardness of the world and all the softness of a hopeful heart. That day, when we left the restaurant, I took the hand of a man I thought was my grandfather. I chatted happily and walked off with this man, not even looking up to notice this wasn't my grandfather until I realized his silence. In that brief moment, I was embarrassed and scared and ran back to my family, who had been watching and wondering what I was doing. They laughed, I sought hugs and comfort and found my grandparents.
Last night, in celebrating the solstice, I took a friend and we arrived late to the bonfire among rather magical mist and stones. We separately, and hurriedly, wrote on a small slip of paper what we wished to let go of...what no longer served us...for this coming year. I didn't hesitate, since an aching awareness has been coursing through me for some time now. I was aware that my situation, my being made an enemy and scapegoat, had reordered everything I thought I knew about people. I realized the places where I had given the benefit of the doubt, where I never believed that people could deliberately be so cruel, where I deemed them wounded instead of angry. The awareness that people exist who actually enjoy the suffering of others is a painful grief, a loss of hope for all of us.
The current rash of cruelty towards fellow human beings in the news seems far away and detached from my own life. I cannot feel as one with people who are hell-bent on dominance, punishment, and destruction of life. But there was a war and it happened in my own circle, in my own life; it keeps going, and it broke me in a way that I have struggled to explain and process ever since.
I used to say it would take a crowbar to open my heart, and that was for good reason. I still cannot fathom exactly why someone would betray a one-beloved to such a degree, what river of anger never ceases to flow, what causes such an extreme compulsion to dominate and control, indeed, to show, on all levels, how you simply do not matter, not even as a mother, what motivates someone to make an enemy out of a co-parent. I cannot understand how the moments of my own life are so casually distorted to fit the purposes of a controlling, angry man and his family. I am condescended, judged to be lacking credibility simply because I am the narrator of my experience. Whatever the cause of their vitriol, the river flows on, seeking to flood and wreak havoc, and I must adjust.
It made me afraid, this betrayal of trust, this turning of love into hate, this faking of a relationship. If I could so completely be drawn in and, well, utterly duped by a person and a family...if I could give my love and my whole self to a relationship and the building of a family only to be turned against, mocked, and cruelly betrayed...what hope is there?
And so I adjust by returning to the softness of my heart, toward finding compassion for myself, and opening myself to the compassion of others. I realized that my heart is still tender, but the tenderness could be loved, could be open to love. I could not let the lack of integrity of a group of people, whether it is a group hurling their venom towards me, a group seeking to destroy those they do not agree with, punishing an ethnic or religious group, or shooting innocent children in a school, keep me from holding on to hope. These blights on humanity do not define humanity, and someone declaring themselves my enemy does not define me or name my life in any way.
I wrote "fear" on the slip of paper, folded it neatly, and placed it into the fire. I will be open, soft, and vulnerable, in the right places. I will be fearless in my voice, will take chances, will love this hardened, broken world with all my heart and will seek to not add to the brokenness of the world through my own blind spots and humanity, will allow my huge love for my children to be infused with resolve.
Goodbye, fear. I slip my hand out of your hardened, gnarled fingers and into the soft hand of courage.