My mom was raised by a single mom back in the 50’s, when being a divorced single parent was deeply frowned upon. The woman who raised my mom was beautiful, and resourceful. She made sure my mom always had a roof over her head and food in her belly. But my mom was also raised by a woman with a drinking problem. A woman who could be emotionally abusive, and moved her away from the love of her grandparents and in with whomever she happened to be dating. She was raised by a woman whose boyfriend got drunk one day, and beat her to death.
I had always struggled to understand my Grandma, and moreso everything that had happened to her. I would ask my mom about her sometimes. And my Mom would tell me stories from her childhood, some good, some bad. I asked about the man that had killed her. I couldn’t understand how someone could do that to another human being. I remember at one point, years later, I was thinking about it all and I asked my life guru-Google; “how can people be so shitty?” And Google in its infinite wisdom, told me that every person makes choices in life, and each one is decided by choosing either love or fear.
Fear or love.
I discovered that some people believe all of our choices, emotions and reactions, fall into one of two categories-love or fear. Some even say that fear is simply a call for love. Not good or bad, not right or wrong. As fear isn’t necessary wrong, I’m sure in the past fear helped our cave brothers and sisters survive all of the time. Fear is often our natural reaction, as it’s not always easy to sink below the turbulent thoughts of the mind and into the heart where love resides.
Right now there is a lot of fear, and a lot of people saying we should be afraid. The #metoo movement and everything that was going on with the U.S Supreme Court caused a lot of emotional reactions. It pains me too, picking at old wounds that I thought I had healed. ‘Cause that’s the thing, you can read all of the self help shit you want, but when your past comes knocking anything you haven’t healed is likely going to come spilling out. No matter how many bandaids you used to cover it. Personally I had promised myself that I would no longer just survive I would thrive, but I’m not always sure how to put that into action. And I believe my pain is a sign that I have more healing to do. So I take a little time to reflect, to understand why my friends opinions on the matter are causing me so much distress. I think of all the times I previously ignored my feelings for practical reasons or because I was told that a good girl goes along to get along. I feel angry at all those who ever made me feel powerless, and maybe even angry at myself for the times I chose not to speak up. But I watch all of the arguments, back and forth, and sometimes I think maybe I could explain it in a way to make everyone understand. I wonder though, would anyone listen? People tell their stories but if we don’t understand their perspective we reject it, often trying to dispute their feelings. Or we get angry at them for even sharing, we take it personally, or tell them they simply need to get over it. We are all screaming to be heard and understood, and yet it seems like we are moving farther and farther away from understanding.
Then I remembered something my instructor at a creative arts workshop had said. She told us that the key to creating great art isn’t found in our skill or technique. She said the greatest art makes us feel. She said that art can help us reflect and express ourselves. She believed that we turn to the arts as a way to relate to one another, to understand ourselves and each other when words fail us.
I don’t know if that totally sunk in at the at the time. But her words stuck with me, and lately her words have been coming back to me. An artist tells their story, pouring their feelings into their piece. We may have our own perception or opinion of what we believe the artist is telling us, but we know ultimately the piece is a reflection of the artist- it’s their story, their fears or love. Sure there may be critics, or people that don’t understand the piece, but we quickly realize that their opinion is irrelevant. They perceive the artists work based on their own experiences-their story, their fear or love. The best art makes us feel, it’s not right or wrong. Art is created to help us reflect, not react. To show us an example not an opinion.
And I wondered what would our lives would be like if instead of reacting to everything, we attempted to reflect instead? If instead of jumping to share our opinion, attempting to prove right or wrong, we just let people tell their stories. What would our world be like if we just reflected on one another’s stories, instead of reacting to them? What if we asked ourselves, what example am I setting by sharing this opinion? Why does this persons story make me feel this way? Is my reaction an example of love or fear?
And I thought of my Grandma again. I couldn’t understand what had happened to her or why she would accept abuse in her life. I couldn’t understand her perspective because I would never experience life from her eyes. I would never fully understand what it was like from her side, because it was impossible for me to fully walk in her shoes. But I could understand love and fear. And I could see that although she hoped for love, it was also obvious that shame, depression, and control had been major players in her life. Fear was used as a weapon against her, and fear kept her in her place. And I wondered how different her life may have been, if she had felt able to reach out and tell her story or choose love? Instead the love she deserved was misdirected as she begged and called for it through fear. I think maybe for the first time ever, I truly empathized with her. Her life was her story, anyone’s opinion of her life is irrelevant. Her life is simply an example of love and fear. As is mine, as is yours.
And as I write this it hit me, perhaps my ability to thrive instead of just survive, is bound to my ability to choose love instead of fear. My story is mine. A reflection of me—my fear and love. To hold back would be to succumb to fear, to express myself is to love myself. This doesn’t mean I have to tell every person every sorted detail of any trauma I’ve experienced. But it does mean I have the right to claim my feelings, and speak up if I believe something isn’t right. I won’t fight those who are committed to misunderstanding me because I realize that their opinion is simply a reflection of them-and therefore irrelevant to me. And so I will tell my stories, when and with whom I choose. I will no longer apologize for my honesty, my stories or my art, because it is my truth. Every choice I make adds to the picture that makes up my life. And I just need to decide who the major player will be in this masterpiece, fear or love?
I will examine fear, but I will choose love for #metoo !
What will you choose?