Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Blame: There is No 'Us' & 'Them'

It's months like this that make it clear how absolutely short-sighted the idea of having five children really was.  

Between the awful news from Orlando, both Pulse and that precious two year old at Disney, a young death in our church family, the Stanford rape news cycle, and unsettling health news on my Arbonne team, the obvious truth that we prefer to hide from has been pushed in our faces, again and again: life is fragile.  You most likely will lose someone who feels essential to your existence.  (And if you're like me, you silently plead "anything but my children.")  Because it suddenly seems impossible that I will get to keep all five.  I know I am not alone in this well-worn path of anxiety.

And so we pretend that we can bargain with the universe-that if we just find the thing that victim or that parent did wrong, we can protect our families from that kind of pain.  We can give ourselves safety.  We can control the situation.  We can know that it will never happen to us.

And it is natural to try to find the fault, the blame.  

To pretend this bargain is real and not an illusion is the only way many of us can remain upright and functional in the face of so much obvious danger.  Because if I spend even a tiny bit if time thinking about what it would be like if it were my baby in that pond, that club, that courtroom, my heart cracks wide open and I am paralyzed by fear.  The world is too dangerous.  Having five children who I now cannot live without was so immensely stupid that I cannot fathom my own naivety and lack of foresight.

And so we blame the victim, the victim's family, because it is the only way we can carry on in the face of our fear.  It is natural, for our brains to do this.  Of course, it is a false promise, a liar's bargain we are making with the universe.

Finding the fault will not protect us.  

But still...

However: the first time you open your mouth and share that false pretense with anyone else, including the Internet, you have made yourself, for that family, part of the very pain you want to protect yourself from.  Why?  Why speak that aloud?  Five minutes before whatever horror happened, I guarantee you those parents were building a life on that same false promise.  If I/Then we are safe. They are just normal parents, probably good, probably not bad, making the best decisions they could with the information they had, just like we all do.  The only difference between you and them is that they are being forced to live the truth that we are not in full control.  They have lost forever the ability to build their lives on that bargain with the universe, because it has become shockingly obvious to them that it was a lie the entire time.  The world is not a safe place.  And they have to keep going anyway.  And all of us, we are witnesses to their "before-this/after-this" dividing line moment.

I know some of you are irritatedly thinking "there is something different between me and them!  They did blah blah blah.  I would never blah blah blah".  Perhaps.  That could be true.  But more likely, you have just been lucky.  Trust me when I tell you, if you have not had your "almost lost something essential to you" moment yet, you will.  If your children are babies, you might not be able to picture a time when something you do will put them in danger, but it will.

When my Amelia was two, she fell into a winterized, above ground pool at a BBQ.  She went up a big tall slide and went right into the water, surrounded by probably 15 adults.  No one saw her.  She yelled when she hit the water, because it was cold, and I looked around to see why she was crying, not particularly worried.  And only by the grace of God did I see her tiny little head sinking in the pool.  I had infant Charlotte strapped to me in the sling, and I was yelling for Seth as I struggled to put her down.  No one was moving, until one of the guys from the farm threw his huge arm down and hauled her up.  Was it his fire department training that made him so much faster than the rest of us?  I don't know.  She was, thank God, absolutely fine.  But I was not, and I am not. To this day, I cannot tell that story without crying.  Because I know I just got lucky.  I did nothing to deserve the mercy we got that day.  It's not because I am a better parent.  If people wanted to dissect my parenting that day in an Internet comment box, after the fact, they would point out:

  1. My age.  I was probably too young to have children.  (I wasn't)
  2. I have too many children.  "See, she can't take care of them all!"
  3. Both Seth and I had a beer in our hands.  Drinkers.
  4. It was during dinner, and I was sitting eating, and obviously I didn't know where my two year old was. Selfish. (We all thought someone else had her.)
  5. I had taken my babies (all under five years old at this point) to a home with an unfenced pool. Irresponsible.
  6. When she did fall in, it wasn't me or my husband who were fast enough to save her.  Didn't try hard enough.

See how easy that is?  That is only me finding fault in my own parenting.  I am sure the public might be able to find ten more things that led to that accident.  And it feels good, doesn't it-To know why? To be able to connect the dots to fault?  To why it will never happen to you?

But don't allow yourself to do that.  You are making a bargain that life will not keep.

If you can, stand with your heart cracked wide open for those families.  Allow yourself to acknowledge their pain, not find their fault.  Sit with your own visceral fear.  Because it is very real. And all we can do is bear witness.  All we can do is keep them from standing alone.  That is the best any of us can do for each other, in the face of fear and pain.

Oh, of course, there are practical things we could be doing to take action, and we will find those things.  But mostly it is a silent true knowing "there by the grace of God go I".  And when we truly know that, and we acknowledge that fear for our own family has led us to blame, we can turn away from that false promise and drop our stones.  We can see it as the liar it is.

There is no US and THEM.  There is only US.

And how then shall we live?

We must learn to build a life in the tension between fear and function, where we know that any minute we could lose someone who is everything to us, and we must go out and live with joy anyway. We must be open and ready to stand with those do suffer a loss.  We must drop the stones of blame and embrace the great power of witness.

We have not forgotten.  We are not pretending.  We will not live in denial.  But we will dance anyway, while we can.

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