Thursday, April 22, 2010

Living on the Edge

Today is Earth Day. Apparently the day has been a topic of conversation for my daughters at school this week. This morning in the bathroom, my younger chided her older sister for leaving the water running too long saying "you are not being a good Earth Day person!" So we had a little chat about leading by example rather than criticism and as my husband kissed me before he walked out the door, he whispered that he blamed me for their liberal agenda.

He was teasing me, mostly. But my slide to the left in all things social, political and religious has provided more than one tense moment in our relationship. We've finally reached a balance point and don't seem to be on the verge of tipping into chaos quite so often, but it has not been easy.

I am many things. I am a feminist in a patriarchal world. I am a democratic in the most republican county in the United states. I support a woman's right to control her own body while surrounded by people who picket Planned Parenthood. I think there is more than one way to God in a community that preaches hellfire and damnation for non-believers. I am drawn to Jungian theory in a evidence-based medical model world. I support GLBT rights and marriage while the AG of my state refuses to grant a gay couple a legal divorce and in a city where churches are called on the carpet by their denominational boards for being inclusive. I am inclusive in an extended family where jokes about the President's race and calling for his demise are applauded as funny. I think helping others holds value, even if it means sacrificing some of my own wealth and privilege. I think real sex education and open communication beats "True Love Waits" pants down! The list goes on and on.

And I'm constantly afraid. Afraid of offending someone with my beliefs. Afraid of losing relationship because my friends cannot understand. Afraid of emotional abandonment by the people I love. I rarely feel like I fit in anywhere. And when I speak up and speak out, and meet resistance, disagreement, hostility and fear from others, it hurts. It makes me want to hide, to run away, to be silent and good and agreeable so that I won't have to experience the pain of rejection.

But I'm finding more and more I CANNOT be silent. I MUST speak up. I must stand up for those who do not and cannot have a voice. I have to live my life true to who I really am, not who others think I am or want me to be.

If that means my husband chides me for being a liberal - so be it. If that means my mother refuses to come to my daughter's weddings because of her prejudice (a threat she made recently) - so be it. If that means I am constantly at odds with my community of faith - that's just the way it is. But here is the rub.... all of this stuff doesn't just affect me - it affects my husband, and my children. And that pill is hard to swallow. I have to be who I am. But I don't want them to have to pay for that by loss of their friends and their communities. And I'm always afraid they will have to pay. And that too works to keep me silent - or at least very muted. I don't have a good answer to that tension of the opposites just yet. I'm not sure I ever will.

So I feel like I am living on the margins. Out on the edge, but not quite able to break free - and not always convinced I want to, but compelled to keep moving just the same, even if it puts me in danger of falling off the cliff.


  1. Oh, dear heart. I'm with you.

    It reminds me, oddly, of a story Maya Angelou once told (during an interview with Oprah). Oprah asked if it was true that Maya didn't allow any bad-mouthing in her house, and that she'd actually KICKED PEOPLE OUT to stay true to the safe environment she'd created.

    "Yes," said Maya.

    "But HOW?" said Oprah. "I think it would be SO hard to do that to friends."

    "You do it because you have to protect EVERYONE," said Maya.

    I'm paraphrasing, of course, but it made me think. I have to stay true to me. I have to stick up for others...for justice, for kindness. AT ALL TIMES.

    And that's when it's hard. When you're not understood. When the people around you aren't WITH you.

    Can I just say that your girls will be TWICE and THREE TIMES AS STRONG (maybe more) if that's the example you set for them? Sure, your decisions may affect them, but if you teach them ways of sticking up for themselves, they may learn to be strong, confident women who have an opinion.

    Kudos to you, dahling! xo

  2. Renae, when my oldest daughter was in 4th grace she came home from school crying out of shame for her mother. I was, according to her, the ONLY parent in her WHOLE SCHOOL who voted Democrat and she was moritifed. At a board meeting the next day, I sat silent as people I loved and with whom I was working FOR THE BETTERMENT OF OUR COMMUNITY made fun of Democrats. I'll never forget one of them looking in my face and saying, "Don't those Democrats know that there aren't any white people who are with them?" About 5 years ago that same daughter who was so ashamed of her mother wrote a piece for her church, either at Advent or Lent, and told that story. Looking back, she said, she was ashamed of the way she treated me and, she went on to say, I had become a kind of hero to her for voting my conscience. Last week I sat in a weekend long seminar and had to listen to open-minded, intelligent liberals attack my particular denomination, laughing at us, demeaning us and giving disrespect in ways they would not get by with if they were talking about other races. Tolerance is a sign of maturity -- It is a sign of adulthood, and it is a gift we give to each other. I encourage you to own your own opinions and guard them with diligence. Own and celebrate your own right to speak up and speak out, to live your life with integrity, to say and live the truth as you understand it. And may we both learn to flee, as Walt Whitman advised, the things that offend our very souls.
    Grace to you-- Jeanie

  3. This reminds me of two years ago, when we had two signs in our front yard. Now, note that our front yard is about the size of a large sandbox. The two signs, one Obama and one McCain, took up the entire place. I photographed it and was desperate to use the image as our Christmas card. We ended up not doing that (and Matt ended up voting for Obama, his first ever Democrat vote) ... but it was funny.
    So, I hear you, at least in part.

  4. Renae,

    This is the best I've read from you. Articulate and holding no punches. Of course, you know I prefer that anyway.
    So proud of you for recognizing the agony in finding the balance between authenticity and considering the domino effect of that honesty on those you love.
    But, you of all people, know very well that the price of being inauthentic is far greater at times, not only for you, but those around you as well.
    Your family is so fortunate to have a wonderful role model of an open-minded, genuine, and loving woman.