Growing up in the Mennonite world of my childhood, I struggled. I could never quite see life in the black and white terms required.
And, as I get older (such a blessing to be allowed to grow older!) I continue to seek more of that lovely grey middle-ground.
More and more I realize there is no such thing as a broad brush approach. Each situation, each individual story, must be held sacred and grappled with on its very own terms. And within each of our individual struggles, the usual list of universal themes are played out.
I think I have learned most of this from books. Whether through novels or non-fiction; reading deeply has been my way to inhabit someone else’s life, to see the world through their eyes, to enmesh myself in the constellation of their world and see how the choices they made – whether flawed or fabulous – are a result of all that has gone before.
Anyone’s actions when viewed from outside can be judged in terms of black or white, but when viewed as an insider, with the added nuances of empathy and understanding, the picture is suddenly rounded out to include other possiblities.
Tomorrow I will make the hour drive to go to visit my older sister. Both her legs were broken when a truck ran her over while she was sitting in her wheelchair. I’m not sure if she was in a crosswalk or what exactly happened. She has been in the hospital for three weeks. I didn’t go to see her. I can give you all sorts of Cancerland reasons, but none of them matter. She is now back at her home. I had to do some sleuthing to find out where she lives. The last time I saw my sister was at my father’s funeral at the end of May. Before that? I can’t really remember. It has probably been a few years.
Have you judged me yet?
I will only say that absenting myself from her life felt necessary.
Trust me when I tell you that there is no way you could possibly know my whole story and all that has brought us to this place. No one who has judged me on my actions/inactions has been as hard on me as I have been on myself. It is a special inner-hell that cannot be explained. But I no longer defend myself. I am practising the art of simply stating it.
I live with it.
I do not have to own anyone else’s opinion about me.
It is said that the truth shall set you free, so in the interests of freedom, this post is my further attempt to practise that plan. I’m finally convinced that the stories of our families do not need to be so secret. What, exactly are we so busy hiding? These are simply the stories that surround us, inform us, create us. I believe that it’s important to speak.
But mostly? Every day I learn anew that I never ever know the whole story. Not once. Not ever. Not even my own.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”
– Shakespeare, As You Like It