Dear Facebook Friends: This NOT Another Open Letter

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words.”  –Roland Barthes

Dear Facebook Friends:

This week I’ve read a lot of emotion-packed pleas on Facebook (and Twitter). From both sides of the political aisle, I’ve read about: why we need gun control and why gun control would be the end of American freedom; about the threat of radical Islam and the danger of painting one religion with too broad a brush stroke; I’ve read that we should pray for those murdered and injured in Orlando and that offering our prayers is hollow and meaningless; I’ve read people blaming, shaming, and pointing metaphorical fingers and I’ve read people offering love, support and forgiveness. I’m sure you’ve seen them all, as well.

A number of the things I’ve read have been titled, “An Open Letter To…” This is not one of those. First, because one thing that has struck me this week – the long week of anger over the Stanford rape case, the gunning down of a young performer, the Orlando mass shooting, and the small child grabbed by an alligator at a Disney resort – is that we spend way too much time casting our fellow beings as “The Other”. Most of the postings labeled “open letters” are thinly veiled lectures directed at rather than to an imagined and stereotyped other. Second, I’m addressing this letter to my Facebook friends: those people with whom, in one way or another, I am connected off-line as well as on (though I’m sharing it with you, too!)

Here’s why I’m writing. A few nights ago, my dear friend (whom I love and know to be a truly good person) said in a four-way messenger conversation, “I hope you all don’t equate me with a mass murderer because we don’t see eye to eye, politically.” While I had never considered blaming my friend, it occurred to me that I have many friends and loved ones whose views differ from my own – and who might share my friend’s concern. Just as I have many friends and loved ones who have suffered at the hands of prejudice, discrimination and harmful policies. (Some people will identify with both groups.) The many cultural and political issues we face are complex and deeply painful – and our society is far from having it all figured out.

So I want to make some promises to you as we move forward into the next months of what, I fear, will be an increasingly divided and divisive climate in America. Not only are we in the midst of a heated political election season, we are also engulfed in waves of global civil upheaval and unrest, and we are facing – with our brothers and sisters the world over – the very real consequences of climate change. In the midst of all of this, I want to make the following promises to you:

  1. I will own and manage my emotions. I understand that I am not free from emotional response, and that sometimes my emotion overwhelms my desire to be thoughtful and kind; therefore, I will consider very carefully before I hit the button that publishes or reposts something about world or national events. And if my emotion has held sway and I’ve posted something unkind, I will own that and apologize. However, I will call out politicians and celebrities – people intentionally in the public eye – whose words or actions are insupportable to me, along with those whom I believe to be right. Fair warning: this includes Donald Drumpf, whom I consider to be in the insupportable category.
  2. I will not rant arrogantly at you as if you are not intelligent, educated, thinking persons. I just read a post last night which spoke down to all readers, ending with the comment, “if you don’t agree with everything I’ve outlined, you are an idiot.” There is a difference between posts which state a different opinion than mine and those that rant arrogantly at anyone who disagrees with their view. I will strive to discern this difference.
  3. I may type deliberately inflammatory responses to your posts but I will delete them before I hit send.
  4. If I fail in any of these areas, and you point it out to me, I will not respond with knee-jerk defensiveness.  First and foremost, I will appreciate that you brought it to my attention, especially if you did so with generosity of spirit. Then, I will try to see it from your perspective, allowing that I am often wrong, and my communication regularly imperfect.
  5. I will engage in debate as long as it remains respectful, even if it is emotionally charged I won’t always specifically invite debate – I have some brave friends who do so, and I am in awe of their willingness to follow these invitations with open and thoughtful responses. When there is debate, I reserve the right to delete anything on my own timeline if I feel it is inappropriate – including (and probably most often) my own comments.

 

 

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Peeling

 
“The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread but that, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” — Simone Weil
 

When I named my blog Jenion, I thought it was a clever play on words – a combination of my name (Jen) with onion. My tag line: peeling away the layers. Like the onion, I had physical layers that needed to be peeled away. The peeling of those layers has slowed considerably, but the process has uniformly felt good. Like pulling off the dead skin after a sunburn, this physical peeling (a.k.a. weight loss) revealed softer, healthier, more glowing layers beneath.

At the beginning, I didn’t fully grasp that there were psychic and emotional layers that also needed to be pulled back in order to reveal both the person I hoped to become and the life I wanted to live. In part, I didn’t understand this because I had denied my own hunger, to borrow Simone Weil’s metaphor from the quote above. After all, I had eaten my way to more than 350 pounds – how could I possibly be hungry?

The soul, my friends, can be a powerful liar and deceiver in the name of self-preservation.

Not understanding what that process would involve, I began pulling away at the top, papery layers of the onion that is my emotional self. Some of it was easy – self-revelations seemed to come with each pound shed. Occasionally, though, the peeling skin wasn’t completely ready to detach, and there was a wince of pain. But with the support of others and the motivation provided by ongoing success, I persevered. And I discovered happiness in my life. True friendship. Joy.

That would have been a nice, happy ending, eh?

However, there was a deeper truth about this process of peeling away the layers that I didn’t understand, in fact am only now beginning to grasp fully. This truth has three parts: the layers never end; once you begin peeling them away to uncover your soul’s hidden truths, you have embarked on a journey that calls for your continued commitment; the deeper the layers you uncover, the greater the emotional pain you feel upon peeling them away. The pain, the emotion, comes from exposing hidden places to air and light. And even though you know that is good for healing and the process of growth, it still results in discomfort.

There may be those who think I’m being either pessimistic or melodramatic here. Why should life, why should being happy, be so hard? they might ask. I don’t know the answer to that. Why are things that come easily to some, so elusive for me? Why are things that are obvious and clear to me so opaque for others? Why is the sky blue?!

I am particularly short on answers as I busy myself with the questions that my life asks me to consider. I do think those elusive answers are bound up in the aftermath of having lied to myself, of convincing myself that I wasn’t hungry, that I wasn’t angry, and that I had nothing to feel sad about nor any right to feel lonely. All that hunger, anger, sadness and loneliness were part of a life-giving river of emotion which my self-deception damned up, creating a huge reservoir. Now, each layer I peel away from my inner-onion, creates a chink in the damn. The emotions start to leak out, and threaten to become a torrent. Onions, I should have realized, call forth tears.

After all that, there is still a happy ending here. Happiness, true friendship, joy – all these are part of the same river of emotion I once damned up through self-deceit. Un-damned, the river flows with all of the emotions: the good, the difficult, and the life-affirming ones. With tears and laughter, anger and love, hunger and peace.

I keep peeling with that vision in mind.

The Big Lonely

Avoidance and denial, my old friends. Back in the day, we hung together pretty tightly – in fact, we were what you might have called inseparable. I fed them all the emotions I preferred not to feel, and they shielded me from facing the harsher realities of my life. We made quite a team, living together inside the 352 pound flesh shell we built – soft, warm, protective.

Looking back, I know we weren’t exactly happy. But most days we felt like we could face whatever came our way. Or deflect it without much emotional impact. My friends would say, “I’m lonely,” or “I just wish I could meet someone”, and we would respond, “Why dwell on it? You can’t change it, and it only makes you unhappy.”

Man, have times changed. I kicked Avoidance out somewhere around 280 pounds, and Denial, while more tenacious, left shortly thereafter. For the most part, I haven’t missed them. My life has, in virtually every way, been so much lighter (brighter, less weighty, happier) without them. Oh, they visit briefly, from time to time, but its much easier to say goodbye each time. We just don’t have that much in common anymore. Breaking up was hard to do, but I don’t miss them as my BFFs.

Well, except in one way. These days, I’m feeling my feelings. Something that I never really had to do before if I chose not to – Avoidance and Denial (and the protective layer of 138 pounds I don’t carry now) took care of that for me. I’ve alluded to this in previous blog posts, mostly as one item in a list, or as something that I was acknowledging but didn’t want to get into. But here’s the honest truth: I have never felt this lonely.

How strange to say that at this point in my life. After all, I am – truly – happier than I have ever been. I have better, more fulfilling, relationships than I ever expected. My family and friends are with me, daily, enriching every experience and showering me with love and blessings. From the midst of this embarrassment of riches, I feel like an ungrateful or spoiled child to admit that I am still lonely. And yet, there it is.

Many times, I have refrained from talking about this, because I don’t want to appear pathetic, or upset my friends, or worst of all become a broken record on this point. Talking about my loneliness makes those who love me uncomfortable, because they can’t fix it. Instead, they try to cheer me up with stories about those who found a soulmate when they least expected, or by sharing their belief that one is waiting just around the bend for me, or by urging me to turn my eyes and heart to God.

Let me tell you this, so I can get it off my chest once and for all: I will be 50 years old this summer. I have never been part of a couple (not in the sense of two people who live together and make decisions together). Certainly I have given and received love, but never at the level of true intimacy which requires full participation and commitment from both people. And I have wanted this. Even when Avoidance and Denial helped me to hold the longing in check, and hide the depth of my loneliness from others (and, to a certain extent, from myself). So there is a reservoir of emotion which grew wide and deep all those years I had it dammed up. Without my old BFFs, I am swimming in it.  And for crying out loud, don’t bring up God right now, because the anger I’m not directing at myself is being quite forcefully directed at him. Right or wrong, that’s how I feel.

And there you have it. Once you stop denying that you have feelings, and start feeling your emotions, you feel them all. You don’t get to pick and choose. And the truth is, its really ok, even experiencing “The Big Lonely”, or deep anger. In one song, Lady Antebellum sings, “I guess I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all.” I would amend that to “I guess I’d rather feel it all than feel nothing.”  And feeling my own anger or loneliness is a small price to pay for also feeling the joy that I sometimes experience with those I love – or for the contentment that mostly suffuses my days.

Joy and Contentment – way better BFFs than Avoidance and Denial, at any price.