This post is a two-fer. First, I celebrate a personal progress milestone in the infertility story. Second, I offer some small talk tips in the event that I made you more socially anxious about conversations with strangers due to my story in part one.
Sitting in a coffee shop writing a few weeks ago, I glanced up to see a man lightly brush his companion’s shoulder as they sat side by side on stools facing out the window upon the street. A quick and small gesture. She glanced up, met his eyes, and a smile passed between them. Delighted recognition. Noticing their brief reverie felt like trespassing. And as quickly as the touch came, the moment passed and they went about their respective computer work. Even as they went back to their own tasks, a little thread of contented connection lingered between them. It was a sweet scene to witness — not saccharine nor an obnoxious public display of affection.
Between Clybourne Park, my Credo Paper for Systematic Theology III and the recent news craze related to Paula Deen, I feel like I am inundated with a barrage of thoughts about diversity, tolerance and communication. Tolerance has become the politically correct social ethic — with permissiveness towards diversity being the way to play our social, political, and workplace games.
And yet our approach towards the intolerant (as demonstrated by much of the twittering and message boards related to the Paula Deen incident) does little but to reflect back to the intolerant one that same message. We treat others with the same hate that they reflect. How then do we expect people to behave differently? To grow? To learn? We cement their opinions when we behave this way; we may prevent outward displays going forward, but we do not change hearts and minds. And the heart and the mind are of bigger concern to me, because they shape the whole of our behavior.
We are preventing authentic conversation; not asking reflective questions like “why.” Nor do we seem to be promoting authentic engagement of the other; really all we are saying is that you must not use certain language (but who really cares about your internal thought life). The mirroring of the hate language does not help us move toward growth or authentic relationship; rather, it perpetuates us in a cycle of unhelpful communication.
By saying all this, I’m not saying that intolerant communication is okay or even speaking in support of Paula Deen, I’m just saying there has to a better way to have these conversations. How do we speak of things that we ought not tolerate in such a way that still sets a boundary, but also leaves room for growth and paves the way for better understanding. I understand the thirst for justice, but I think we tend to want vengeance more than justice in society. Let’s have an internet lynch mob rather than a conversation where we strive to truly hear each other and to understand the contexts from which we all come from. We are not blank slates; each of us is a product of our culture, our family systems, our sociological constructs of race and gender. And all of these shape us (and damage us) into the people that we are. Unless we can really examine our own contexts and have some measure of grace upon another’s context and experience, how do we begin to communicate, to relate, to authentically welcome another? Or are we just expecting the other to be identical to us? Or to be different in a way that doesn’t require us to acknowledge or engage?
And maybe, maybe I ask too much. But, really, there has got to be a better way!
J and I went to see Clybourne Park at the Guthrie last Friday. Prior to the performance we stopped at Level 5 for dessert; I got a delightful blackberries, custard and shortbread dessert that was surprisingly good. So good it made me think about giving Level 5 another chance for an actual dinner meal prior to our next play.
And now returning to the play.
I was not particularly enamored of the idea of going to Clybourne Park to begin with; we just needed another play in the proscenium stage for our season tickets. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the performance (and on a side note how tidily the play connected to my final theology paper this spring).
Bill McCallum was fantastic in his roles. His acting in this play reminded me of his performance in God of Carnage from several years ago (also fantastic, and probably one of the top 3 plays I’ve ever seen at the Guthrie). He does a fantastic job of acting seriously angry, while still comically hilarious. For me, his performance was the highlight of the production.
The set also also remarkable, particularly in regards to the drastic change in the set from the first act to the second. The engineer’s daughter in me kept trying to figure out how they change the entire decor and woodwork of the stage – while still keeping everything structurally identical.
The challenge of diversity was a strong theme throughout the play (and here is the connection to my theology paper – thematic elements overlapped). I wished, as the play ended, that it would have ended on a more hopeful note of finding a way to coexist and communicate rather than continuing to alienate. I think the playwright strove for that, but I found the verbal message delivered at the end incongruous with the plot.
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” – C.S. Lewis
Back in college and high school I hated this quote. It seemed contrary to who I understood God to be. What’s the point of praying if it didn’t move God to do something about the mess I or the person I was praying for was in? At that point for me, there was none. I went to God with my requests like a daily list of intangibles (and who I am kidding–tangible things too) for a cosmic Santa to fulfill year round. I had good intentions sometimes; sometimes I was just selfish and earthly oriented. But the point was that I fully expected God to hear my petitions and do something about them.
But, in the last couple of months, prayer is different for me now.
At first I tried not speaking to God. I created a sullen wall of silence. I didn’t hear him speaking, and frankly if He wasn’t going to do anything about the messes–I didn’t want to speak to Him either. But then one day in the shower I had a realization.
Whether I feel God is good in this moment or not, wether (to be honest) God exists and is active or not – I don’t much care for the person I become when I am not looking for Him. And here was the double whammy: I found that ultimately I find myself looking for Christ because I can’t abide the person I am without Him. At the end of the day, it is not about whether God likes me or I like him – being in relationship with him is the only way for my life to function.
All this realization did was make way for conversation. These days I don’t make requests and I don’t expect God to do something. I try not to be vested in outcomes. I live. I feel. I rage at God. And at two in the morning when I wake up, I tell him I am sad. I am scared. I am worried. For me. For my dad. For my husband. For my marriage. For my job. For my own future.
For now, this is enough.
I am starving for silence these days. I am busy with work, social commitments, and a personal commitment to getting fit. Absent from my time table is my silent time. My space for writing, reading and soul searching is quickly evaporating. And I feel myself getting crabby. My soul is feeling depleted, and I can’t seem to get the space I need to actually nourish myself. At best, I find small moments to tide me over, like a spiritual snack. But, I’m not able to get satiated.
I find myself constantly surrounded by a thrum of noise; voices answering technical support questions on the phones outside my cubicle, the steady whine and thumps of machines at the gym, the rhythmic beats of songs on the stereo, baritones reading news reports over the radio, or the blitzkrieg of sound and images that is t.v. I’ve started turning the radio off when I’m on my way to work, instead of listening to my usual Minnesota Public Radio News or even listening to my iPod. And I’ve started turning the t.v. off more and more frequently. It’s still not enough for me.
I feel bad for J at the present moment because I’ve snapped at him twice in the last couple of days for minor stupid things. Right when I’m beginning to make progress on writing or feeling like I’ve almost captured a wisp of an idea, that’s the moment he enters the room and makes a noise. Then, I lose my train of thought and my momentum. My clutching fingers lose their grip on that fleeting flash of brilliance, and I hit the ground hard. Time to start over again. In the midst of that, I perceive that my sacred space just got violated. Which then means I turn into a shrew. This week I don’t even want to live with me.
I have, at least, been catching myself as I am frustrated. Even as the beginning of a frustrated monologue comes out, I find myself saying “it’s not your fault that I’m frustrated. I know that you’re trying to mind your own business. I’m not being rational. I’m sorry. I will shut up now.” And I feel awful that I scared him back down into the basement five minutes ago. He was kind enough not to argue with me, even though I was in the wrong.
And I’ve got to figure out something with our schedule. It’s clearly not working, as I am feeling spiritually anemic. And if my spirit’s not healthy, nothing else is going to be either.