I watched this TED talk on a friend’s recommendation the other day, and I felt an almost irresistible desire to check myself into a psychiatric care ward (almost). Her description of intimate, unguarded camaraderie among small groups of women, working together to untangle and rework the complicated threads of identity, wisdom, and human connectedness warmed me clear through! Immediately, I sifted through the grains of my compulsion, searching for some special explanation, some kernel of clarity about what makes a self-help collective so attractive. After all, don’t I have friends? Good friends, even? Dear, close, intimate, best friends who share hurt and hope in a regular rhythm? I do! And yet…..
On my way to visit one of those friends, which followed hard on the heels of Glennon’s inspiring intrusion into my day, the acreage between pee-your-pants-laughter-and-tears transparency and real, nitty-gritty mental ward transparency sprouted words, and a little bud of an idea began to uncurl. In case you haven’t yet watched the video (and you really should!), let me sum up the section that gripped me with this brief description: Glennon drug herself and her sadness and her multi-valanced addictions to the admission desk of a psychiatric hospital and asked for help (asking for help – already a courageous step well to the west of my tight, bumbling, self-sufficient comfort zone). The help arrived in circles, close circles of women sharing themselves (and not just their stories) with jarring unguardedness, a shedding of what Glennon describes as layers upon layers of Superhero capes – veiled and misnamed addictions meant to shield us from slamming headlong into other hearts. Glennon’s friends were all broken people clinging to other broken people. That’s all.
How can I get there? Did you know (and, of course, you didn’t) that my daughter has recently started to ask me why my face contorts in a rapid succession of unrelated expressions after we walk away from “bumping into” a friend? I never realized, until I fumbled through my explanation to Olivia, that I silently recap conversations with other people in their entirety (gestures and expressions included), looking for moments when I may have hurt or offended another person….or, sometimes, just trying to get an aerial view of the impression I may have left, the trajectory change that bumping into me may have caused. Because we do, always, change one another’s trajectories. I’d like to point to some noble impetus here, like a longing to touch lives for eternity. More accurately, though, I just think I want to be famous. I want to be known about (but not necessarily known). I want to be thought of in a particular way. “She makes my days better with her (insert one of the following here: wisdom, humor, perspective on child-raising, honest approach to faith, love).” Yuck! My cape, my filthy Linus blanket of a self-swaddling shield, is tattooed all over with my impression of other people’s impressions of me! I am addicted to the illusion of approval!
On the evening of my second miscarriage, I became the last person in the United States of America to sign up for an account on Facebook. It turns out, I am Mark Zuckerberg’s target demographic! People can virtually “friend” and “like” me, and I can regularly check in to find out whether or not they do! It’s like a whole new monogram on my raggedy cape! (P.S. Zuckerberg may or may not be related to the person who named shiny little jewels of chocolate KISSES, playing right into my conflation of food with affection! Marketing genius.)
And in the interest of full disclosure (which seems to be the theme here), after penning that paragraph, I slipped quietly over to see if anyone had commented on a pathetic little apology post I made in one of my half-dozen facebook groups. One person did. I “like”d her.
Let me shift (all the way!) back to my little revelation. It turns out the fundamental quality that distinguishes Glennon’s therapy groups from my own roundtable friendships may well hinge on the incisive, permeating power of the sign hanging above the front door of the institution. See, if everyone in the room knows that everyone else knows that everyone’s already broken, then why bother with an impression? If I know that you know that I do secret and shameful things to my body or my heart or my mind…that I have not only bought into lies, but have carefully crafted them to appeal to and exacerbate my own fear, pain, and self-loathing, then we start at a very different place than Starbuck’s cool….we start at naked and unashamed (like the garden before the fall?). See, I’m already here. I’ve already “admitted” myself. I know that the word “crazy” comes loaded with all kinds of pejorative pain (and I want to hurt exactly no one), but since pain is the tenor of this post (and because I just issued a prophylactic apology anyway), and since a single phrase changed my whole way of thinking about conversation, I’m going to change it’s inflection here by changing its context: The only thing that could free people to speak together naked as they came is the disarming, unspoken acknowledgement that “after all, we’re all crazy here.” All of us.
What if the people I love, all of them, have secret shame and untidy hearts and sullied minds and broken souls? And what if I don’t need to leave an impression….just make a little space in the world, in my world, for other people to seep out around the seams of their own capes? And what if I walk in believing that other people arrive expecting to do the same? What if we begin with the assumption that, after all, “we’re all crazy here,” and proceed from there? (And, then when people screw up and say or do scandalous, hurtful, thoughtless things….well, that’s because they’re crazy. Since I am, too, I have plenty of room under my cape for such things and such people. After all…..).
On that afternoon, after Glennon metaphysically stripped me bare, I made an experiment of her insight. In a socially cumbersome moment, I went ahead and made myself all the way apparent with an open heart for whatever my friends (old and new) brought to our little round table. Over and over, in my head (disassociated facial expressions notwithstanding) I repeated, “After all, we’re all crazy here,” each time loosening the thin ribbons of a hundred capes cinched tight around my throat. I think, for ineffable moments of lung-filling conversation, we were, together, naked and unashamed – capeless, messy women blundering through life and motherhood….pulled over together at a rest stop on the curb of this superhighway for superheroes. It was a delicious little respite, before I unfortunately veered almost immediately back between the white lines of illusion and approval.
As my awkward little Facebook apology moment signals, I have been mostly careening down the fast lane of acceptance for the last couple of intervening days….and I (of course) managed to blunder (again)….leaving an impression that I’d like to change….an impression from a conversation evidenced by a follow-up replay of a ten or fifteen facial expressions and gestures indicating what I said and what I might otherwise have said and what I would like to have said, etc. I’m a sorry little superhero.
I forgot to remember the sign hanging above the entrance door. I forgot that, after all, we’re all crazy here.
And I know that God’s grace covers my crazy better than any cape of my own invention, covers it by washing the word well away. And I’m beginning to believe in a deeper way that He has given me these circles of friends to share this journey and not merely bump into one another along the path.
In my home, I don’t think I’ve yet created a space where my kids and husband feel fully comfortable capeless. It’s fits and starts of hopeful shamelessness, and then I set about “parenting” everyone. Tomorrow, I want to carve grace above every door frame, making every room in this house completely safe for a handful of crazy kids to grow up and out a little more alongside their openly crazy mama. I want to give love room to breathe, unstrangled by the “Well-behaved” capes they tie on to serve impressions that I expect them to leave…on my behalf. I want to lay it out like a mat beside my front door…under a rack of hooks where people can hang their capes when they walk in. I long for messy grace to come in and disrupt this death march of perfection, where we stomp to a cadence of lies decked out in stories to shield our souls. I want “home,” for my kids (and for everyone welcome here), to be a garden where they can romp naked and unashamed. I’m ready to give it a try. After all….we’re all crazy here. All of us.