A man stood at the front of the room smacking his own face while 200 people sat and silently watched. He was the keynote speaker and with about the 30th hard and steady open palmed blow against his face, his cheek had become red and was beginning to swell. He said nothing, just repeatedly smacked his face.
The crowd was silent for the first few whacks and then began to get restless. The phrase “Why is he doing that? Traveled around the room from human to human like some bizarro game of unplanned telephone. Still no one from the audience intervened in the speakers apparent self-abuse. Someone in the front row began to cry. Someone in the back row stood up and yelled, “STOP!” The rumble of discontent grew louder as the crowd grew more uncomfortable with the speakers actions. And yet, he stood at his podium and hit himself and said nothing. The crowd stayed in their lane and took no active role in an intervention.
Finally, a woman from the middle stood, messily stepped over her row, walked to the front, climbed on to the podium and with tears in her eyes, grabbed the man’s hand as it was in motion for another whack and quietly said “Enough. That is enough. No more pain.” The room was silent. As if coming out of a fog, the speaker stopped, thanked the woman and addressed the audience. “What took you so long?”- The speaker had planned this display to make a point, to make a life parallel, to show us our blind spot when it comes to others suffering. Why do we collectively watch and do nothing?
Weddings are rough. As a wedding photographer I get to be privy to all the family-messy of weddings. It is always amazing to me how we tiptoe around the issues. I get it. I do. It is easier to go with the flow and ignore the suffering instead of addressing it. Still, I find it fascinating. On wedding days, more than others, the magnification of the messiness of the human condition is startling. I have witnessed the following scenario NUMEROUS times – it looks something like this~ There is a parent of the bride or groom and the parent is an alcoholic and everyone knows they are an alcoholic and at the wedding everyone pretends that everything is ok. And the parent is drunk at the wedding and messy and gross and everyone smiles and ignores that the parent is stumbling around and talking too loudly and spilling and generally is publically, on a very very special day, doing the equivalent of smacking their face in the front of the room and no one is doing anything about it. Because it is a wedding and because this is our life and because we feel hurt and helpless and scared.
I want to give you grace even on the day you were drunk and heckling the speeches at your son’s weddings. I do. But I also want to tell you to do your work, stop slopping your messy onto other people’s lives and stop being a dispirited human. Because you being dispirited is messing up your life and those that love you.
And I want to give you grace in the life that your loved one needed you to try your best to stop them from slapping their own face for years on end, metaphorically. But, I also want to tell you do your work, and intervene from a place of ultimate love, compassion and empathy whenever possible. Because ignoring someone else plain is messing up your life and those that you love.
Now, dear friend, at this point you may be shocked that the Autumn the preaches love and acceptance of all things is drawing a hard line. Perhaps you feel betrayed that when I promised grace in all things, I am now putting a boundary around it. You are right and I would like to take pause here to further explain. You are both a dispirited human if you are not doing the work you know you need to do AND if you are not helping others do their work. That is the ENTIRE reason we are on this planet.
You are dispirited if you are overtly smacking your face in a public display of self pity AND if you are not helping others stop smacking their face. You are a questionably successful human if you have resigned your adult life to pain, addiction, and abuse and you are not living up to the hope of humanity if you are not lifting others up that have declared that they too will do their work. This is harsh. I know. You want to make excuses. You can if you want. I will even listen. But I will not make justifications for you and I will not excuse your behavior. You are literally on this Earth to learn and grow and helps others do the same. Do your work, Friend.
My life has not been easy. My childhood was decorated by poverty, substance abuse, domestics abuse, and mental illness. And I personally am not free from transgression. My own personal struggle with depression, an eating disorder, sexuality, seizures, finances, monogamy, and the wrath of parenthood is by no means a stellar performance. Still, I am doing my work every damn hard and exhausting day to try to be better. To be better for myself and for you. For us. So in my own personal life, I am no longer playing tiptoe around the dispirited. In public – at work – when you need me to… I will tip toe around your dispirited humans. But not my messy humans. I am drawing a line. I speak my truths to them from a place of love and accountability.
Consider this – people figuratively have jars that they carry around. It is their jars of emotional and personal crap. Let’s call them our crap jars. These crap jars are full of the baggage of allll our childhood woes, the way we have been wronged all of ours days, all of our justifications for the way we are in the world and a billion reasons how we excuse-explain why we get to be the way we are. And we LOVE to hand our crap jars off to others so that they can validate our burden and share in our suffering. I know you know what I mean. An example is when a relentlessly messy human comes in the door and the whole energy of the room always changes and they come in heavy sighing and ranting about whatever they have chosen to get dreadfully attached to that day. They want to hand their emotional shit-show to everyone in the room. They want everyone to share that burden. They want to broadcast their crap jar. Or a co-worker comes to the job with a jar full of EVERY reason their life is hard and they have been wronged. They bring the jar to work and want their co-workers and who ever else they come into contact with the carry that crap jar. NO, I say! I will not carry your crap jar! You stay in your lane, keep your messy in your box, and hold your own damn jar. I have worked hard for my happiness and my jar took a lot of expensive hours of therapy, a hundred ink smeared emotional journal entries, countless sage smudgings, teary miles walked, and mended wounds to sort through. I have worked for a healthy jar of crap. Do your work.
When I was in college I took a family development class. We learned the acronym HALT. The message was that when humans are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired it is best to avoid heavy conversation or major life decisions. Thus, HALT before taking action. The irony is not lost on me that during that class I was in the midst of a deafening depression and was trying to starve myself to death. I actually remembering audibly sighing and thinking that it should be HALTS because with the addition of an “S” for substanced that acronym would be pretty much sum up the human condition on the daily. I mean really? Who is not hungry, angry, lonely, tired or slightly substanced and the daily? Every member of my tribe is so fully human in this mess it is impossible to sort out when one letter begins and the other ends. But the distinction lies in the moment we realize we are indeed messy and our jars are overflowing and sloppy-ing all over the dang place and we must start to do our work. The grace comes when we are trying to do better for ourselves and for others. When even in the midst of the human condition we don’t ignore our transgressions and we don’t pretend we are not hurting ourselves and others. It’s when we see our faults and if no one is coming to stop us from slapping our own face, then we look down at our own jar, and we say “enough, that’s enough, no more pain.”
I have so much grace for you. Grace on the day you do hard things. Grace on the day you show up for others. Grace when we do the next right thing, and then the next right thing, as we walk each other all the way home. Grace on the day we lean to each other and say we are broken and we need help. Your jar is full. I know it is. Mine is too. No one is asking for perfect. But we can work on not sloppying our messy on others. We can work hard every glorious day on being healthy spirited humans who see our flaws and the flaws of others and show up every damn moment in love and support when work is being done. Amen.