Sacred, Pregnant Waiting

Originally published on the Emerging Voices blog, 12/8/2014. 

Advent. This time of year has always been somewhat sacred to me.

Despite the fact that I live in Minnesota, and I hate winter.

Despite the fact that Christmas in the United States is pretty much just a celebration of consumerism.

Despite the fact that I haven’t identified with Christianity for quite some time.

I think it’s the mystery of it all. The unknown, the waiting for something that hasn’t yet happened but is so palpable you can nearly taste it. This year, it is especially palpable for me as I have my own bundle of heartburn and kidney punches joy on his or her way.

It’s also especially palpable because there is so much unknown to hope for.

Even though I am no longer Christian, I still have a deep respect for the liturgical calendar. I get so frustrated when people celebrate Christmas early, especially when pastors preach Christmas messages before Christmas. This is a time of sacred waiting, and we could all learn a little something from that.

In the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner–and the countless others who have been murdered simply for daring to go out in public with dark skin–we have a lot to hope for.

We also have no promise that what we hope for will come to fruition.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I always thought of pregnancy, especially the last few weeks before delivery (the stage at which Jesus would, in theory, be during Advent), as a time of great excitement, hope, and joy. Now that I am pregnant, though only 19 weeks, I have found that there’s a lot less joy and a lot more paralyzing fear about all the things that could go wrong. There are no promises in pregnancy. Doctors can test for a million different abnormalities, and while normal results are reassuring, even waiting for those results is terrifying–let alone the fear one might experience with an abnormal result. Assuming the baby makes it to full term, and even though the likelihood of something going seriously, irreparably wrong during birth is very low in the Western world, there are still no guarantees about that child’s health or life in general.

And this is in 2014. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, carrying what she believed to be some especially precious cargo.

As I sit and hope for a healthy baby, I can’t help but apply the same thought to our society’s construction of race. We have so much to hope for, but there are no guarantees. These tragedies, while absolutely awful in a way that I could never understand, could be the spark that starts a whole new revolution on how we approach race in the United States. And yes, there is a lot we can do as a whole, but individually, it feels like there’s a whole lot of waiting for something to happen, something we can almost taste, but have no certainty of. I’ve asked the question, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” so many times in the last few weeks. I know I need to be working towards change but there is little direction.

We can still hope. We can hope that change is coming, and we can do all we can to prepare for it, to usher it into existence. But will it happen? Will my child find him- or herself asking these same questions in twenty or thirty years? Will this be the revolution we’ve been waiting for throughout all of history?

I guess we’ll just wait and see.

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Dispossessed Peoples’ Day

Today, in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving.

Though I’ve been celebrating it every year, I’m not this year.

I have finally reached a place in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No. I cannot celebrate the conquest of a land by people who had no right to it, and the destruction of the people who already lived and thrived there.”

The traditional story goes something like this: Pilgrims came over to North America, and were welcomed by friendly Indigenous Peoples, who taught them how to live off of the land and survive the winters. They celebrated by sharing a meal together.

Aww, isn’t that sweet? Too bad it’s 100% bullshit.

Though all the stories surrounding Thanksgiving are debated, it’s more likely that this feast celebrated one of two things: 1. the harvest (which, fine, sure, whatever) or 2. the massacre of over 700 Pequot people (I’m sorry, what?).

But the truth of that story does not change the fact that the colonists did dispossess waves upon waves of Indigenous Peoples, and most of us can locate ourselves on one side or the other–conqueror or conquered. I, personally, as a white person (though my particular heritage is asynchronous with the colonization of North America) bear some of the guilt for the ways in which I’ve benefited from this dispossession.

And I am not grateful for that. I do not celebrate my privilege. I do not celebrate others’ lack thereof.

“Okay, yes, the origins of this holiday are shady, but can’t you use it to be grateful for the good things in your life?”

No. For the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t only love my husband one day out of the year, so I don’t need a pointless holiday to commemorate that. I don’t need a holiday to be grateful–I’m learning to live a life of gratitude. If that’s all this holiday is about now, then I see no reason to celebrate it.

So, today, I’m mourning. I’m angry. I’m disheartened. I am hopeful that one day, things might be different. Maybe I’ll be able to teach my children about the terrible history that is the bedrock of the U.S., yet be able to say, “But it’s different now.” Maybe someday justice will happen and equality will be the norm. But since we’ve been screwing things up for over 500 years, I’m not counting the seconds.

On Asperger’s and Sandy Hook.

For the past couple days, I haven’t really known what to say.

What happened on Friday was awful, and horrible, and a very sad tragedy. It is something that should not happen, not ever, not anywhere.

But, to be completely honest, I’m not sad.

Now, before you judge me, and before you explode in the comments, I need to explain. I so desperately want to be sad. I want to be infuriated. I want to mourn. I want to write a fiery post about gun control. I want to scream and shout and cry and feel a million other things.

But I can’t. Because I have Asperger’s. And thus, I lack the ability to empathize.

Friday afternoon, as I learned about the shootings in Newtown, I felt the need to somehow communicate anger or sadness over it. But I honestly could not feel either emotion. I thought about tweeting something about not being able to feel anything, but everything I came up with sounded self-centered. So here I am instead, three days later, finally figuring out the words to say.

I cannot empathize with the parents, friends, teachers, siblings, classmates, or anyone else otherwise related to the children who were murdered on Friday. I have never experienced such a loss before, and thus I cannot understand it, or connect myself to it.

But yesterday, when I learned that the shooter had Asperger’s, I found I could feel grief for him.

Again, let me clarify. I’m not saying I can sympathize. I’m not saying I can condone what he did. It was a horrible, horrible thing, and his Asperger’s does not excuse that.

But I know what it’s like to have to live with AS. I know how difficult daily life can be. I know how easy it is for anxiety to take over, or rage to burn. I know how hard it is to process, manage, and control emotions, and how hard it is to understand chemical changes and how they impact mood. I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast all of the time, to not know how to be a part of a healthy social group, to be mocked, ridiculed, discriminated against, or even hated for being different or not being able to “act normal.”

I know what Adam Lanza had to deal with, unceasingly, every day of his life.

I’m lucky. I grew up with health insurance that covered mental health expenses. I had the ability to be diagnosed and treated. I went to college with a community of loving people who were willing not just to accept me, but to help me, support me, and teach me how to function in society. I have a husband who feels for me and has helped me to learn about emotion and empathy in ways that no one else ever could.

This is not the case for every person living with AS. Many people go untreated, never knowing they have it, thinking they just need to be more “normal” or that they’re just “weird” and need to fix it. They don’t feel safe discussing their difficulties with emotional processing and interpersonal connections with anyone because those difficulties are what makes them abnormal. They don’t have a safe outlet when uncontrolled emotions flare up. They don’t have someone to teach them about empathy.

Instead, they try to push down their abnormalities, until they can’t anymore and they break down or lash out.

We need to address this. We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. We need to provide safe, accessible, affordable mental health resources that aim to help those dealing with mental illnesses to function and succeed in society. We need to recognize that mental illnesses are just as much a health issue as physical illnesses, and to treat them in the same way–proactively, quickly, and with concern for the patient’s healing.

We need to stop saying “us” and “them” when it comes to people with mental illnesses. Because we are them. I am one, and I bet there are many others in your life.

We need to make sure these tragedies don’t happen anymore.

On Death, Red Lipstick, And My Affection For Communion Wine, Part I

Originally, this post and the two that will follow it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the next two installments, check back tomorrow and Thursday, provided I remember to post them.

Strange times have been afoot in the Anderson household…er, apartment-hold?

To begin, husband’s paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail last Friday. It did not, and we had 90 cents to our name until Monday. This wasn’t a huge change, mostly just frustrating. But it made for a very stressful setting for a couple weeks. In the midst of all of this, I’ve been reflecting on a few different things that have come up recently as I tried to make sense of our increasingly hectic lives. I’ve divided these into three parts, for your reading convenience.

Part One: Last Sunday afternoon my husband received a call from his mother saying that his paternal grandfather had had a stroke and was not doing well. This was a shock, as he was in excellent shape and, with the exception of poor hearing, didn’t have many health concerns. He passed away Thursday evening. We went up to Alexandria (where he lived) on Sunday afternoon for the visitation; the funeral was on Monday. So, this is all very recent, and unexpected, and thus my thoughts aren’t really gathered yet.

However, I’ve come away from the experience with one observation. I don’t find myself very emotional at funerals, and especially since I had only known Lloyd (my husband’s grandpa) for about two years, his death didn’t hit me as hard as it did his biological family. Instead of mourning, I observed. I watched how people dealt with death. I watched some people laugh at memories of him; I watched others cry over the loss of a beloved family member; I watched others still sit silently, unable to process what had happened (whether intentionally or otherwise). As a person who has a marked difficulty reading people and understanding emotion, it was a good learning experience for me.

However, the person I watched most was Lloyd’s wife, Vi.

She was, in my opinion, the most real person at the funeral. Which is impressive, considering that the first step in the grief process (according to Kubler-Ross, at least) is denial, and I would have expected her to hide behind a facade of “he’s in a better place”s and “I’m fine”s and fake smiles.

She didn’t.

At some times, especially when she was talking with groups of people (she’s the biggest extrovert I know), she was smiling and laughing. She loved hearing all the stories people told about him. Other times, in more secluded moments, she would complain about how tired or stressed out she was; she isn’t SuperWoman, after all. When she looked at pictures of Lloyd, or at the casket (particularly his body), however, she would break down and weep without notice.

All of this taught me an important lesson about death and grief.

First of all, Kubler-Ross wasn’t wrong–the five stages show themselves in most people who are in the grief process. But, at the same time, she was. Because we don’t really go through these five stages in order, and we don’t visit each stage only once. We go through the whole process a number of times.

Second, the people who simply say “he/she’s in a better place” or “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” or any other cliched, pithy sayings like that do no justice to the grief process, nor do they honor God. God does not expect us to be optimistic and stoic at all times, especially while grieving. Jesus himself shows a wide range of emotion in the Gospels; who are we, as humans, to assume we have to be happy all the time?

Third, the (western) Church as a whole does a horrible job with grief. We’re happy to encourage, to bring meals, to send flowers, and even to crack a few silly jokes, but we are much more hesitant to sit with the grieving and mourn with them. We don’t know how to deal with weeping or rage. We don’t know how to sit in silence and simply be with the lonely. We don’t know how to step out of our lives for a few minutes (or hours, or days) and stop to grieve. Sending flowers or making a meal takes some time, yes, but it doesn’t take commitment. It doesn’t require us to be anything more than physical beings. And, as a group that tends to ignore (or even despise) the tangible in favor of the spiritual, we don’t know how to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs of the grieving. We’ll gladly recite a litany of Bible verses about God’s goodness, but not those that deal with anger or grief. At best, we know how to distract, but not how to really dive into the mire of grief. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. So we bake a lasagna instead.

I don’t know how, but this needs to change. We need to embrace grief as a part of life. We need to learn how to deal with all parts of it, to stop pretending like pain doesn’t happen, or that it only happens behind closed doors, and to bind ourselves to those who are grieving as they process. We are one body, and we are called to celebrate and mourn together.

It’s time for us to be real.