Because the players were human, and linked in an interdependent web of all existence, other people were affected by my decision to leave. Processing ensued. One friend, critical of my actions, observed afterwards, “You know, there is pain on both sides.”Yeah, and I’m sure the guy who beats his wife is sad when she leaves him.
I am not without compassion; I’m sorry that these folks who—to a one—I have loved, experienced hurt feelings. But here’s the deal: I did not introduce the pain to this situation. I was suffering discomfort for many years. I did everything I could to tolerate it or to make it better, but I just wasn’t powerful enough. If the other person—and the many vested parties, apparently—preferred the status quo to my disruptive departure, they were enjoying that stasis on my back. I had been paying for their comfort with my suffering and my deep pockets of generosity ran out.Pain was already present. I just stopped absorbing it for everyone and said, in effect, “Folks? I think some of this is yours.”
I’ve been thinking of this in terms of self defense lately—from the most basic verbal boundary setting to the courageous truth-telling of sexual abuse victims coming forward. So often when we break a silence we are vilified for causing whatever pain ensues. But the truth is that we are simply opening the container of hurt we’ve been carrying and inviting all the relevant parties share in its contents.Consider the Thanksgiving table, an opportunity for endless boundary trouncing. Let’s say your mother-in-law makes another comment about your weight—even though you’ve been asking her for years to keep quiet on the subject. You feel angry and hurt. But you hesitate to speak up for fear of introducing awkwardness to the family repast.
The truth is, discomfort is already present. You’ve just taken everyone else’s share. It’s time to spread that sauce around, starting with the one who dished it out. “My body is not subject for discussion,” you could say. “ I’ve asked you not to make comments like that.” If someone calls you out for making everyone else uncomfortable, call it right back. “This conversation is uncomfortable because you’re talking about my body again and I’ve asked you repeatedly not to do that.”This principle holds in so many situations. That guy who sits too close in the bar, puts his uninvited arm around your shoulders? Looking him in the eye and saying, “Please don’t touch me” is just giving back the discomfort he gave you when he initiated unwanted touch. I don’t mean “giving it back” as code word for throwing attitude, either. You’re simply not holding on to something that wasn’t yours to begin with. It’s like picking up a glove he dropped and handing it to him; like saying, “I think this is yours.” You’re just telling the truth.
Speaking of telling, the sports fans are mad, aren’t they, that something like child sexual abuse revelations could bring down a legendary house of football? Take down a coach so famous that even I had heard his name before this scandal (though his stupid nickname was news to me.) But the pain and shame of child rape is just that huge—so huge that it can topple football players and fabled coaches and university administrations; so huge that it can ripple out to make its effects felt on thousands upon thousands of fans and students, alumni and citizens.It is a pain far too huge to be held in the body of a ten year old child.
And if the best that some of us can do when we feel our piece of this huge pain is to run screaming into the wall of denial, riot in the streets on behalf of the rapists and rape apologists, maybe others of us can step up to take our up our piece with grace and courage. Maybe we can be the grown ups those ten year olds deserved to encounter in the first place. Maybe we can say in word and deed, “I believe you. This was not your fault. You did not deserve this—you deserved so much better than this. And I will do whatever I can to ensure that no other child endures what you endured.”