What I Don’t Know For Sure

When I turned ten I already knew that there was no truth with a capital T.  I knew that a great variety of stories sprang forth out of one situation, in my case, my parents’ divorce.  No one had the whole truth of the situation- it was all ambiguous, complex, and confusing.  Living in two households was doubly confusing.  For myself, on turning ten, the imaginary characters were gone and real life was busy and perplexing enough.  And when I fell and skinned the knees of my heart, they bled and healed and eventually bled again.

Holidays are always particularly confusing for children of divorce such as myself.  It was mandated where I was to be, but ultimately I was always left with that lingering feeling of guilt that could not split myself into two.  Then  there was my grandmother Mabel, whose mantra was “Oh, I wish you lived closah.”  And there was my other grandmother who I wanted to be with so that she could see that I was the perfect one (ah, family systems!).  She treated me like I had a disease- a divorce disease which might spread to her other grandchildren.  (And it did.)

And amidst all of this, I was supposed to be thankful and happy.  I spent so much time being thankful, playing down the trauma of divorce, playing down the tragedy of a broken home and unspoken sadness, that I never really got to learn from it.  I was encouraged to express my feelings, of course.  But I always somehow thought that expressing my feelings would make them go away, just as if one could pray to god for a jet-ski and expect one to arrive next day via FedEx.  If I expressed how I felt I could control the world around me, or so I thought.  As a kid, sometimes it really did work, but only because it freaked out the adults into submission.

“You’ll get more presents as Christmas!” they cooed.  “You’ll get to ride on an airplane all by yourself once a month!”  On and on, went the spin that was meant to mitigate my parents’ pain around the results of the custody battle.  I put on a good face as I grew up, listening in high school to stories of real tragedy like friends sexually assaulted, dying in car accidents, getting cancer.  Nothing horrible ever happened to me.  For that I was thankful.

And yet, by the time I applied to seminary, I was a mess.  Never had I taken the time to ponder just how awful life had been during the divorce and custody battle time and how profoundly it shaped me and even my call to ministry.  I give thanks for the insight that, as a little kid in the midst of divorce, I suffered.  Had I never been able to name it, I would continue thinking that feeling lousy was wrong and irresponsible as a fellow family member, even as a human being.

Now, let’s have it out.  I am a total optimist.  But I am not going to force it on anyone else or tell them to put “love” labels on their water or push the “secret” on them.  I am also an agnostic.  So even as I look forward to good things and believe that good is possible, I really don’t know for sure.  And many days I am a total skeptic.  When I hear the trials that people have put other people through…  When I hear specific stories about genocide in Guatemala that no longer allow it to be an abstraction, I am skeptical about our future.  But because I never really know for sure, I have made space amidst the yuckiest yuck of life for grace to shine through.  There is no telling.  And I am thankful for this not-knowing.  It places my life in a larger context.  I am thankful for my doubting mind, as it allows me to connect with all the cantankerous crusties out there who have been hurt just as I have. But I am also thankful for the callings of the spirit that keep opening me up to what is still possible in this glorious and failing life on earth.