I joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1989†. The parish where I was baptized was known at the time for two things: the starkness and modernity of its architecture and the dramatic dysfunction* of its community leadership. It was home to me in many ways, and I am grateful to this day for the gifts I received there. I realize now that I like the clear openness of my current church partly because it reminds me of that first home. But I also was and remain damaged by some of the things that happened there. It’s a place that’s much easier for me to contemplate after moving away, when I no longer have to choose whether or not to go back.
This is familiar‡ territory for many people here.
So a few days ago, I stumbled on a Twitter/Tumblr discussion of a particularly “ugly” chapel. It was the usual easy internet snark, with cutesy nicknames, uncharitable assumptions without evidence, concern trolling and hand-wringing, contempt and judgment. And the picture at the top of the Tumblr post was my baptismal church.
I was irritated. I answered some of the posts, got some apologies, maybe made a few people think a little. But under that simple irritation was a much more complex net of emotions, one I’m still tangled up in.
On the one hand, all of the criticism was superficial stuff: the easy and unkind things that people write when they forget the humanity of the rest of the web. But even that was hard to answer as I remembered the deeper flaws, the ones the critics didn’t know about. It was all too tempting to move from defense to defensiveness, to proclaim or pretend that all had been well in that cool and airy chapel. To tell myself those outsiders hadn’t proven themselves wise or nuanced enough to deal with the whole story. To cover up. To lie.
And in this case, some of those temptations are true. Some of those impulses were right. Outsiders are rarely able to understand the context, the complexity, of dysfunction; casual internet outsiders doubly so. The events I remember are long ago, and the culture and people have changed several times since then. Walking away and staying away was the right decision. I don’t need to try to undo it now.
There are members of our community here who have taken that path, the simple one of cut ties, silence, unanswered calls, unopened letters. And they witness that simple does not mean easy. It’s a hard path, because so few of these situations are free of good things or the hope of good things to come. It takes courage and firmness to stay away, to remain uninvolved.
Meanwhile, there are others who have gone the other way, who have left the Gordian knot uncut and figured out how to drive the cart despite it, who maintain relationships with the family that hurt them. That takes another kind of courage, a different form of firmness.
Today is the 21st of September, Dysfunctional Families Day, the seventh we’ve observed here on Making Light. I admire and honor you, the people in this community, for the work that you have done to help yourselves and each other along your chosen, necessary paths. I value beyond measure the truths that you have told here. And I love you, the way one loves the family one looks upon with an unshadowed heart.
† for reasons that are off-topic here
* NB: everyone involved was an adult. No crimes were committed. This isn’t the dysfunction you’re thinking of.
‡ pun very much intended
This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.
Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):