Yes and No
How many times have we heard this saying: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I’ve heard it a lot. I’m not sure I’ve been successful living by such an adage, as I have ignored a lot of first impressions that I shouldn’t have, but it rings in my head and I like to think that I mostly go by it at this point. It’s probably rattling around somewhere in your head too. Of course, it came from the great Dr. Maya Angelou and of course, we have enough sense to pay attention to what she said, especially when what she said makes so much sense, don’t we?
However, I do wonder — are any of us who we are right now?
Or have we all changed during the past, I think it is now 49 for most of us, weeks? It’s a weird sensation to say to yourself, “I am who I have always been, yet I am not. This experience has changed me. It has realigned my priorities, it has made me see my place in the world, in my community, and even in my home differently. It has made me evaluate how I live in a way that I never have before, and yes – it has even changed my relationships with others.”
That’s a lot.
Change, when it comes upon us quickly or even when it doesn’t, rocks the boat. And though it may be refreshing or even exhilarating to experience the list from side to side as we weather the altering storm, it still makes us sort of queasy, doesn’t it? It’s scary. It can leave us feeling uneasy about how, and even as who, we emerge.
I’ve had some exchanges over the past few weeks that left me a little hurt and scratching my head. I’m the first to admit that I am a sensitive person and do not eagerly receive criticism, nor am I particularly skilled at letting what feel like little slights roll off of me despite my constant attempts to let go of everything all of the time. That makes me not at all out of the ordinary — most of us are much more vulnerable to harshness than we like to admit and we hang on, hang on, and hang on some more. But could it be that we are now more sensitive than ever? Are we forgetting how to be around each other? How to talk to each other? How to socially conduct ourselves now that our lives take place so much more privately than they used to?
Consider this: though we may feel like we’re keeping up with each other and hanging onto our social skills just fine through our screens, it makes a difference when we really don’t have to wear pants or even smell nice while we’re doing our zooming and whatnot, doesn’t it? That has to have effects that leave us less self-aware, doesn’t it?
Remember a few weeks ago when I told you I’d named my inner voice — the unmerciful bitch who I call UMB for short — so that I could separate myself from her and maybe teach her some nicer language? Well, I have to wonder if everyone has become more acquainted with their inner voices during the past year. After all — sometimes they’re all we have to listen to. And then I have to wonder if those inner voices are seeping out and becoming sometimes audible because I have to tell you — mine, and I hope she’s staying internal, is loud as hell these days. She is awful, judgmental, and truthfully, kind of insane. You wouldn’t believe the mess she says and I’m terrified she’ll get out of my head and into the open. She’s unbelievably, knee-jerk negative and sometimes I feel like I have to enfold her in some kind of Greco-Roman wrestling twist/hold/whoopjenny just to get her to shut up for two minutes so I can continue to try to learn how to practice radical acceptance and love and have real peace in my life. She doesn’t care about my lofty spiritual goals. And something tells me that now that she knows she’s been called out, now that she’s been named for what she is, she has increased her volume, velocity, and viciousness. She wants to stay right where she is and doesn’t want to change. I digress. Time will tell to what dark inner sanctum of myself UMB will ultimately be relegated, but this is all to say that I don’t think I’m alone in my battle with an interior demon that might not be as interior as I hope it is.
We’re all stressed. Some of us are more stressed than we’ve ever been. Some of us have experienced so much loss during this pandemic that we feel hollowed-out. Our shells may still be there, seemingly intact, but wow — has there ever been significant damage to the inside. It brings me to tears when I think about it. And it isn’t about stuff, it’s about who we are. So many of the things that defined us before we fell into this crazy crevice of time are gone. Just gone. And whether we’re mourning the loss of a loved one, the loss of a career or purpose that defined us, the loss of being physically close with those we love, or just lamenting that fact that we like to entertain and simply can’t, doesn’t matter. We have been forced to change. It’s sort of like when there’s an unexpected death — when it happens you spring into action, taking care of all the details etc. etc. and you don’t even notice until later what the fallout of losing that person really is. It takes some time to get there.
So where are we now? Some of us, like me, are waiting on vaccines, hoping that when enough of us are somewhat protected, we can start to piece together a new way of life that might somewhat resemble the old one but is also somehow kinder, smarter, slower, and better for everyone. But who knows when the pieces might start to move toward each other again? I think we’ve lost some of them, so the puzzle will never look like it did before. I have to think the same is true for people. And because we don’t really know what that’s gonna be like, we’re scared. When we’re scared, we get primitive really quickly. Cue inner voices. They help us survive.
I remember my therapist telling me “Remember you aren’t back there anymore. Try to remember that the things that kept you safe then, though very useful in keeping you alive through all of that, are not needed now. You can let them go.”
UMB has helped me survive a lot of things. She has even helped me thrive in some ways, acting like an abusive athletic coach would — always pushing, goading, and taunting me toward some finish line. When I get primitive — i.e. scared — she ramps up the chatter. I think I need her to make sure I don’t die, because without her I’d never do anything right. That’s what yours tells you, right?
This morning, I thought about my nagging, lingering hurt feelings over a few things that now seem stupid while I sipped my first cup of coffee. As I tried to figure it out, then thought of what Dr. Angelou said and wondered if maybe I’d been wrong about those I’d had these situations with because I hadn’t previously thought they were feelings-hurters, I made myself stop and ask myself if I am who I was a year ago . The answer to the question is yes and no. And then I did my best to shut UMB up again and extend myself some grace and kindness because damn, we’ve all been through, and continue to go through a shattering time, so of course the answer is yes and no. That was the reminder that I needed. I then thought that the best thing I can do with my hurt feelings is try to meet everyone with the same grace and kindness I’d extended to myself because the answer for them is likely yes and no too.
That leaves me with only this: I need to be kinder than I’ve ever been, to be more thoughtful than I ever dreamed, I need to take a longer pause before I judge, and above all I need to forgive constantly. Even and especially those perceived slights. None of us are perfect, especially not these days, and what we’re showing of ourselves might be at least a bit inconsistent with who we used to be.
Phew. We will see this through. Hang in there, y’all.
Sending love everywhere.