So here’s how last week went down for me.
It actually all began almost two weeks ago when I was sitting in an airport about a 12-hour plane ride away from home. The final presidential debate wasn’t on TV anywhere, so I livestreamed it on my phone.
Why do I do this to myself?
Nothing I heard surprised me, which was probably true for most any American who is halfway paying attention these days. But then Donald Trump started talking about late-term abortion. Not for the purpose of articulating an alternate policy position, of course, but for the purpose of scaring a lot of well-meaning pro-life Americans into holding their noses and voting for him.
His words, however, landed on my ears and my heart in ways that hurt. Not the “I don’t agree with you and that makes me mad” kind of hurt, but more the “you just totally cheapened and misrepresented some of the deepest pain of my life” kind of hurt. So last week I wrote a reflection on the experience of listening to Donald Trump’s hurtful, reckless rhetoric as it applied to the matter of late-term abortion. I sent it to a colleague to ask if I should put it on my blog. And after a conversation with her about some hard things, I was convinced that maybe others could benefit from reading my thoughts. And we decided to see if anyone might be willing to post it somewhere other than my blog.
What ended up happening was that a lot of people read it. And when a significant chapter of your gynecological history is the discussion over breakfast tables across America, you learn some things about people. Here are a few things I learned last week:
The first thing I learned, pretty quickly, is that there are many sick, vile, terrible people in the world. Really, really bad. These people feel it’s not only acceptable but also their obligation to reach out to tell you you’re a horrible person and call you a lot of names you would never allow your child to use on the playground. While a small number of these people clearly feel they are on a holy mission and actually identify themselves, the vast majority spew vitriol anonymously. The words of Internet trolls and self-righteous bullies didn’t hurt me, though; I don’t know why anyone would give their opinions credence anyway. But I was taken aback by the sheer volume of evil. And I was reminded again that reducing the fight for the soul of America to a disagreement of political philosophies is naive and foolish.
But I also was reminded of what I already know: that there are many kind, generous, loving, compassionate people in the world. So, so kind. The sheer volume of their tweets, Facebook posts, email messages, flowers, texts, calls left me a bit overwhelmed last week. Even some with philosophical disagreements reached out in kindness, as grief is a shared human experience. I was stopped in the hallways at church repeatedly; hugged fiercely at the most unexpected moments; and tended to with more kindness than I deserve. While I did not write the essay for the purpose of receiving so much of this good human expression, I feel grateful for every extension of love and care that I was honored to receive.
But here’s the most important thing I learned last week: we do not tell our truths often enough. So many people shared their own stories of pain with me this past week and their stories felt to me like a tidal wave of unspoken heartbreak:
“I thought I would be kicked out of my church and cut off from my family if I told.”
“I’ve never told anyone, but I had a child who died.”
“I had to make a similar decision but I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.”
“I have felt ashamed for more than 30 years.”
These are the experiences of so many women, and men, too, all over America. They are good, faithful people, the people we sit next to in church every Sunday. And the pain they carry is buried deep and hidden from view. Those words of Donald Trump — and a lot of his other words — have touched unspoken pain for so many people. But so many of us are scared to tell the truth about who we are.
My story is not unique. Many of you share it. And if we want to learn to love each other better, to live in healthy communities that support us when we’re struggling, to build a country in which flourishing is a reality for every person, then we have to start by telling our truths. It will only be when we reject façade and start to get real about who we are that the bullies will be silenced by courage, and it will no longer be fear that narrates our common life.