I grew up in a “Leave it to Beaver” type of neighborhood. Every morning all the PTA moms would get together and go walking and gossiping. Their blonde hair bounced right along with their perky plastic chests. The dads all waked out the door, briefcase in hand, promptly at eight in the morning for a busy day of work. God was the center of every home and everyone made sure you knew it.
Looking back I can recall a few tragedies that happened in that neighborhood. Whether it was the death of a grandparent or a sick baby, the neighbors showed their love and support. Casseroles were marched to the home of the victims and flowers were sent. Prayer groups were formed and babysitters were arranged. This would definitely be the neighborhood to live in during a natural disaster. I’m quite certain the food storage from that neighborhood alone could end world hunger.
One particular tragedy sticks out in my mind more than the others. It was the beginning of fall and the sun was barely setting over the mountains. The air was warm with a refreshing, gentle breeze that rustled the falling leaves. Sirens shattered the silence of the peaceful afternoon. First a fire truck – shortly after, an ambulance – then a cop car – and another – and another.
By this point a symphony of sirens pierced the air. Every righteous neighbor stood outside, concerned and fearful. A father and well-known business man in the neighborhood had suffered from a heart attack. As the news rapidly spread down the street the neighbors rushed to provide help. Food came pouring out of each household. The women of the neighborhood held the man’s crying children. This neighbourhood was prepared for disaster and they performed admirably. I learned a few years later that not all tragedies warranted the help of our neighbors.
Growing up my home life was tumultuous. From the outside things looked fairly normal but inside the evidence of a broken home oozed from the walls. To say things were messy is a gross understatement. The stench of rotting food and mold skulked into every room. When a pile of junk rumbled we were never sure if it was the pet dog or a pesky rodent. The echoes of screaming parents were the sounds I soothed myself to sleep with. Prescription pills could be found strewn all over the floor of the bathroom and my parent’s bedroom. My siblings and I had our favorite hiding spots for when things got dangerous and the anger turned to us.
Every morning at eight my dad creeped out of that house, briefcase in hand, his shirt freshly pressed and hair coiffed to perfection. Our grass was green and well-kept. A seasonal wreath always hung joyfully on the door. Yes, from the outside we fit in with our picturesque neighborhood. In fact, we had received our fair share of casseroles and flowers when my mom went into labor with my sister.
The casseroles did not always come.
As the years went on, our broken home started to ooze out the front door. It became clearer to our neighbors that we were anything but normal. The cops became frequent visitors to our home. Their sirens blaring. But the neighbors never rallied together to help.
I would sit on the grass listening to the police interrogate my parents. Tapping my jelly sandals together I’d look at each of my neighbor’s homes. Blinds ruffled as they peeked through their windows, children were rushed inside to avoid the scene, and the truly brazen neighbors stood on the sidewalk staring. No food was rushed through the doors, no prayer groups were organized, and certainly no flowers were sent.
This tragedy did not warrant the help of my neighbors. But why? The tragedy my family was facing was shameful. It was the type of tragedy that you fear and avoid association with. Abuse. Addiction. Debt. Divorce. We brought that tragedy on ourselves. Pathetic. That is how shame works. It isolates us and separates us from everyone else. It makes us believe that we are the only ones. For most of my life I believed that the events of my childhood made me less valuable than others, less deserving of a casserole.
Fear often holds us back from helping people trapped in shame. Acting shocked and appalled by a person’s struggles and inadequacies is much less painful than admitting that we can relate and feel it too. It’s tempting to remain superior rather than vulnerable. If we allow those people to remain isolated in their shame we can feel temporarily better than them. Here’s the catch – pain demands to be felt. Pain can either be shared and expressed or it can haunt us in private. When we share in each other’s pain it becomes less potent and less scary. When we bury it inside it grows like a beast waiting to break free and destroy us. The greatest tool I have found for healing is to share, share my shame. Sharing my pain releases the vice grip it has on my self-esteem. I have worth despite my history and despite my short comings. I am worthy of a casserole and so are you. The pain you feel is not wrong or shameful and you are not alone in it. You are NOT alone.
Tune in next week for – Surviving Shark Week (Once a month the danger arrives, will you survive?)