Sometimes I Even Bore Myself

I’m in awe of my friend Jennifer Lawler, who writes so movingly about raising Jessica. I wish I had half of Jennifer’s talent. But this morning in meditation I finally stopped picking at myself for spending the last few days snarled up in a writer’s block. I realized that I wasn’t wrestling with my skill or talent because my struggle is about something far different: It’s about silencing.

Last week I was present at events that go to the heart of my quest for goodness. These were momentous, life changing events. (I kid you not.) If we lived in a perfect world, I would have written about those events already. But I can’t. I don’t mean that I can’t because I’m unable, I mean I can’t because to do so would be to put another person at risk.

I can’t tell you where or with whom or what. I worry about even mentioning the state where these things happened. I can’t repeat what was said. I can’t report looks on people’s faces. I can’t show their gestures, report their tone of voice. I can only speak about hands in laps, fingers clenched and unclenched and clenched again. I can only mention the rigidity of a face and eyes locked forward.

My silence and the silence of others is required because these events revolve around an individual who is gay and an institution. Even at the end of the first decade of the 21st century to be gay and speak openly is to face life-altering consequences. Because of these consequences, I must slip on my own gag.

And isn’t that delightful for this institution? My silence, the individual’s silence, others silence. Not even a hint of the real story. Not a hint of the pain this institution caused because the one thing that is most forbidden is to reveal details of how institution ground individual into dust.

People can congratulate themselves that they’re doing good because they never have to look into the faces of the people they injure. These good souls — and I think they are good — don’t ever have to hear the stories of the  the people they hurt. I can’t even write about the complexities of the situation. I can’t speak about how goodness is being sought and sometimes found. Ain’t that grand?

This is a self-perpetuating engine of evil. That sounds a bit bombastic, doesn’t it? I don’t think so, but how can you know because to tell the story would be to risk an individual.

So yes, sometimes I even bore myself with what I post on this blog. Sometimes the lack of meaty substance is my failure and mine alone, but on days like today my mealy-mouthed wishy washiness comes from somewhere else. And that’s a tragedy.

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4 Responses to Sometimes I Even Bore Myself

  1. Well, I have to say I’m flattered at your praise, but hope you know how highly I regard your work!

    That said, it was interesting that just this morning a colleague e-mailed me, asking for help. She’s working on a book that she can’t write . . . because of fear.

    Last week, a colleague whose work has been very well received talked about how she might not be able to do more of it. . . because of fear.

    For at least one of these writers, there will almost certainly be reprisals if she does continue to speak.

    It breaks my heart when we cannot tell the truth because of the harm it will bring to the people we care about.

  2. Wow. What truth: “People can congratulate themselves that they’re doing good because they never have to look into the faces of the people they injure.”

    This goes to the heart of the need for this work in our daily life in this country. The fear issue is important — and it is heartrending to think of the people who cannot tell their story because making it public will make it worse — but it’s more than that. There are so many decisions where each of us does something that causes harm to another from behind the safe wall of our job or our organization. We don’t have to see the people hurt by decisions that affect their employment or education or air quality or opportunities in life.

    It’s way too easy to hide behind “just doing my job” in our society — for all of us.

  3. Linda Herzberg says:

    Institutions often hurt in the name of helping. When I worked in public child welfare I saw this many times, and was an unwitting and often both willing and unwilling (at the same time) participant. I remember having to find a home for a child that was on psychotrophic drugs and residential centers would interview her, knowing they would not accept her, which was like holding out a candy just a little too far. She was bounced from bed to bed until I could find her a placement. One place was a great looking facility. She wanted to stay there. They even offered her a tour after they told me they would not accept her. Why? She only wanted a place to stay. Eventually I found her a place at the far end of the state. The room was a suicide prevention room. Concrete block walls, wire mesh on the light and windows “for her protection”, a steel bed frame bolted to the wall with a mattress. She could have nothing of her own in “her room”. The reason for these accomodations? Her stepfather sexually abused her and the hospital thought she was hearing voices. In trying to help protect her, the system, and I, failed her. We put her in jail, instead of him.

  4. dianesilver says:

    Thanks to you all for your comments. And just to clarify: It might be more accurate to use the word “organization” than “institution.”

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