It’s Time to Tell the Truth (My Letter to You)
And don’t forget … in this forgiveness system, we get forever tries. We never run out of tries. – Glennon Melton
It wasn’t so long ago that I was a terrible liar. Terrible as in frequent, and terrible as in, well, terrible.
You already know this, and you love me anyway (miracle), but I need to say it anyway. As far as I can tell, the only way to deal with the lies of the past is to tell the truth in the present.
Please understand I didn’t lie to impress you; I wasn’t aiming that high. Instead, my lies were fueled by a desire to never, ever be embarrassed or ashamed in your presence.
Shame was death, something to be avoided at all costs.
When we were younger, I didn’t trust our friendship enough to feel foolish in front of you. When I made comparisons, I came up short. You seemed to have it all together; you knew how to talk to boys, wear cute outfits, and serve a volleyball overhanded. (At the time, this was everything I wanted in life.)
So I couldn’t understand; why would you want to be friends with me?
After years of hiding my nose in books and walking around in dresses modeled after Laura Ingalls Wilder, I was a little – how shall I say it? – insecure.
I was afraid, so I hid. These are said to be Adam’s words in the Garden of Eden, and they might as well have been my mantra at the time.
Case in point: one Sunday at church, when you asked about a bandage on my leg, I lied to you. I couldn’t tell you that I’d cut myself shaving, so I told you I ‘fell.’
Why I didn’t I tell you the truth? At the time, I thought that real women didn’t make silly shaving mistakes. I had this image of femininity straight out of a Gillette commercial; I thought that most women glided through life with nary a nick.
The lie backfired. After church, my unsuspecting mother came up to our small group of friends and asked me, “How’s your leg, honey? Those shaving cuts are the worst.”
Busted. Total humiliation.
I wished for a tsunami, an earthquake, anything … but no, the earth did not swallow me up. Instead I stood there, looking at my shoes, afraid to meet your eyes.
To your everlasting credit, you did not give up on our friendship. “Cari, why didn’t you just tell me?” you asked.
It was a perfectly reasonable question, but shame was choking me and I could barely form an answer.
A few years later, we shared a bunk at summer camp. One night, I couldn’t sleep; the pain from my first heartbreak was too much to bear alone. You climbed down and sat with me in the darkness. After a while, I said, Thanks for being here. I’m okay now.
It wasn’t entirely true. I hoped maybe you’d be fooled and go back to bed and let me weep alone. By that point, I’d have told you about a shaving snafu, but I wasn’t so sure about letting you see my unfettered grief.
Fortunately, you made the decision for me; best friends are allowed to do that in emergency situations. With great kindness and wisdom, you told me, I’m not leaving until you cry.
In other words, I’m not leaving until you stop lying about how you really feel. I’m not leaving until you let me be here for you, until your tears tell me the truth.
And, eventually, they did.
That moment of vulnerability was a turning point; I can still see its ripple effects. After that night, I found the strength to let you and other trusted friends see things – like my brother Willie’s severe behavioral difficulties – that I was tempted to keep hidden.
I began writing about my brother’s meltdowns, telling the stories I’d been too afraid to tell. I wrote about how alone and angry and afraid I felt, and how much I still loved the brother I thought I’d lost.
In the process, I started to believe, really believe, that being flawless wasn’t a prerequisite for being loved.
And that belief led me to L’Arche. (French for “The Ark,” L’Arche is an international non-profit that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together.)
There, I spent five years living with some of the most remarkable people in the world … people that we, in our ignorance, have labeled ‘less than’ simply because their bodies and minds are different in some measurable way.
At L’Arche, I figured out why words like ‘humility’ and ‘humiliation’ have the same root word as ‘human’ … ‘hummus,’ from the earth.
Once, when one of my housemates was asked, “What does it mean to be human?” he replied, “To be humble.”(Keep in mind; this is a man who never went to college or seminary, a man who needs assistance to take a shower.)
“And what does it mean to be humble?” the questioner asked.
“I don’t know,” my housemate replied. “But I think it helps … not to be afraid of your faults.”
As it turns out, the shame and humiliation I was so scared of weren’t malicious after all. They were just trying to teach me about what it means to be human.
You called me yesterday afternoon. It took courage to pick up the phone. You were at the end of your rope; I could hear it in your voice. I couldn’t see you, but I imagined you on the ground, arms wrapped around your legs.
What’s going on? I asked. Tell me.
And you did. I sat down in the middle of the lingerie department of JC Penney with a pile of ill-advised underwear in my hand and listened with everything I had.
You shared the anxiety and fear that came hand-in-hand with some intense difficulties you’ve been facing. Then, through tears, you told me you felt like a failure.
That’s where I had to take a deep breath and tell you the truth.
You are strong. You are brave. You will get through this.
You are the farthest thing in the world from a failure.
You, my friend, have replaced that Gillette ad when I picture what a real woman looks like.
When I look at you, I see a beloved friend doing the absolute best she can in the face of this crazy thing called life. I see hard decisions, yes, but I also see someone capable of making them.
I see the grown-up wife and mom and business owner you are now, but I also see the girl who got someone else’s lit cigarette caught in her sandal in Spain … and still kept walking for the rest of our backpacking adventure.
I see the person who has kept vigil with me through some very dark nights. I see the friend who has dared me, time and again, to be brave, to be kind, and to be true.
What I mean to say is: I see you.
And I’m not leaving until you do, too.