Do you ever wake up with a heavy heart? When nothing in your immediate world has changed yet you feel a weighted blanket lies over you when your eyes open in the morning? That your shoulders and arms and that space between your eyebrows is tight and you know you have your own life to live, with a job or children to care for and tasks to finish? And you feel God pulling on your heart as you groan prayers for which you do not even have words?
And you want to say, It Doesn’t Happen To Me. You want to move on. But you can’t.
You know it’s not your job to fix anything. You know you offer no real solutions. But you also know you were made a certain way—curious, capable, willing to ask questions and talk and read and step into figurative shoes through those questions, conversations, and literature. And you stay long enough to get a taste of what it feels like when It Does Happen to someone else.
And that’s when your heart starts getting heavy in the mornings. Because although It Doesn’t Happen to Me, I’m learning it’s no excuse.
Maybe a year ago, after reading an article, a friend of mine shared her opinion in the online comments section of the large publications’ site. Within the hour, her comment had hundreds of replies. Some were in agreement. Many were not. Claws came out. You wouldn’t believe how many attacked her personally for simply sharing her thoughts and experience with the subject.
I sat at her kitchen table while we read some of the replies. Laughable. People write the craziest, most shoot-from-the-hip, rude and mean words online. (Something about a lack of accountability, not looking people in the face, and anonymity maybe?) They weren’t just disagreeing with her. They were calling her names. Dragging her children, her life, her choices into their comments.
She was visibly upset. To me, the comments were hardly personal yet she was taking them so personally. I’m normally pretty empathetic, but I didn’t understand her emotions. And because It Doesn’t Happen to Me, I couldn’t help but think, “well, if you put yourself out there…”
But what does that mean? What is the rest of that sentence? I’m not exactly sure how I wanted to finish it. With “…this is what happens.” Or “…you shouldn’t be surprised or upset or sensitive when people you don’t know disagree with you.” Or, in it’s simplest and most crass form, “…this is what you get.”
Here is my fear: That when we don’t understand, Because It Doesn’t Happen to Me, we are too quick to point to a reason we see and justify the outcome with this is what happens. This is what you get.
Months after this incident, I had an essay get to a very large audience. And with it, came the comments. But Because It Doesn’t (or Didn’t) Happen to Me before, I didn’t realize how bad I would feel, on a personal level, from the harsh comments of perfect strangers.
Although the wide circulation validated the essay struck a positive chord, it didn’t take long for the criticism to find me. The entire point of what I wrote criticised. I was criticised. Called names. Given labels. Then they started in on my husband. And then my children.
I was wounded. Squeezed. Raw. Vulnerable. Two spots under each of my clavicles hurt from a tenderness drawn with each breath. They don’t understand. Don’t they realize…?
Realize what? That I’m a real person? That I have an opinion? That if they don’t like it, they can (and should) just move along? And why (ohmygoodnessWHY) do they have to be so mean?
I’ve been writing for a little over a year now and I’ve had comments and messages telling me what I write is a TOTAL WASTE (italics and caps not added), that I’m “a spiteful nasty bastard,” that my husband needs to carry his weight, that my kids don’t have enough responsibility. And to “be careful” with how I use my words, which seems benign enough, except it almost felt like a thinly veiled threat.
Something changes when you experience negativity, unfairness, unjust accusations, or are lumped into a pile of preconceived notions and judged.
And now that it Does Happen to Me, I couldn’t help but think back to a small faint voice I had in my head for my friend, “well, if you put yourself out there…”
Is this is how we make excuses, justify, pacify our need for cause and effect with what’s happening in the world?
If you dress that way…
If you act or speak or walk like that…
If you live there…
If you love like that…
If you’ve been in trouble before…
If you associate with them…
If you wear those clothes…
If you carry a gun…
If you do drugs…
If you Believe in that…
My life, despite personal hardships, it’s quite a nice life, which is to say, I have the privilege of a quiet life. An unconcerned life. Despite a handful of occasions and situations when being a woman made me feel inferior, scared, extra cautious, never once have I been concerned for my safety based on the color of my skin or the person I love or the religion I practice.
I don’t have the answers. Or a solution. But I am asking all of us—especially the educated heterosexual white Christians like myself— to consider how often we stand with one hand on a hip and use the other to wave a judgmental finger at anyone who has a life we’ve never had to try to live; to consider how Because It Doesn’t Happen To Me does not give us a right to draw a barrier separating us from the hurt of what’s going on in the lives of those different, but equally valuable, from our own.
There is a lot to sift through in this world. But there is simply too much going on not to care.
This post originally appeared at Spilling Over.