Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Shame...

Just a quick preamble to say, "Yes, it's been a hell of a ride on the delayed grief train. I do hope to be reaching the end of the line soon. Perhaps I'll even blog about it someday." And now, on to more interesting matters...

Every once in a while, I stumble across some slip of paper, a picture, a piece of music - you get the idea - and I remember what life used to be like. For the most part, these memories are good ones. A receipt from the Water Grill reminds me of our anniversary dinner just 12 days before Iain was born. An article in the newspaper references the Mission Inn where Dalton's 20th class reunion was held and he reconnected with old friends. A visit to Shun Fat supermarket in Monterey Park with Debby and Iain launches me into stories about Dalton's obsession with Asian culture. Tonight, though, I stumbled onto Dalton's electronic prayer journal, and for the most part, the emotion it wrenched out of me was deep, desperate sadness and fear.

I know there are some of you that probably think I'm terrible for reading Dalton's prayer journal. But, we do it all the time with people who've been dead for centuries. No one seems to feel too badly about reading Martin Luther's works or Augustine's or about selling scraps of Picasso's drawings scribbled on a notepad in a hotel room (I might be mixing up my artists here). But, many of us actually knew Dalton, and the thought of knowing his struggles feels intrusive, disrespectful, and damaging to his legacy.

So, I won't be publishing it.

But I will be writing about it. Because, it's not the detail that's important, it's the theme that is so compelling.

Why is it that some people struggle with a deep, consuming, self-loathing sort of shame? Dalton's writings (and those of many other great artists, thinkers, philosophers, and theologians) are full of anguish. He is utterly deperately remorseful for the things he has thought, done, and said. Perhaps this was a plus theologically? It does mean that he had a great appreciation of his need for forgiveness. He was able to recognize his lack of agency in affecting any change within himself apart from God. However, I can't help but wonder how different are our two experiences of shame.

I've never known that type of shame. I've experienced deep regret over things I've done. I've felt guilty, been remorseful, cried over my lack of self control and repeated failures. I've hidden myself for a time from those who love me. But, something inside has always assured me that the discomfort of being honest about who I was/am with even just one other person would never come close tot he isolation I would endure if I kept it to myself.

Why do some people continue to live in isolation, with their struggles hidden?

Is it genetic? Environmental? Spiritual? Is it something to be sought or resisted? What should we strive for in our relationships with shame, honesty, isolation, and forgiveness? What should we teach our kids to aspire to and how should we help them get there?

Reading Dalton's prayer journal did not reveal anything to me that I didn't already know. But, it did remind me of the courage and strength he must have had to walk through every day carrying such a heavy burden of the soul. He used to say that when he took Communion, he would experience for a moment, a complete sense of cleanliness and worth. The fact that he now has an everlasting sense of cleanliness and worth is a gift I am immensely grateful for.