Wednesday Wisdom: Notre Dame de Paris

I watched with great sadness the videos of Notre Dame burning on Monday, and a part of me crumbled inside when the spire fell.

My first time visiting the cathedral, the sidewalks in Paris were icy and a stiff wind blew off the Seine, freezing my ears in the cold. I was twenty-two years old, in Paris for a month as part of a study abroad program in college. As a French major, I hoped to erase my Americanism and hadn’t brought clothes warm enough for the unusually cold weather: no knit cap, no winter coat.

I reinvented myself in France, peeling away the identifying elements of American tourists: white sneakers (not that I even had any), too much friendliness, loud talking, no French ability. I would not be the Ugly American.

Much of my adult identity catapulted from ten days of solo travel around France before the study program began. Forced to navigate the language, the culture, and the destinations by myself, I was obligated to interact and engage with strangers. I travelled with people I met in youth hostels. I ate meals alone. There was not much money to rely on, and I didn’t yet have a credit card. I budgeted my experiences with the precision of a surgeon, and grew stronger in the process.

I attended Mass at Notre Dame de Paris despite the fact that I was not Catholic. I didn’t understand the rituals. I didn’t understand the Priest, only the words, Notre père, qui est au ciel. Our father, who art in heaven.

I slipped on ice on my way there. A large dark spot on my tights showed where I had fallen. Stupid girl. Isn’t youth most prevalent when we try to be grown up? I fell a lot in college. Up the stairs. In front of crowds. On ice. In Paris.

Twenty-five years later, the falling spire, burning.

Crowds. Paris. Pain.

Loss is everywhere we turn. We lose identity. We lose grace. We lose family, friends, money, health, faith, trust.

Passion is the invisible repair. Passion to love despite the injury. Passion that dares difference. Passion to invite strangers into our world and commune with shared dignity. Passion to rebuild everything that has been lost and broken, and passion to witness an ending with belief in hope.

Wednesday Wisdom: Writing

This past weekend, I attended AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) in Portland. With 12,000 participants, it was its own city of writers, editors, and agents communed within the walls of the Oregon Convention Center. Long lines for coffee and food trailed into the passageways. People sat on the floor for the one-hour-and-fifteen-minute panels that dealt with every aspect of writing from censorship to the struggle of finding the story and the dreaded heartbeat of every writer: searching for the right word. One message repeated itself over and over. Writing is hard.

Although, technically it isn’t. The act of writing is simple. You put your hand to the keyboard or pen and release words across the page. Why is it so difficult, then? The constraints writers face make writing hard. Every time a writer puts her opinions and creativity into the world, she faces her fears of rejection, judgment, and shame. She tosses aside the current flow of pedestrian life and dares to counter the socialized manner of thinking. She is an outcast.

Why bother? Because it is a must. At an early age, something told her she would be a writer. She read a book that changed her life. Or she lived through something horrible that she wants to prevent from happening again and again and again to innocent girls. A writer seeks amelioration.

The page offers a voice. Humanity is brutal in its censorship of the world beyond the privileged status of white men. It squelches many voices, especially the wounded. It silences a girl from announcing her identity, her sexuality, her worth, by not only dismissing her opinions, but her cries to the abuser to just stop. Now.

We convened under one roof, these girls and women, boys and men, and everyone in-between who have experienced the trivializing and traumatizing impact of shame. We united in one force of commonality: the quest for resurrection.

Writing is hard because we fail to believe we deserve the right to own our ideas. It is hard because we believe our efforts are futile, that we have nothing of value to offer, that we are so small nobody will hear us anyway. This is what we’ve been told, and the story we have once told ourselves.

En masse, we were not small. 12,000 writers dared to believe in the power of story. We communed with an internal drive to create a narrative, sometimes fiction, sometimes true, of human conflict, rife with struggle and compassion, torture and resurgence, grief, and a hard-won lesson of perseverance.

Stories fight the internal whisper of worthlessness and shame. Well-known authors took to the stage to uplift and encourage, to reaffirm that the struggle of voice is real. The unspoken message echoed through the walls and beneath the footsteps that raced from room to room, validating the power of every pen in the building. Keep going, it said. We were there. We are here.

With you.

You have permission to voice your struggles and to author your own life. The story you were told is not the story you need to believe. It begins with a word, not on the page, but in the core of your heart. Love. Honor. Cherish. Choose one word. You are not alone.

Ritzville, Washington on the drive home from AWP.

Wednesday Wisdom: Validation

“What do you feel when you’ve been hit by a car?”

This question was posed to my Developmental Psychology class (years ago) by the professor, a short and stout man with salt and pepper hair and a white beard.

The class had various responses. “Pain.” “A thud.” “Pissed off.”

The professor said, “Anger, right? Your heart races and you want to beat the pulp out of whoever drove into you.”

He probed the class with more questions. “Why do you feel angry?”

Again, the class had answers ranging from ‘Because it’s expensive’ to ‘Because it’s not fair’.

“Yes, those are right, but also because it invades your space, right? You’re driving along, and WHAM! Someone who isn’t supposed to be there crashes into you. It betrays your sense of space. It betrays your sense of security. ”

We know anger, the brain’s response to threat. The heat turns up, our heart rate increases, voices grow louder or shakier, veins bulge. We sense that our security is at risk. As with a car wreck, we experience the same response when emotional events leave us feeling angry, shaken, and often times, distraught, but the betrayal is personal when we feel unworthy of a significant person’s consideration or empathy.

Lack of emotional validation, a component of emotional neglect, comes in many forms: stonewalling, trivializing, avoidance, and, table-turning, such as, “You’re too sensitive.” For behavior to be abusive, it repeats itself over and over, a pattern in daily life. Our security is stolen by words.

As far as the brain is concerned, emotional abuse has the same impact as physical abuse. Over time, it damages developing brains, destroys trust, corrodes self-esteem. Ego is at the core of every abuse, and between abuser and victim it is either empowered or denied, entitled or diminished. The danger of emotional neglect is its invisibility, allowing it to continue for years and years undetected, worsening the impact over time.

My life is made meaningful by bringing awareness to the invisible epidemic that shattered me. It was a series of car wrecks, small, but frequent, that went on for years before I was able to recognize its manifestation as a huge barrier on my self-worth and well-being. Over 10% of adults claim to have been emotionally abused as children, but this number only represents reported cases.* No child should ever feel insignificant, unworthy of love, or inferior in their own home. If you have been feeling alone and ashamed for years, told that your emotional ‘choices’ are wrong, or uncertain about who to trust, you aren’t alone.

The roadmap to how we perceive the world, emotions are the core of our identities, and everyone deserves emotional agency without shame or guilt. Emotions are never wrong, in fact, they are unique to our experience and guide us to the person we are meant to be. When we recognize behavior that removes us from the center of our experience and makes it about somebody else, we can begin to correct the contributions that perpetuate the unhealthy relationship. Invisible abuses thrive in complacency. There is redemption in the fact that compassion is free—emotional validation costs nothing to give.

When we enact on goodness, we mirror the good of the world. Each of us is allowed to be the driver of our life and it is never too early, or too late, to expect kindness. There is plenty of space to be yourself. It’s a good idea to ask, “Who validates me?”

*Statistic from Child Help. For more information, see