I have friends on Facebook (and Twitter and Pinterest and elsewhere in the global social media village) who have dropped their last name or have created a whole new name altogether to maintain (I assume) some kind of anonymity. Or maybe it’s more about creating a distance between the worlds that comprise our lives. I get that if you are looking for a job, you don’t want your potential employer to see your bachelor party photos. Or if you’ve found a new someone special, you might not want them seeing all the photos you’ve kept of your former someone special. Or maybe you live a secret double life and no one really knows that your name is just a cover. It could just be that you prefer the image of your life that Facebook allows you to create without binding you too tightly to actual reality.
I might not be one of the alternate-namers but I do alter my story in other ways. I’m careful about what I say and how I say it. I think about who might read it and how they might construe what I’m saying. And recently that’s begun to bother me. I happen to have been brought up in a very religious, conservative community. We were one of those families that read the Bible every supper, attended church every Sunday (at least once, often twice), and I attended private Christian schools my entire childhood. I could recite huge chunks of the Heidelberg Catechism and was rarely stumped in Bible trivia games. Reaching adulthood, meeting Greg and entering into a new world of academia and urban (real urban!) life shifted my life in such profound ways that I often have trouble reconciling the past with the present. My life exploded with new ideas and really hard-to-face challenges. I questioned and held up to the light so much of what I had assumed to be true as a child. And these shifts showed up in my life with a whole new set of isms – activism, feminism, socialism, environmentalism, and others. The transition was far from smooth or steady. It seemed to rush in on me like cave walls in an Indiana Jones movie, making me feel suffocated and terrified at times. I battled to realize that every single thing I had assumed needed to be unassumed and worked through again. At first I thought that meant I would always end up in a new place, with new beliefs, and new frames of reference. But much to my surprise (and sometimes chagrin) that hasn’t always been the case. Sometimes I end up at exactly where I was when this process began. The truth is, I suppose, that it didn’t just start when I turned 21 – it’s a process that had as its beginning my birth and will have as its end my death. I still fight this battle. I still question. I still shift. And, it’s true, there are still places I have yet to dislodge and face.
Under my feet though is appearing a bridge. A bridge that I’m just in one small part responsible for building. I stand here with others. Women who have had to ask really hard questions and face answers they didn’t want to hear. Women who have felt something deep inside them that didn’t always jive with what was going down in their head. Women who have lived through hypocrisy and misogyny and the destruction of persons but have at least once seen these met with truth, justice, and compassion. Women who have judged and been judged and now wonder how to shrug this mantle once and for all of all that loads them down .
It’s not always a comfortable place to be, this bridge, because it hovers between worlds. The lack of dialogue, of understanding, and of basic recognition to some extent can make the bridge feel shaky and uncertain. When I try to explain one world to the other world, it is invariably seen as other-worldly and incomprehensible. Yet I know that these are the two worlds that hold up my bridge. Many, many of the friends I made as a child within a firm faith community are still those I hold deepest and tightest to my heart. I think that one of the reasons I’ve maintained close friendships with my childhood friends is that they get it. They get that world of our childhood that those living outside just cannot understand. Yet my day-to-day life is largely filled with friends, colleagues, fellow scholars in this second, newer world. This place where tectonic plates moved and huge shifts transpired. It is in that world where I have been forced to question what it really means to love, what it really means to see fellow humans as equal, what it really means to stand for truth and justice.
But back to Facebook. I double check. Every time I post something, I double check. Because my Facebook world is in fact its own version of a bridge, I find myself double-checking. How will people react to a feminist rant? How will people interpret my reference to God? How will I be judged if I say I’m pro-choice but also that abortion makes me sadder than almost any other issue in the world? How will people interpret my fight against Prop 8 or the Harper government’s ridiculous dismissal of the long gun registry? How would people react if I posted a song about blessings coming in the midst of tears?
I know that a huge part of this is just about learning to feel comfortable in my own skin. But like a wedding or funeral, Facebook is a chance for anyone who has touched your life to witness the same moment at the same time. I could avoid Facebook. I could hermit myself away in the world of real books and dusty library corners. Believe me, that has enormous appeal. But instead I choose to engage. I choose to involve myself in social media because it does keep me connected to people, to new ideas, to friendships. Why then the concern with being judged? Do I surround myself with judgmental people? Do I really think those who are my dearest friends don’t already know this about me? That they don’t already roll their eyes when I start in on Harper? That they still love me and accept me even though I live life out on a bridge?
Five years ago I couldn’t have written these words because this very idea terrified me. I thought it had to be one world or the other. Without me realizing it, a peace has settled where frantic questioning used to terrorize me. And I know I’m going to be okay here out on the bridge. Now I’ve made the decision to try to raise my kids on this bridge. I will take them to church and teach them the stories of my faith, albeit in a very different way than I was taught these things. I will also read Simone de Beauvoir to them and challenge them to understand the construction of gender, of nation, of race, of “normal”, and of success. Fortunately, there are others who walk along beside me, both today and in the past. I have hope that this bridge will one day be a rightful world of its own.