These words of 2½-year-old Marian have kept me chuckling all week. She was scared to get her bangs cut. When her dad gently suggested that she could try being brave, she considered for a moment and then proclaimed that she’d be brave tomorrow.
Isn’t that what we all say, often?
The shame bugaboo
Sometimes we fear pain or the unknown. But often we shy away from exposing ourselves to judgment and ridicule. It’s the shame bugaboo. Most of us, after all, would choose to be queen of the ball while dressed up in our private room rather than naked in the village square.
I have spent years as a counselor working with clients to face the barriers of fear that tamp down or deny some vital truth of their being. This was especially true in South Africa. There my work was with the women at the Mapusha Weaving Cooperative, and the girls in the village of Rooiboklaagte.
These women had been silenced their entire lives because their social standing as black, rural women was low. It took courage to to come forth and speak up for themselves. I watched Anna Mduli stand tall with an HIV+ diagnosis. I saw Regina struggle to claim her own truth again and again. Recently she told me, “These days I say what is true no matter what or where.” I cheered, nothing could delight me more completely.
A story meant to inspire…
Yet I didn’t think nearly as much about my own exposure issues, even as I struggled to complete my memoir about the first 10 years in South Africa. My story was meant to inspire others to get out there, follow their passion and make a difference. It wasn’t until I published that I understood that this experience was morphing into something other than inspiration. When a friend read it and went silent I quickly realized, in the pit of my belly, there was much for me to learn here. When I finally pried a response from her, the criticism was, “It is all about you.” A bad thing.
For 50-some years, I had carried this shame about putting myself center stage. I was the second child, the not-good child, and when at eight years old my enjoyment of dancing and prancing about was decidedly frowned upon, I felt shamed. Quakers don’t make it about themselves, their bodies, their exuberance and neither should I. My mom was no help. I went underground and it wasn’t until this book came out that I had the opportunity to meet that shamed eight-year-old dancer once again. She must be reclaimed for there is something true and truly me within her aliveness.
The whole shebang of publishing-my-memoir brought me back to center stage. I have gotten somewhat used to it by now. When someone loves the book I’m happy and I’ve learned to bear the shivers of shame when they don’t. I envision these shakes as the cracklings of a dissolving wall.
Shame is a wonderful teacher!
I have been well reminded that shame is a wonderful teacher. The trick is to run towards it not away. When our willingness to be seen is more powerful than our fear of being diminished we discover whole new bastions of power, creativity, aliveness. We unearth and reclaim qualities and skills hidden long ago. We need them now.
Be brave today.