One of the bi-products of the pandemic has been for families to feel a greater desire to get together via web conferencing. It is such amazing technology to be able to sit in the comfort of our own home and visit with anyone anywhere in the world. And recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. A group of us decided to have a family gathering online.
Connecting with Others
We all dealt with the challenges of learning the technology to be in the same room at the same time. And once we were together, our personalities were brought to life through the fun of seeing each other, some for the first time in many, many years. We each went around the room telling a little about where we live and what we are doing. Our individuality shined as we described the ways our lives have unfolded. Some spoke about their children, some spoke about their political views, some spoke about their work, and no one spoke about their feelings. Instead, an extended period of time was spent sharing stories of illness and death due to the pandemic. People told stories about the very sad, sudden deaths of people they knew who were living with others who were not sick. One person shared a story of an animal adoption which included part of the story of the animal’s life.
As I listened, I was struck by how little emotion was shared.
The person who told the story about the animal adoption was the most startling of all. The story started out pleasant enough about their adult children’s family wanting a new dog when their beloved one passed away. The family went to look at a puppy and learned of a horrific story about the puppy’s mom.
While I listened with happiness for the family about their newest family member, my happiness turned to shock and instant grief as the storyteller chose to describe in great detail the story of the animal’s terrible abuse prior to its rescue. I never saw it coming because of her vocal tone, facial expression, or any of the usual non-verbal cues that were not present as the subject changed. It was as if she were telling a story of what she made for dinner.
Although the story ended in the animal’s survival, I was left undone. My stomach turned and I felt blindsided all at the same time. Part of me wanted to scream at the storyteller for bringing up gory details in what was supposed to be a pleasant family get-together. That same story would have been heart-warming for its happy ending without the heartbreaking details.
It took me several minutes to find the strength to leave the family meeting. I’m not sure if I was trying to protect myself or them because I wasn’t sure if I would cause irreparable damage to my relationships with them if I spoke out. I can’t presume to know what anyone else was thinking or feeling.
I just knew I couldn’t stay any longer.
I was haunted for days by the details of that animal story. Stories of animal abuse feel like kryptonite. I would have given anything to have those last five minutes of that family meeting back or to have had the intuitive sense to leave a little early. I couldn’t help but contemplate what goes through a person’s mind or heart to tell such stories of sudden deaths and animal cruelty in a family visit, and how they could do it without weeping. As much as I understood a global need to be desensitized to manage the reality of these stories, I was also deeply disappointed that our family gathering allowed so little room for a momentary reprieve.
What started out as a fun experience of seeing my family, and the joy of seeing those from so long ago, turned into an experience that, by the end, left me in a puddle on the floor. Part of me felt I would never attend another family meeting such as this ever again, but I knew there was no way to prevent or control anyone else’s behavior. And I certainly didn’t want anyone’s exile.
Crimes Against Man’s Spirit
As I continued to look for ways to soothe my soul, I was reminded of an expression I’d heard from a professor many years ago. He spoke of a concept I’d never heard before, and I never forgot. He talked about how unaware so many people are of the acts they commit against another man’s spirit. He used the word “crimes” against another man’s spirit.
Did anyone in that family meeting feel as if crimes had been committed against their spirit to bring them to that place of such casual storytelling? What happened to their spirit over the years as they learned to condition themselves? Was there any awareness at all of what was happening energetically within the group? If there was, did anyone consider keeping the topics on more pleasant subjects? And if so, why didn’t we?
I can only responsibly speak for myself, that as my energy tanked, I wanted to remove myself and protect my spirit until I could consider if or what I wanted to say or do about it. In the moment, I didn’t want to add to any harm, point fingers of blame for my discomfort or their insensitivity, or feel ashamed for not speaking my own truth. I needed time to consider the pleasure of seeing people in real-time on my computer screen that I love, some of whom I rarely see while being met with such difficult stories.
And I needed to consider if I’d somehow handle myself differently in the future. I saw generations of family values and conditions and circumstances repeating over and over while blending with ever-changing modern technology. There is no right or wrong implied in all of this, only an intention to figure out how to further embrace the complexities and dualities of our feelings as we evolve.