Friday, April 14, 2017

Ping Pong Balls

“Tell them you had a bad dream,” he said when I began to cry.  But I was taught never to tell lies.  So I told the truth. She picked me up and laughed. “There’s something funny outside,” she said, distracting me from my tears but only enough that I knew what she was doing. I was four.

“How could you tell anyone about this?!” she yelled at me. “What will people say?” So I stopped crying. I stopped telling. I stopped trusting. Anyone. And I learned to protect myself from people who fear honesty. Once taught to tell the truth, now I was told to keep quiet. I was twelve.

“Welcome back,” he said. I thought I’d feel happy, but anxiety came instead. Why didn’t I trust him? What was I afraid of? Random memories bobbed up like too many ping pong balls in a pool of water. I was only beginning to discover how tiring it is to keep them all submerged at the same time. I was twenty-seven.

I told her about being twelve and twenty-seven . . . and four. She listened quietly, respectful but without comment. I felt foolish for telling my story. For not having dealt with it all by now. My words hung in the air expectantly until they floated away, unseen. Maybe I should have kept them inside. What did I know? I was only thirty-five.

“You must forgive others for your own sake,” she said when I was forty, “so it doesn’t poison you.” I heard her say that remembering is a sin. Remembering means you haven’t forgiven. Forgiveness is required after all that Christ has done for me. I got the message. So, let’s say I was in a car accident that was someone else’s fault and I was left paralyzed. Forever. Clearly I’d never forgiven the other driver. Because if I had, I’d be able to walk again.

“It doesn’t do any good to dig up the past,” he told his son. That’s not what the doctor told me when she discovered cancer. She cut into the sickness, took it out, and saved my life. The cancer had been there for a while, but no one recognized it. No one went searching for it. Not until she did. Then I became whole again. I was fifty-five.

All these years I have believed that my feelings didn’t matter. That my instincts were wrong. I was told that I judged people unfairly and refused to forgive. They loved me, each of them, and I tried to tell them how I felt. But words failed me. Perhaps I was just speaking Italian and they weren’t bilingual.

But my feelings do matter. I can see truth because Truth lives inside me and hasn’t left me once in all of my life. I desperately needed validation. I finally found it in a few friends and a counselor. But many others were too busy trying to keep their own ping pong balls submerged.

“You will know the Truth,” He said, “and the Truth will set you free.” Isn’t it interesting He didn’t say forgiveness will set you free? That reconciling will set you free? That keeping secrets will set you free?

All along I believed this truth—that being honest is the bottom line and staying away from abusive people is as important as avoiding someone with a contagious disease. Maybe feelings are a God-given radar system to alert us when we’re in danger. And maybe choices have consequences, even if the choosers are Christians.

Now I see it’s a gift, rather than a weakness, to have a functioning intuition. To be a person who has learned to tell the truth and draw healthy boundaries instead of enabling damaged people to count me among their assortment of collateral damage.

Or maybe I’m wrong. What do I know? 

I’m not quite sixty.

With appreciation to Beth Cortez-Neavel for the use of the photograph above. The original photo can be viewed at