Monday, May 29, 2017

Not My Father's Child

"Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

Those are the words every parent fears hearing when their phone rings in the middle of the night and startles them awake from their deep and theretofore peaceful sleep. My dad used to say that no phone call after midnight when you have teenage or young adult children is ever a good phone call. I would agree with my dad's statement for the most part, I suppose, with the exception being when you're the mother of a particular young filmmaker who has quite the track record for having some of his most brilliant ideas during the hours when other folks (like his dear old mom) are sound asleep. Such was the case a couple or so years ago when the ring of my phone jolted me from slumber and I answered to hear my movie-making son say, "Mom, wake up! Get out of bed and wake up and listen to me. I need to talk to you right now!"

I had no way of knowing that night as I sleepily tried my best to focus as my middle kiddo rattled off his most recent brilliant idea that the conversation we were having would end up changing both of our lives forever. That wee hours chat we had that night was the beginning of an incredible journey for us ... a journey that continues to test us in ways we never imagined possible ... a journey that has introduced us to some of the most courageous, compassionate, caring people we've ever known ... a journey that will be a forever reminder to me of how tremendously blessed I am to have such close relationships with each of my children.

Brad's couldn't wait until morning idea that night was that he and I should work together to tell the story of Nate Phelps, son of the late Fred Phelps, founder and leader of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Some of you may have read the posts I've written over the past couple of years regarding our film-making pilgrimage, and I would imagine that more than a few of you have been thinking we had failed in our endeavor or had simply given up on our quest since we've been relatively silent about the film for a while. Not true in either case ... in fact, we're currently ramping up big time and, providing we secure the funding we need, we hope to have a rough cut of the film done by the end of the year.

Part of that ramping-up process for me is writing copy for grant submissions and the film's soon to be launched website. I've been doing a lot of research over the last few weeks, wading through mountains of statistics and scientific studies. Before I embarked on my recent research endeavor, I thought I was well-versed on what Nate, his brother Mark and sister Dortha went through when they chose to leave Westboro. I thought I had good insight into the range of emotions they must have experienced in the days, weeks and months following their departures. I was wrong.

Last weekend, I discovered something when I was reading about various forms of psychological trauma that can occur when a person is rejected or shunned by others. I was surprised by what quickly became a common theme in what I was reading ... the devastating consequences of being ostracized. For all the conversations I've had with Nate, Mark and Dortha over the last two years, I failed to recognize or acknowledge one of the deepest wounds inflicted upon them by their father ... his decree that they be ostracized from both the church and their family.

Medical professionals have come to the conclusion in recent years that ostracism is among the most devastating experiences we can endure because it is deeply connected to our most fundamental human need to be accepted and to belong. In fact, it's been scientifically proven that ostracism can adversely affect a person's cognitive ability and in extreme cases even reshape the brain's neural pathways. The need to belong, to matter, to be included is so strong that when someone is ostracized, he or she experiences psychological and physical effects immediately. Neuroscientists have found that social or personal rejection is experienced much like physical pain ... they are both connected to the same neural circuitry in the brain. One of the reasons that ostracism wounds so deeply is because it isn't confined only to the period when it happens ... just remembering a past episode of ostracism can produce the same level of agony as the original experience. The bottom line? Ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

I'm sure we can all recall times in our lives when we felt excluded or rejected or even intentionally ostracized by others, and I know that some of you are in the midst of such a situation right now. And I'm equally as sure that we can all agree that ostracism creates a deep and lasting pain like no other. It's dehumanizing ... it robs you of your self-esteem ... it screams that you don't matter ... it shouts that you aren't worth being included ... it crushes your feelings of belonging ... it destroys your ability to trust ... it buries your willingness to be vulnerable ... it crushes your spirit and shames your soul ... it tears apart your heart ... it wreaks havoc on your mind ... it shouts that those who ostracize you have a better life without you in it. I say again, ostracizing someone is one of the most hurtful and cruel things a person can possibly do to another human being.

To you Nate, Mark and Dortha ... I'm so very sorry I didn't get it ... I'm so very sorry I unintentionally minimized that part of your pain ... I'm so very sorry for what you each endured and continue to endure even today. I'm so very thankful for each one of you and so very, very, very honored to be on this journey with you guys. Love you beyond words and respect you beyond measure. 

To everyone who happens to read my post tonight ... please think long and hard before you send someone who trusts you into exile. Remember that none of us are perfect ... remember that life is so very short and that not one of us is guaranteed another tomorrow. Take care of one another, friends ... take care of one another.

"If exposure to ostracism continues over an extended period of time, the individual's resources for coping are depleted. He or she will feel alienated even from those whom they feel close to, thus increasing feelings of depression, helplessness and unworthiness. Nothing threatens our core being and social nature more than being ignored or excluded." --- K.D. Williams and S.A. Nida

No comments: