Perhaps I’d Like to be Known
A theme that frequently emerges in my pastoral counseling is that people do not feel heard. It is a refrain more common to women than men, though neither gender is immune to feeling unheard and misunderstood. The least listened to segment of the population is children.
I am grieved when I see a child repeatedly ask his or her parent a question, only to be ignored or patronized. It stirs up memories. I grew up thinking barns were old houses converted to residences for livestock. I had asked a trusted adult. She didn’t reply with a dismissive, “Yes.” She replied with an enthusiastic, “Yes, you are right!” feigning attentiveness to the detriment of a six year old. The amount of misinformation I had to unlearn in my adolescence was a source of continuing embarrassment.
One of the earliest needs of an infant is a benevolent face upon which to gaze. Given the opportunity, infants will stare at a human face longer than any other object. It is how we come to see ourselves as human. Infants deprived of that stimulus are profoundly affected. Attachment to others becomes almost impossible. Our need to be in relationship is as basic as our need for air and water. I once heard a member of the team that discovered quantum physics boldly state that the only ultimate reality is relationships. No wonder we feel insignificant when we are not heard.
The need to be heard and known does not end with childhood. It is life long. In her excellent novel The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah writes, “I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.” But being known does not mean just the easy parts. To be fully known means opening up about the parts we keep hidden.
The protagonist in The Nightingale had survived World War II in occupied France. But she had compartmentalized and jettisoned that most painful chapter of her life. At least she thought she had. As she grew older she realized her story was not complete without the darkness. It too needed to be known.
One of my best friends is a family physician. He told me as the Greatest Generation reached their 80s, many came into his office without an illness, but with a great need. They needed to talk about their experiences in World War II. My friend found it a privilege to be the recipient of long hidden stories.
Of course, as much as we want to be known, there is great risk involved in revealing what was once hidden. The greatest, of course, is the risk of rejection. “What if I tell others my story and they find it weird, upsetting, or disturbing?” Well, I might know a little something about that. It is painful, sometimes devastatingly so. Is it worth the risk? The answer to that centers on whether or not you agree with Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living. I believe life is to be examined, and made known. Closets are for clothes, not people.
Since becoming open about my gender and my theology and other subjects likely to stir up trouble, I have come to understand a few things. I have learned many Christians get angrier about doctrine than about life. I learned the people you think will be there are not, except for the ones who are. I learned time does heal wounds and forgiveness does redeem scars. And the biggest lesson I’ve learned? The truth does set you free.
And so it goes.