I don’t know about you guys, but it’s been a really big month in my little world.
(I’m going to pause right here to be transparent about the fact that this post has absolutely nothing to do with homesteading, or parenting even – both of which are the ostensible subjects of this blog. If you’re interested in reading on either of those topics feel free to continue browsing for another, more relevant post. This one is entirely personal and unrelated to either of those topics.)
The past few weeks have been so packed, so busy and so full of meaning, that it’s challenging to think of where to begin.
So I suppose I’ll just start at the beginning . . the beginning of the month, at any rate.
On October 1, my uncle visited me. On the surface, having a family member visit is not particularly earth-shattering.
My uncle lives in Pennsylvania (where my mom’s family is from). I haven’t seen him in 19 years. The last time we saw each other, the circumstances were less than ideal.
I was 21 years old at the time, and had been called before a committee of elders in my congregation (I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness). At that meeting, the elders informed me of their decision to excommunicate (“disfellowship”) me. My uncle was one of the elders on the panel that reviewed my case and made the choice to cast me out of the congregation.
I was absolutely shattered.
I had been an active and devout JW since a young age, and had been baptized at the age of 12 (JW’s don’t baptize their infants, it’s considered a conscious choice and commitment). But I had recently returned from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, and largely due to everything I saw and experienced in that part of the world, I had been struggling with a lot of doubt over the religion, and particularly about my place in it. Shortly after I returned to the States, I turned 21 and started hanging out with “worldly” individuals from work, going to bars after my waitressing shift. Looking back, I can see that it was pretty standard, if belated, teenage rebellion.
But the elders didn’t see it that way. Because I couldn’t affirm that I was repentant (I honestly didn’t know what I was, except confused), they made an example of me.
The world as I knew it had ended. Every friend I had made since birth, every member of the only community I had ever known, and most of my family, was taken away from me. I was no longer welcome in my friends’ homes. I was an outcast. In order to get back in the good graces of god, the church and everyone I knew and loved, I would have to exercise penitence and show my remorse, sitting alone at the back of the church where no one was allowed to speak with me. I tried to attend one service after I was disfellowshipped, and I felt physically ill the entire time.
It’s been a long time since that day, and I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, and a lot of therapy, since. I now look back and realize that those elders did me a favor. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do it on my own. I wanted out of a religion that I could no longer convince myself that I believed in, but I didn’t know how to do that. To choose to leave the only life I had ever known, to leave my family and the only friends I had ever had, required more fortitude than I knew I had.
So they made the choice for me.
And while I believe that the practice of excommunicating (disfellowshipping, shunning, whatever other terms may be used to describe the practice) is an exceptionally cruel and harmful one, I’m so glad it happened to me. It nearly broke me (and sent me into a whirlwind of destructive behavior over the subsequent months). But in hindsight, it made me stronger than I ever knew possible. The worst thing I could imagine had already happened to me. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I put myself through college, got a job, started a career that I enjoy immensely, and started a family. I’m proud of everything I’ve done in the years since.
My uncle called me a few years ago, and wanted to tell me that he had recently left the religion and was sorry for what had happened, for what he had taken part in.
I couldn’t have been happier to hear from him. I had long since moved beyond any anger or resentment, towards him or anyone else (including myself), and was just grateful for the prospect of having him back in my life. And relieved that he had found his way out of a repressive religious culture.
Then this month, he and his fiancée came out West to visit. Seeing him – talking to him about those years – discussing the soul searching we have both done since, it was so incredibly healing. While there are many people I love whom I will never have a relationship with again (including my grandmother – my kids’ great-grandmother – who hasn’t spoken to me since), I feel like I truly have him back in my life. It was wonderful and it was massive.
I feel like I’ve grown so much from the young, naïve, vulnerable girl I was when I was cast out into the (supposedly evil and scary) world. I feel fierce and capable and brave. I’m not gonna lie, I was a hot mess for quite some time. But I came through it and that’s what matters.
There’s really no logical segue from that story to the next, so I’ll just begin it.
The day my uncle came to visit, I also started a new job. I’ve been in the same line of work for quite some time, but I recently found it necessary to seek an employer who was more aligned with my professional vision for myself. And I found it.
I started work on Oct. 1 and the next week flew to Germany to the company’s headquarters to meet my global team. I just got back home and am still reeling from the experience.
I work in the legal compliance realm, so it was a group of nearly 70 compliance professionals who are working to prevent, detect and mitigate corporate bribery, corruption and fraud worldwide. Besides being inspiring on a professional level, the weeklong workshop was personally inspiring as well.
I met colleagues from literally all over the globe – Singapore, China India, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, France, U.K., Germany . . . and the thing that impressed me the most about the entire week was the massive breadth and depth of the human experience.
I heard stories about the professional and personal landscape in India, about challenges and joys in Colombia, about failures and triumphs in Italy. Outside the conference rooms, there were varying political views thrown in to the mix (despite being one of the few Americans there, I’m pretty sure I had one of the least sophisticated perspectives on U.S. politics of the whole group – due, I’m sure, in large part to the fact that I try to ignore them). And I realized how very little I still know about the world. In terms of human experience, this little planet is so, so massive. I feel like I’m opening up to a new wave of experience, of knowledge, of understanding. And I’m so ready for that.
It’s humbling to realize that no matter how long we have been spinning around on this pretty little globe, no matter how much we think we know, there is always something out there that can challenge us. I find that exhilarating.
I came home from the meeting and rode a carousel and ate ice cream with my daughter. And I saw the whole world dancing in her eyes.