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Tuesday, February 03rd, 2015 | Author:

Some names and identifying circumstances may have been changed for the sake of those involved.

“I don’t forgive you.” Those were the words I wrote near the beginning of the letter.

He’d written me a letter apologizing for a mountain of pains and wounds, and asking me to forgive them. “I’m hesitant to write this letter to you for many reasons. 1: I don’t forgive you…” I began.

Let me rewind:

(If you didn’t read the nutshell version of “what happened” that was on the blog last week, you can catch up here.)

After confession Sunday, my life went dark for a long time.

It took me several months of therapy to finally get to a point where I didn’t feel like the situation was all my fault. I sat in my therapist’s office, afraid to admit dates and put an accurate timeline on how things unfolded because I saw her doing the math, I heard her mention “illegal” in her wonderings of what happened. She and other therapists had told me since the beginning what they thought: This was abuse. This was not my fault. That this is what they call a “trauma bond” and it’s the same bond that kidnappers and pimps have with their victims and girls. That I had been groomed.

But I fought them on that. “I am not a victim,” was my mantra, and I was defensive, trying to explain our situation away — to make them understand that I was not a victim, I was a very broken, but very real culprit.

I was afraid to reveal things because I still believed my old youth pastor this had happened with, John (not his real name), was just a good guy who just spent too much time with me. That it was an innocent “slipping up” mistake of a situation. “I had all these boundaries in place for everyone. To make sure I led a good life. It’s like you just slipped in the back door,” he said several times in the course of the secret becoming public.

I was still conditioned by the years of not telling. Because I had always seen that it was his secret to tell or not tell. It was always his family, whom I loved deeply, who would be so hurt by it. It was always his ministry and job that would be lost — his ministry that had taught me everything I knew about God and the ways to love and care about the world and to live life well. And the decision was always not to tell, because it would hurt all those people. “It would be selfish to tell,” were the actual words he used one time as he told me about this painful decision he’d come to one of the myriad of times we were trying to figure out what to do, how to stop this from happening again throughout the 7 years of on and off fucked-up-ness. (That’s my term — please, pardon my french, but there is not a kosher term that is also accurate.)

Somewhere in those first months, I think my pastor or someone had asked me to start thinking about forgiving John. I don’t think I responded really, but as I thought about it then, I didn’t have much to hold against him. I thought that we were equal culprits in this, and I wasn’t mad at him, I was just devastated by the amount of pain we’d inflicted on those we loved, and I was devastated by the loss — his family were my closest people. The loss of other close friends that I had who either chose to step out of my life, or who wanted to be in my life still but were so pained by it that it would never be the same. The loss of my calling on my life to do ministry in the church. The loss of feeling at home in the church I literally grew up in. The loss of feeling at home in my hometown. The loss — I was just so broken over the loss. But I wasn’t mad at John.

And people told me I would be, someday. That I would realize his role as being so much bigger than I could see then. That I would someday need to see it for what it was — abuse of power. That I had been taken advantage of. I said, “No. You don’t understand.”

But I couldn’t move forward in my healing. I was devastated and I was stuck. I never hit that “numb” phase people tell you will come. It was just brokenness. Complete, vast, heart-decimating brokenness. Every day. And every night. Which led me to finally pursue something I’d heard about — Onsite’s Intensive Therapy Workshop.

There’s a place in small town Tennessee called Onsite Workshops, and they do these 8 day long Intensive Therapy workshops utilizing experiential therapy (which sounds like “experimental” therapy, but it’s not).

The intensives like this are supposed to be similar to a year or two of therapy in a week’s time, and for me, it was.

Then came Onsite.

“The problem we have with forgiveness is this,” my Onsite therapist, Jim, began addressing my group of 9 broken people in group room 4. “Forgiveness means to cancel a debt. But so often in our culture, we decide to forgive someone, but then later we feel that same anger or pain creep up again and we’re confused. ‘I thought I got rid of this! Why is this back?’ we ask. And the reason that happens when we just decide to forgive someone, is that we haven’t added up the debt we’re forgiving. And then as we discover more of the debt, we’re confronted with the pain or anger again. That’s part of what some of you may have to work on this week. Learning how to work through adding up the debt so you can really forgive.”

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I had never heard of forgiveness in these terms.

But it made so much sense to me. I’d always been reluctant to just decide to forgive someone and declare it done in the same breath. It seemed equivalent with deciding to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and saying I’d done it in the same breath. I’d always seen myself decide to forgive someone and then once I’d worked through the crap of it in my heart, I’d realize at some point that forgiveness was there. I couldn’t coax it out of myself before it was ready. This definition of forgiveness as wiping clean a debt, it gave me permission to take the time to count the debt, to take the pains to climb the mountain.

I want to tell you about three things that happened there that week.

One: Getting mad

Within the first two days, I had a realization that broke me. The very first time John outright proposed something explicitly across the line (“You touch mine, I’ll touch yours?” proposition  when I was 18) I was outraged at the thought, said “No,” left, and came back to confront him later. He smoothed it over, made it seem like it wasn’t a big deal and that it didn’t change everything. He apologized and promised it would never happen again. So I trusted him. I so, so, wish I had thought to tell someone right then. But I didn’t even think of that option. I don’t know why. I just didn’t.

The realization that literally left me breathless, though, was this: At that point, had I gone screaming for help, or had I done what I did — he set me up to lose him and his family and to watch him lose his ministry and regular life right then. When I realized the fact that he set me up to lose right there — that’s the first time I ever truly hated John. And I hated my abuse-shaped self that didn’t even think to tell someone.

I still wasn’t mad at what he’d done to me. I was mad at what he’d set me up to lose — who he’d set me up to lose in the process. I had grieved the death of my sister when I was 14, which was largely what landed me in John’s family as a surrogate member. But the grief I had over the people I’d lost in my life after confession sunday, that was more grief than I’d ever known or experienced to date. It was like a massacre. And in an instant, I was enraged because it was the first time that I realized that he had chosen me. That it could’ve been anyone, but it was me. And he left me with no way to not lose people I loved.

Two: Accepting no apology

The next morning at Onsite, when everyone was together (40 people are in each workshop week), we had a seminar on forgiveness. “I want you to think of a person you need to forgive,” the director of the program started.

“Think of them, and think of the ways they’ve hurt you. Think of all of the ways. Now, imagine you go out to the mailbox one day, and in it you find a letter — a letter from that person — apologizing for everything, for every way they’ve hurt you. You got it? Can you read the letter in your mind?”

He paused for a moment. I was sitting in the front row and already silent tears were falling down onto my lap as I thought about it.

“Now, take this piece of paper, and write that letter to yourself from them.”

I knelt down on the carpet and used my chair as a desk to write this painful epistle. I wept while I wrote, finally starting to acknowledge the pain that he had caused me. I’d been able to see the pain the situation had caused for everyone else, but it was the first admittance on paper of the fact that he had caused me pain. That he had something to be sorry to me for.

“Now I want you to do something — I want you to accept the fact that you may never receive that apology. Let this letter, this one that you’ve written, be the invitation to forgive them. You don’t have to wait for them to be sorry for you to move on.”

I pulled myself up onto my chair, clutching my letter, the tears unwilling to stop. I sat between two men I’d met there, and they both put their arm around my shoulders and held me while I wept, letting the pain out in shutters, sadly accepting that there never may be as much as an acknowledgement from John. “Don’t hold back. Let yourself feel it, let yourself grieve it,” one of them whispered in my ear and then kissed the top of my head with an appropriate, fatherly affection.

It was then that I first saw that forgiveness is like grief — there are stages to both, and the stage of acceptance is the last in both cases. You can’t jump to that last stage on either path without first going through the other stages.

But, like grief, there are many mini-paths within the larger path, and that morning was the end of the small mini-path toward accepting that I may never receive an apology. John hadn’t apologized to me in his public confession. He may never. And I had with me now a letter with the things I needed to hear from him, regardless of the fact that it was written in my own handwriting. It acknowledged what I myself had taken months to acknowledge — that I was hurt by his actions, too. That I was left in the wake of great loss. And that my pain mattered.

And it was as I held that letter, one day after hating John for the first time, that I also decided to forgive him (which, remember, is different than having forgiven him). But the decision was made. I wasn’t ready. I’d need time. But I wanted to forgive him someday.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

If you’d be willing to donate to support Stories By Jo: The Story Project where I will be writing people’s stories for them as I have done here for myself, please click the donate button below. Thank you so much for your support and for reading.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 | Author:

Note: The juicy stuff you might want to gossip about or think about or message me about or just generally know starts at the break part-way down this page. If you’re short on time, just start there. I know this is a longer post and your time and attention are limited. 

Second Note: Feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested or who it may help. 

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a long time now. While I do take pains to make myself vulnerable here as I sort through the crap of my internal and external life, I’ve been beating around the bush now for over a year, and I was just outright selective and silent about this before then.

But this is the thing: I’m about to start a story project, where I’m asking people not just to trust me with their stories, but to pay me to write their stories for them (see posts in the next few weeks for more info about the story project — I’m really excited to share it with you guys!).

And in anticipation of that I’ve been doing a lot of research and prep work on writing real, true stories of real life people and I keep running up against this problem: How do I convince people that those ugly, dirty, shameful, painful parts of their story are truly an important part? That’s it’s worth the pain of digging up the past to talk about it?

People are quick to want me to write about their accomplishments or their fun adventures — which we need, too — but it’s harder to get people to be honest and open about those painful parts. If I’ve learned anything in writing and reading non-fiction, though, it’s this: The painful parts are the most powerful parts. 

They have power to connect with the broken, painful places inside the readers. They’re the moments when I read them, that I as a reader take sharp breaths in because, there before my eyes, I see that someone else knows pain like I know it. I know that I’m not the only one. That I’m not alone.

And that is the most powerful message I’ve ever read or ever written.

So all that to say, I have a story I haven’t put out there in writing yet. It’s the painful, shameful part of my story. And it’s not going to just be one blog post. But this post can usher in the era of freedom that I’m choosing to be ready for. I’m ready to start letting my story breathe on paper (or screens as it may be), not just in unrecorded moments in hushed tones at cafes and on couches in which I’ve previously chosen to share it.

So this is me, doing what I’m going to ask others to do. This is me letting the pain hit the page. Letting the image you have of me as a person be shaped as it may be by the truth, for better or worse. Because overall, I don’t think it matters what you think of me. I think it matters how my story makes you feel. And if it makes one person feel like they’re not alone, then it’s worth it. Consider this an era for that as well.


I’ve written vague things here before about “I lost everything.” About my distrust of people and of the church. And about deep grief. This is what happened.

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The first time I officially saw him, he was on the lower stage at the front of our sanctuary. (I assume this, I don’t actually remember it, but I’ve seen the pictures). It was his wedding day, and I was 9 years old.

The first time I technically saw him up close was the next day when they showed up at Carl’s Jr. for lunch in the next town over from ours. I was next to him at the fountain drinks and went back to my table to ask my mom, “Do we know those people?” pointing to their table.  “They were the ones who got married yesterday,” she said. And we awkwardly said “Hi” on our way out to the car, having committed the grave sin of seeing someone you know while they’re on their honeymoon.

January 6, 2013

The last time I officially saw him, he was standing on that same lower stage at the front of the same church sanctuary.

He got up in front of a crowd and read a confession and apology he’d written ahead of time. The crowd was our 900 person church. He was the pastor in charge of all of the ministries of the church. The confession was about how he’d been “inappropriately involved” with me for “a while now.” The apology was to his wife, his family, my family, and the church.

He sat on a stool and cried while he read it. Something I’d never seen him do before.

I sat in the congregation, tears and snot making a steady flow down my face while he spoke, and while our main Pastor (different man, just to be clear) took over and read an apology I’d written ahead of time. He’d had the foresight to not allow me to deliver it myself — something I’m endlessly grateful for now.

It felt like hell. Actual, living hell. I so wish there was a less cliche way to convey that. But those are the only words I’ve come up with in the two years since then. Hell. It-would-be-better-if-I-could-just-burn-to-death-and-let-this-end Hell.

This was my deepest darkest secret that had held me captive for years and years, and it had just been told to 900 people, including everyone I’d ever been close with. I thought in a surreal moment somewhere in one of those two church services that morning, “I’ll never be as free as I am right now. I have no other secrets.” But of course, those thoughts came in between the hyperventilation and the crushing grief of seeing my entire world collapse around me, seeing the people I was closest to in life filled with so much pain and betrayal.

This pastor of ministries and I, we’d been fully-fledged “inappropriately involved” since a couple months after I turned 18. But our relationship had begun to be inappropriate in nature since I was 16 and he was my youth pastor.

Let me say it as delicately as I can while also being accurate — What was happening when I was 16-18 would’ve gotten him fired in a heart beat, but not arrested. What was happening when I was 18 until I was 23 when someone found out would’ve been cause for arrest had I not been of age. (Not that it’s any of your business, by the way. But there was enough misunderstanding and misinformation that I feel it’s valuable to at least be accurate as I air out my dirty laundry here.)

2 weeks later

The last time I technically saw him up close, it was in the next town over again. It was 2 weeks after our public confessions. I was in a store walking down the main aisle when all of the sudden he popped out of one of the side aisles directly in front of me. There was no turning around unseen. So I took a breath and proceeded. “Jo.” He said. I felt ice and panic stall my heart. “Hi,” I managed, meeker than I ever am.

“See you later,” he said with a harshness in his voice that I was more than familiar with. Then he spun his cart around and fled in the opposite direction the way you do when you’ve committed the grave sin of seeing the girl you’ve been inappropriate with for years once the secret has come out.

His tone was the same one I’d heard in countless drawn-out arguments we’d had over the years from which I always emerged feeling smaller, and slightly trampled on and disregarded. This time was no different.

It is the only time where I’ve spent significant moments in the vitamin aisle. And it is the only time I’ve cried in the presence of gummy calcium chews.  The supplements as my silent witnesses, tears and snot acknowledging the years of pain from that tone and that twisted relationship, I hoped he was wrong – that I would in fact never see him later.

And eventually, one day short of one year after what I’ve taken to calling “confession sunday,” I found myself unexpectedly forgiving him.

That story comes next time.

If you’d be willing to donate to support Stories By Jo: The Story Project where I will be writing people’s stories for them as I have done here for myself, please click the donate button below. Thank you so much for your support and for reading.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Wednesday, January 07th, 2015 | Author:

“We need to talk,” she said to me in a serious yet conspiring tone.

We walked with rushing feet to our personal conference room — the Children’s Church room at the back of the church where we’d hang out before church. We were two rambunctious 8-year-old girls who got to church early with our parents when they had to do something or another for the service.

Once within the confines of our private scheme-building room, we stood in the middle of the room, near the wall with the old piano that I’d play for us sometimes.

We stood facing each other, and I was not nervous as adults are when someone says to them, “we need to talk.” — I was eager to hear what was so important.

“Did you hear that his parents are getting a divorce?”

“I know,” I said, looking down, not knowing what that really meant or entailed, but knowing it was bad. “My mom told me.”

He was a boy in our grade who we’d known for the past few years. He was our number one enemy. His life goal was to annoy us. And our lives’ goals were to make him look like a fool by pulling pranks and such. This was the essence of most of our friendships with kids of the opposite sex, as seems to be the norm. But he and one other boy were our particular enemies and we paid each other more mutual attention than we paid the other kids.

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“I think we need to be his friend now,” she said to me, the decision already made.

“Yeah. I think you’re right. That would be good,” I replied. I hadn’t thought of that, or realized it was needed until she said it. But once she did, it was decided. Third-grader conference of the year over.

It was one of the most important, efficient, and impactful conferences I’ve ever been a part of, and the decision stuck. We started that day at church. We didn’t drop the enemy act, but we had changed our heart toward him, and he changed his toward us. We continued to be frenemies all through high school.

When we were in junior high, he gave me one of the best christmas gifts I’ve ever received — he bought, with his own money, the movie Princess Diaries for me on VHS. He knew I loved it, and that was far above the $1-5 gifts we had sometimes exchanged in the past. He told me I couldn’t tell anyone he had gotten it for me because that would show that we were friends, so I didn’t, but we watched it together nearly weekly for about a year until we moved onto other fixations.

I’ve seen him a couple times this past year, and each time, I’ve thought how much I enjoy him as a person and a friend. But I may not have been friends with him had she not pulled me into that children’s church room and presented her idea for what we needed to do.

She saw disaster on the horizon and proposed a plan of action. I just followed.

We were in high school when her parents divorced as well. I was still friends with her, but in the of-course-we’re-friends way, not in the I-am-here-for-you-in-daily-life way. Our paths had started to take us in different directions, and I’m sad that I didn’t have a conference with anyone, declaring “we need to be friends with her.”

The truth is, a lot of people stepped away from her in that painful time. The girl who intentionally stepped in at 8. The girl who recognized the severity of the pain of divorce before she’d ever felt it. The girl who put aside sacred cooty-laws and annoyance-wars to be a friend. She was pushed to the outskirts and left alone in her time of pain.

It is a hard thing to see and recognize that you do not always reap what you sow. Mean people sometimes prosper and good people sometimes get left. At least it feels that way sometimes.

But the thing is, the girl who has heart enough to decide to be friends with a hurting enemy at 8 years old, she will be a woman who will live life well. She will be the type of woman who has deep friendships with people she’s met in passing. She will be a friend even when she is in pain. And some of those relationships will give back to her as well. The humility that lets her put aside childhood feuds also strengthens her to reach out to people who need a second chance in her life.

And that gives me hope about life and about the world. Because, almost two decades later, I still remember her as the girl who decided to be a friend when she didn’t have to be, and she got me to do so too. And the woman I know her as now still has that same understanding, supportive, caring heart.

I don’t know about the whole reap what you sow thing, because life has dealt her a crappy and painful hand several times.

But I am confident that when you have that goodness inside that she does, that everything will be okay. That you will continue to make a life worth living. That you will continue to build friendships worth having. That you will continue to find your way, and choose your path. That while life may be ugly and painful and hard, you will be the type of person that responds, that works through it, and that decides to love life again.

And that is really what matters above all else. You don’t always get to choose what happens to you or those around you in life, but you do get to choose how to respond. When pain shows up, will you step in? Will you give up or keep trying. Will you choose to love life again and again and again?

Life may not always be easier for good people, but it is more beautiful and more worth loving when you’re the type of person who steps in.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 | Author:

“How are you?” he asked me, having come up to me in church and hugged me.

“I’m OK,” I said, though eyes rimmed in tear-smeared mascara-clad eyelashes. I smiled.

Then the tears started again softly. Unexpected kindness brings them out. Well, it’s one of the things.

“Sorry,” I said, laughing, pulling a kleenex from my coat pocket to wipe away the small tears. “This is just what I do these days, I guess.”

 

I’ve been told that after women give birth to children, for the rest of their lives their you-know-whats will have a few instances that will just never be the same. Example: apparently while jumping rope (like when working out at Crossfit, not because they’re jump rope champs that want to re-live the glory days) they will pee a little bit.  I’ve actually been at Crossfit competitions with some of the toughest ladies I’ve ever seen, and they’ll be doing the double-unders part of the competition (you have the get the jump rope under your feet twice per every jump), and they’ll start peeing themselves. What’s more, everyone on the side-lines watching will then urge them to just keep going. A very odd thing to witness for the first time, but surprisingly common. Competitive, strong, grown women peeing themselves in public, all because they’ve had kids and their bodies are changed by the dramatic experience. While most things go back to normal, some things never do, apparently.

That has happened with my tear ducts. As I’ve become well-acquainted with loss and grief and pain, my eyes learned to cry. I thought they knew how before, but it’s like they went through labor, and now sometimes, they just flow on their own and I’m over here like “Come on eyes, get a grip! We’re just jump-roping!” I am like Jude Law in The Holiday: “I’m a weeper. A film, a good birthday card — I weep.”

This is not a new revelation, though. I’ve been a weeper for a couple of years now, and learned to embrace it as a part of the new me that I’m discovering and building.

What is new, though, is that in this past year, as I have come alive again, as I have chosen to love life again, as I have found joy again, I have found that my laughs are louder and more common, too.

I laugh often now. Un-stifled. I find that there is lots in life worth laughing about, and I find myself surprised at how hard and how loud I am laughing. At movies. At shows. At my friend’s jokes. At myself. It’s like as I’ve chosen to find joy in life again, the muscles that constricted my laughter went through labor, and now they’re just not as strong, and before I know it I have laughter flowing out of me like the pee down that Crossfit mom’s leg. It just happens and I can’t stop it. And when I’m with people who laugh too, it’s even worse. And by worse, I mean better.

Sometimes, when I laugh too hard and too unexpectedly, there is this laugh that comes out of me that sounds very much like a seal barking. I’ve been embarrassed about it for years, but in the past months it’s becoming more and more common. It’s definitely not an attractive laugh. But I’ve embraced it as the sign that my laughter must come out. That it has been in me untapped for too long. That it is ready to show itself loud and proud — like the seals on the warf in San Francisco. (Not what I’d always hoped to be, but at least the seals look happy.)

In the recent months, my seal bark as well as my regular laughs have been a common punctuation in my days. I’m laughing far more freely, far more often than I’m crying. Which may not sound like a lot, but it’s a testament to me about what life can be again. It can be joyful. It can be deep and wide and tear-filled and joy-filled. And just because my tears are common still in the midst of a life that is often still hard and often still painful, my laughs can also come freely. I can be both incredibly care-filled, and yet care-free.

I am finding that balance and that joy in life again and it is a beautiful, promising thing. As I am preparing myself to start another year, that’s my commitment — to continue to choose joy in life. To put myself in the way of the beauty of the world. To continue to work through my crap and let my tear ducts do their work where they need to. But to let my lungs give birth to laughter at the irreverent, at the comical, at the painful, at whatever they need to, as well.

So if you see me cry, it’s OK. If you hear me bark like a seal, it’s OK to laugh at me (which will actually be laughing with me). And if you see a lady start to pee herself while she’s doing double-unders, cheer her on, but maybe step back… you don’t want to get splashed.

I wish you all a year of laughter and joy. Cheers to a new year.

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P.S. I hope that analogy was worth it. Sorry, Crossfit moms. You rock.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 | Author:

If I’m honest — which I am — homesickness is the cause of my current wandering-life phase. I’ve been saying that I’m searching for a place that feels like home. I didn’t know of any that still existed for me until one night not too long ago.

I was staying with my parents in my hometown one night, but I was coming in from an appointment in the next town over. I had a lot on my mind and I was just driving on autopilot. When I had arrived and parked my car, I went to reach for the handle to get out when I realized where I was — I was at my old apartment.

An apartment I haven’t lived in now for a year and a half. I have lived 4 places in 4 cities since I left that apartment.

It was the apartment I moved into when I had graduated college and moved back to my hometown. It was the apartment where I first paid for my utilities, where I first learned where I got the best reception with my TV antennae, where I first furnished and decorated a home from top to bottom on my own.

It’s the apartment where I first lived alone. Where I first made all my meals for myself – no dining hall, no cafeteria, just me and my printed out recipes.

It’s an apartment down the street from the jail, with sketchy neighbors who are on parole, and some parolees whom I had gotten to know and become friends with. It’s an apartment with security screens on every door, with the cops coming by several times a week for some call or another.

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It’s an apartment with blue walls in one room because I painted them that way. With extra shelves in the closets because I built them myself. With a doorknob that I bought on the front door because I locked myself out and had to have the locksmith come and drill the lock through and replace it. With a small exposed nail on the front of the kitchen sink where the tiling had broken off before I moved in. I used that nail as peg to hang my pot holders from.

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It’s an apartment with a view of Table Mountain and the Oroville O, with a view of the trains that chug by in the distance. It’s both walking distance to the Oroville forebay where I learned to sail as I was moving in, and to the Feather River, where the stone picnic tables served as my desk as I journaled through some of the hardest thoughts of my life.

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It’s 1.3 miles from the Youth Center I helped open, and 4.4 miles from the church I used to work at and belong to. It takes 7 minutes to drive to my parents house from this apartment. Always. It is a 2 minute drive (including the time to walk down the stairs and to the car) to the nearest Red Box at 7/11, allowing me to watch a rented movie until 8:58 before I had to pull it out and leave to return it before I got charged again.

It’s the apartment where I first defined home as being anything aside from my parents house. The town was always my home, but in terms of within Oroville, it was the first place of my own that I meant when I said “I’m going home now.” The dorm rooms of college had just never felt that way to me, and I’d been intentional about my vocabulary — I don’t know if my college roommates ever noticed, but I never referred to those dorm rooms and college apartments as home. “I’m going back to the room,” I’d say, or “Are you at the apartment?” Never, never, “I’ll see you at home.” Because home was somewhere in a podunk town in Northern California. Period.

And this apartment, this afforded me the chance to both be an independent adult with a home of their own, and to still call my hometown home.

But then life changed. Old normal in that Oroville life feels like a long lost memory. I’ve sold most of my possessions that filled that old apartment.  I’ve had different jobs since then. I’ve moved to different cities. I go to other churches. I rent movies from different Red Boxes and I have different people sitting in my apartment during movies and game nights.

 

But in the midst of getting lost in my thoughts as I drove, my internal compass took over and led me here. It led me home. Only it wasn’t my home anymore.

And while I have felt homesick for a couple years as my life changed so drastically, this moment as I sit in the parking lot in my old usual spot looking up at really the only last remnant of my old life, I feel sad. I feel more homesick than before. Because there it is, my home, in the most literal sense of the word. The place where I lived and slept and cooked and bathed and let me body and mind and heart rest and take shelter from the world.

And I hadn’t realized that my heart, that my internal compass still believed that, still missed that. But here I am, and it’s not my home anymore. It’s someone else’s.

I take a few moments to just look up at the front door before I turn the car on, back out, and drive away, tears rolling down my cheeks, grieving another loss — this time of a place I didn’t even know I missed.

Because the reality is that the places where we do life — where we share moments and let our hearts settle in with our bodies to a place we embrace as home — those places mean something. They’re just a place, but they’re the setting where our lives unfold.  And when the rest of life may change or be gone, you can still accidentally “drive home” and end up in those old places. It’s like visiting the grave on a chapter of life once it’s passed. But sometimes it’s good to have those monuments.

Maybe that’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world — that the land itself keeps on existing — despite our times, despite our pains and gains — it continues on, one of the only constants available to us.

Grief for people is of course the most powerful, the most full of agony and meaning. But grief for places — places we lose, places we leave, places we see change — that is still grief in it’s own right. It’s taken me a lot of life to realize how true that is.

As I’ve been back in Oroville this month for the holidays, it has been hard, and feels foreign in a lot of ways, but it’s also been healing to drive the streets that I know well enough that I know every curve, every pot hole and patch where it floods. To be in the place where I know which post office to go to for what things. The place where I know someone everywhere I go. The place where I walk into a hamburger joint I’ve been going to since I was born and they ask “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in a while!” and the Mexican restaurant where they know that I’m the one in the family that changes up my drink order every time while the rest stay the same.

It’s a place that I love. While the sense of home is gone, the memory of it in this place is not.

 

I’m beginning to understand that in the Christian tradition, the meaning of Christmas isn’t just about the fact that God so loved the people in the world that he sent his son, Jesus.

God so loved the world — the place too. He could love us from afar, but only in a physical place could he walk with us, cry with us, touch us, heal us. The fact that the birth of Jesus happened in a place – in a feeding trough, in a stable, at an inn, in Bethlehem. And that while time and the world have changed, the place remains. That is a holy thing. And it is a human thing. Because places are the stage where the intermingling of our hearts and bodies and lives and time all take place. And that means that places matter. To God and to us.

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And the story says that some day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and if that comes to be, I hope to walk with God down my old street by the jail, and to say, “that, that right there, that’s where my home was,” and I imagine he’d take my arm, and let me rest my head on his shoulder as he sadly, nostalgically says, “I know, Jo. I was there with you. I know.” And then like the other night, we’ll turn away and keep walking toward the hope of a new home someday — except that someday will have arrived.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 | Author:

It’s odd, because this is now the end of November, and for a month that is usually saturated in social media posts about thankfulness, I actually have only seen 2 posts of the sort this month. The month has flown by for me, and without being intentional to cultivate gratitude in my heart in this season, it has almost passed me by. Except, for no November reason, last night I found myself thinking about how grateful I am for one specific type of people in my life.

 

Confidence has always come naturally to me. For example, as a two-year-old I distinctly remember being so upset my first time riding a horse because they wouldn’t let go of the reins and let me do it myself. I was sure I knew how to gallop, even, by myself, and that I had the situation under control. Sometimes I have self-doubt, or am uncertain about my body or my skill or the way I measure up to others when I play that ugly comparison game of life — but for the most part it’s just come naturally. Not in a cocky way, either, I would say, though it can come off that way.

 

But I’ve been changing, growing, breaking and healing a lot over the past couple years, but part of what’s been broken that I haven’t looked in it’s glaring eye is the fact that I am no longer naturally confident in myself in many ways. I have kept up the confident charm, almost out of habit I think, but this past week two different close friends called me on it. One sensed my laughter and doubt under my tones of false confidence, and it was painful to realize that as she said, “You ARE amazing, you know that don’t you?” I couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“Look at me,” she said sternly as she watched me involuntarily look down when hearing her words.

I looked up at her, met her eyes, and with pain that I couldn’t explain said, “Please. Don’t.”

“No. We’re doing this. Look at me,” she pushed.

“We’re in public, celebrating, and I have mascara on my lower lashes. When I cry, it’ll run,” I said as matter-of-factly as I could.

“You’ll cry?” She was taken aback.

“Please,” I could feel the tightening of my throat and chest as I sensed her need for me to hear her on what she sees as true and good about me.

“Ok. We’ll talk about this later, then,” she said, and she let it slide as I had asked her to, but she gave me the same look I was subconsciously giving myself — the one that asks ‘Who is this person who can’t accept the good truth about herself without pain?’ She certainly wasn’t someone who was always this way.

 

Then later in the week, another good friend called me on it, too. “Look at me,” sounded out again as my eyes found their downcast way as if on command when my friend tried to affirm me. Several times, persistently the call of “look at me” washed over me and a gentle finger lifted my chin up to meet the gaze of someone who knows me and affirms me. Again, it was painful, but so necessary for me to hear those words of affirmation, for me to be forced to look at what’s good in me when I forget that there is anything there that’s good sometimes.

I am so grateful that I have a few close friends who see me, really see me, and who persistently want to remind me who I am — what I am — when I don’t remember, when I don’t feel that way. I’m  grateful for these kind of people in my life who don’t just let me look down, but lift my face to meet theirs as they remind me of what’s true.

A long while ago, I wrote a poem with this line in it: “Grace stings the wounded soul like hydrogen peroxide on a skinned knee. The cleansing hurts.”

That’s the image I got again with these friends this week. I am thankful for people who are full of the hydrogen peroxide of life, and who continue to help me clean this metaphoric skinned knee inside of me.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling myths & cliches: Everything Happens for a Reason

“She’s not going to die,” she said to me, her eyes wide, her hands on both of my upper arms, desperation and edge in her voice.

“What are you going to say to me when she does?” I wondered silently.

My sister passed away the next day.

That was just the first of the misguided things people said to me in the wake of her death. But my absolute least favorite thing that anyone could ever say in the wake of death or disaster is this: Everything happens for a reason.

The reasons are that pain and sickness and sin and death exist in our world. Not because it was part of God’s plan. Not because God needed another angel. Not because this was something that me or my family had to go through for us to where we ended up. Not that our story needed this plot-twist.

When my older sister died, I was 14 and I was devastated, but I remember daring God on the day she died, thinking he wouldn’t be able to come through: “If you can, show me one good thing that comes from this.”

That was my deal, my plea to God. One good thing. I didn’t believe that even one good thing could come from such tragedy.

I realize now how naive I was, because God is big, and good, and the way the world works, redemption can come forth, and when you press into pain it changes you and reveals you in ways that would’ve taken years otherwise.

I don’t even know who I’d be today if my sister hadn’t died. I can see how much things changed because of her death, and I can see all kinds of growth and beauty that has come forth in my life as a result of walking through that valley of grief and loss.

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So why do I still want to give people nose bleeds when they say everything happens for a reason? Because it’s too easy. It’s too easy to minimize the devastation of tragedy if we choose to believe that it was somehow some part of a divine or cosmic plan. The puppet master at work again, killing off characters for character development of another player. No.

There is a very real aspect to tragedy that demands the admittance that this was never supposed to be this way. That is what our souls cry out, and that is what we silence when we do not let that truth breathe, but try to console ourselves with cheap consolation of the cliche’s “it’s Ok. It’s in God’s plan. It’s supposed to be this way for some unknown reason.”

No. I know a God who cries out the same thing. IT WAS NEVER SUPPOSED TO BE THIS

WAY. I know a God who weeps with me over the loss of life, over the breaking of hearts, over the destruction of what was good, over the abuse of the innocent.

And while my naive dare to God was really a “F— you, God” challenge, He was faithful. He has shown me how much good he can bring forth from the things that were never supposed to be this way. He has proven faithful to bring beauty of our ruins. But I don’t for a moment believe that it had to go this way. He could’ve developed me another way. I could’ve had other paths in life that were different, perhaps better than this one. There were other ways.  I don’t believe my sister’s death had to happen for a reason.

I don’t believe that death, divorce, abuse, disaster, devastation happen for a reason other that this world is not always good. But I have come to trust that God is good when the world isn’t. God weeps with me while trying to make beauty rise out of the ruins. That’s what people confuse — they think that everything has to burn so beauty can come from the ashes. Which is as nonsensical as saying that fires happen so that firefighters can be heroes. We see the result and we call it the reason.

I am heavily shaped by my experience with grief. I grew up much sooner, and knew grief much deeper than I would wish on any teenager. And the good is that it has deepened my spirituality, my emotional capacity, and my maturity in mounds, I am positive.

But I would give all of that to have my sister back. To have my family whole again. To know what it’s like to experience 9th and 10th grade without the devastation of pain and depression. To not know that gut-wrenching acid of grief in the back of my throat, to not know the loss that weights you like lead in your bones.

This is not how it was supposed to be. It didn’t happen for a reason. There have been some beautiful results that have come of it. But at the end of the day, I am accepting of the way life has been, not accepting that it’s the way it had to go.

This is not how it should be, but this is how it is, and once I grieve that I can begin to see the ways that life can be beautiful again.


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Author:

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photo credit: Flickmor via photopin cc

This is hard for me to write, even though I’ve been saying it with my actions and body language for more than a year now.

I don’t trust the Church.

And that breaks my heart.

Like the admission, “I don’t trust my husband,” or “I don’t trust my father,” it hurts to admit because one, it’s true, and two, I wish it weren’t.

I have always loved the Church — my home church and the greater Church. I grew up in the church. The rough brick hallways and the green and purple faded carpets have known my touch, my presence since they were erected in the first couple years of my life. I have spent a massive percentage of my life within those walls.

My home church looks kind of like a prison from the outside. All gray cement blocks and massiveness in the middle of a large parking lot between two barren and vast fields of dead grass. It is lonely and unwelcoming in presence and stature. But it was home.

People said that, about it looking like a prison, and I could see what the meant, but I had personally never seen it like that. It was the place that held all of my dearest people in the world. People who had known me since I was born. People who had seen our family through some of the most trying times, including my mom’s severe illness with Lyme disease, and the sudden death of my 21-year-old sister. These were the people who had been there through it all. Not just at the church — in our homes, in our backyards, in camping trips and missions trips, in the schools, at softball games — but in the church, too. That was our common home, and I was there more than most.

Now when I drive up — which I don’t do often — I see what they mean. It looks like a prison. A prison full of beautiful people who know how to extend grace and how to love one another, mostly. But a prison none the less.

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photo credit: .brioso. via photopin cc


When I enter, I feel like I’m entering the prison. I walk through the foyer, down the aisles, and into rows of seats and I get stared at (or intentionally ignored) the whole way, like a prisoner walking down the cell block, being eyed — plotted against, sized up, respected, scared of — but being eyed none-the-less.

I take my seat and rely on the word of the warden-pastor that I am welcome there, of course. And though I know he wants it to be true, it’s not. I am not welcome. I am tolerated by most, judged and unwelcome by some, and greeted by a few (who really mean it).

The stares, glares, looks of, “Oh shit, how do I respond?” are palpable and, I am certain, mostly unconscious and involuntary.

I have a few friends who make conscious and great efforts to welcome me — to show that they won’t just tolerate my presence there, but align themselves with my presence there. They seek me out to hug me and chat, or even greater, they come and sit next to me. That’s how it was nine months ago at least. That’s the last time I could bring myself to attend a full church service there. I went one time since then, just for the worship portion, when the lights were down, and I wept and had to leave before the rest of the service continued. I wept because I so wish I could trust the church. I so wish it was still my home. I still love those people who bristle at my presence — and I love them dearly — but I know that I am not a part of them any longer. I wish I could be, but the welcoming hands and eyes of maybe 20 in a crowd of 500 is not enough. I can’t belong to a home where I am tolerated at best by the masses. It is better to be unknown.

But this is the thing, yes, that’s just one church. But that was my church. And I know those people — they are good people. Real people. People who have been through the mire of life with me. And they stiffen when I walk in, unsure if they should even look at me. Because they are human.

And the thing is, the reason why the stiffen, why they bristle, why they stare, is because they’ve been hurt by something that involved me. The reality is though — I was hurt by something that involved them.

And as I think about joining a new church, trying to find a new body of people to belong to — I have met many groups of people who are full of grace and acceptance. But I am still distrusting because while they welcome me now, I have been welcomed before. I have been known before. I have been carried through the trials of sickness and death and grief before. But then there came something that was too much, and everyone stepped away. And I was left. Unwelcome where I was once loved. Tolerated where I was once celebrated.  A threat where I was once a servant.

Not just by a few. Not just by casual church attenders. But by pastors, board members, and life long friends who I called family.

It’s not that they’re just bad people. They’re not. I know them. They’re hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.

So I’m distrusting of churches. All churches. Because they’re all made of people who have the ability to be hurt, and then to hurt.

I’m distrusting of pastors more than of churches. So the pastors that are big on grace, I’m suspicious of because it makes me think they KNOW they need grace, because they know of their depravity, and it scares me to think of the people they have hurt, or do hurt with that grace-needing depravity.

And the pastors that tote punishment, I’m wary of because, truly, I believe in grace.

And the pastors that talk of prosperity and hope, I don’t feel that they can understand the depths of the brokenness that I have drowned in.

The only ones I trust are the ones who talk honestly and openly about pain and brokenness and the God that is with us in that. But actually, in real life churches, I have yet to find those pastors.

The reason I don’t trust churches is because I don’t trust people. It just breaks my heart that it was church people who taught me to be distrusting. And it breaks my heart that I’ve taught others to be distrusting, too.

So this is me saying I’m fledgling right now. I’ve been drowning for a long time and am trying to find my way to the surface again. If you’ve got your head above the water, if you trust people and belong to the church and feel welcomed, don’t follow me.

But if you’re drowning too, if you’re distrusting and hurting and it breaks your heart, I’m trying to find a way up, and you’re welcome to come along. I can’t promise that I’ll find the most direct route, but I’m searching, and I’m trying to be honest about the journey.

And if you’re distrusting and it doesn’t break your heart, I hope it will some day. I’ve lived on both sides of this line now, and while this side feels wiser and more enlightened, the other side is more fulfilling indeed. It is a beautiful thing to trust people, and to have them be trustworthy in return.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 | Author:

Tackling Myths & Cliches: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

50 MPH speed limit. That seems fast for this road. But OK. I’ll go 50.

Shoot this hill is long. I hear my dad’s mantra: “Don’t ride your breaks. They’ll burn out.” Ok, I’ll keep it near 50. 53. 54. 55. 54. 53. 54.

Green lights all the way.

Intersection.

Large truck turning into our path. Going fast. Too fast. We’re going fast.

Break. Break! BREAK! My foot can’t move that fast.

This is it. We’re going to die.

I see the panic on the blond girl’s face through the passenger side window of the truck.

My world goes black as I hear the deafening sound of metal colliding.

Silence. I am gone.

I come to in a car filled with airbag dust. I look, horrified at the passenger seat. What will I find there?

I see Kate. Her eyes like deer in headlights. Staring at me. Alive. Conscious. In shock.

I see smoke starting to fill the car. More and more. I’m still looking into Kate’s wide eyes. She does not blink.

I look around at the smoke, and back to her. “GET OUT! GET OUT OF THE CAR NOW!” I order her. Movie scenes of cars exploding in flame race through my mind. No.

“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” I say again.

Our doors open. I step out of the car and struggle to stand. Something is wrong with my foot. I hobble to the median of the broad intersection. It is at Kate’s side of the car. She is there already.

I slump down. People flood to our sides. Are we OK?

What’s my name?

Who can we call?

I don’t know. We don’t live here.

Where are my shoes? I get up to walk. Can’t. You, fireman. Can you find my shoes? Where is my phone? Can you find my phone?

Ambulance. Kate and I laugh lots of shocky laughs that make us cry out from the pain of moving. Emergency Room. Exams. Long, painful night.

Two years ago I was in a head on collision at around 50 MPH. I broke my foot, and suffered what we later learned to be a concussion which began giving me daily migraines.

My foot healed within 8 weeks. My migraines, though I have made MUCH progress, still punctuate my life several times a month.

It is one of only two times that I was certain that was it, that I was going to die.

But we didn’t.

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Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?

No. I don’t accept that. That’s BS.

After my sister died, after my car accident, after my life imploded, after I moved because of a bad living situation — people told me I was so strong. And I’m starting to see that they were right. But I thought that they were saying these things were making me strong (some did say that). And deep down I knew that wasn’t true. These things, they were testing me, sometimes they threatened to destroy me. They weren’t making me strong. I was strong through them, not because of them. Those life obstacles were revealing to me the depth of strength that I had to find to survive those times, but they were devastating me in the process.

Pain doesn’t make you strong. It reveals your strength. You don’t actually need the painful things of life to be strong. But sometimes you don’t realize how strong you are without them. It’s the revealing that has value.

We should be honest that pain sucks. Bad things suck. That there are things that we wish we never had to live through.

It’s not about the positive spin. It’s about the true revealing of who we are so that we can go forward as the person we want to be or become.

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photo credit: mcandrea via photopin cc


But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is false.

The first person to ever run the distance of a marathon was actually running to the city of Marathon from the battle field to tell that the battle had been won. He ran the whole way, and the myth says that he died immediately after delivering the message.

Many strong people run marathons all the time now, but marathons don’t make you strong. Actually they temporarily damage your body, having pushed it so far. But they reveal the strength you’ve built up in training.

In the wake of the things that are destroying you, it is OK to not feel strong.

Sometimes, the strength that is revealed doesn’t feel like strength, it feels like taking one ragged breathe, one faltering step at a time, one after the other. And we slowly move forward. We slowly discover how much strength there is in us. And undoubtedly, we all have times where we feel too weak to carry on, and we have to sit down and take a break, or sometimes collapse and weep. But then we discover that we might have another morsel of strength. So we continue.

That is the true strength that is revealed when we think we might just die.

Marathon runners make it to the finish line, and their body takes a toll.

Broken bones, when re-healed, still ache sometimes, even years later. Strong people walk through the ache. But when they walked without ache, they were just as strong.

Our lives would be better without conflict. But the conflict reveals us to ourselves. And when we live as revealed people, we use the strength we’ve always had more fully.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, August 12th, 2014 | Author:

When I saw that Robin Williams had died, I cried. A few silent tears ran down my cheeks at first. And then they just kept coming. Out of nowhere it seemed, I had grief for a person I had never met. This has happened to me when they are related to someone that I care about and know. Or when they have died and some tragic way — victims of social injustice or war, things like this.

But here I was crying for a man I never knew who had always made me laugh.

I’ve gotten in the habit over the past year of listening to comedians on Pandora online. Robin was one of my favorites to listen to. Through Pandora and Spotify I’ve listened to everything of his that is available on the free online mediums. He is hilarious and rash and crude and stop-you-in-your-tracks because what he says is not just funny, it’s true.

His films like Goodwill hunting have touched me greatly. Dead Poets Society is why my favorite English teacher became a teacher. People always laugh at him when he admits that, but he continues to admit it because it’s true, and really it’s a powerful movie for those that it speaks to.

I remember watching Patch Adams when I was young, and being fascinated with the idea that laughter could also be so real and so vital. I think that’s part of what Robin Williams was doing with his life – he was using laughter to get the real stuff with people.

I am at a pretty jaded point in life right now. I have hope, which is a new phenomenon again for me, but this past season has been a very dark and very skeptical one. I have battled depression. I have known the hard work of choosing to get out of bed and face the world for another day. I am distrusting of men. I am distrusting of friends. I am distrusting of the church. I am distrusting of church people. I am distrusting of pastors. I am distrusting in general.

But the church that I go to here in Granite Bay, Bayside Church, is a little bit different. They’re using the Miyagi method of doing one thing while really teaching me another. (Wax on wax off really is the karate chop.) And when I go to church and Pastor Curt Harlow says the funniest stories that I’ve heard in church, I laugh really hard. And before I know it, my guard is down and he’s talking about God and about what God has to do with me. And I’m willing to listen because he made me laugh first before he tells me the true stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that sometimes hurts to hear, but that I need to hear.

I believe this is why Robin Williams was so influential to me, and many others. He made us laugh at inconsequential, very funny things. He even made us laugh in the midst of really hard things. But in his roles, his characters never left it there. The characters Robin played were those who made you laugh, and then got to what was real, got to what was at the heart of things. I’m pretty sure Flubber was the only one of his movies that I didn’t cry in. And this was true even before I really was a crier. He just had a way to, somehow through a TV screen, touch my heart in some of the most vulnerable, raw places. To reach me in my pain even as the character of a fictional plotline. He brought stories to life in a real way that made them affect me as a real person in the real world with real problems. He was an artist that was able to take fiction and make it important to those who were living true stories.

When I was young I had a book save my life. After my sister had passed away and had been trying to become her, in a way. The book Ordinary People was what caused a breaking point in me that was a pivotal moment in my story where I knew that I either had to end it all or had to start living as myself. This is a story I’d like to tell in detail at some point, but today’s not that day. But it was a pivotal point in my life, and it was a fictional book the convinced me that somebody out there understood me. And up until that point I had been convinced that nobody could possible understand. And the fact that there’s a stranger, an author who I had never met, who penned character lines and a fictional story, could understand what I was going through — that changed everything.

Robin Williams has played many rolls which have played similarly significant moments of “I understand” in my life. And not everybody can play those kind of roles. In fact, he’s the only one that I know of that does it as well as he does.

As I was reading the book Ordinary People, Robin Williams was specifically who I had in mind as being the character who made such a significant impact in my story. He was who I pictured being Berger the therapist who spoke truth into the main character’s life and, subsequently, spoke it into mine. I don’t know why thought of Robin Williams in that role, he didn’t play in the movie Ordinary People, but at the time that’s just who I imagined. Someone with kind eyes, who makes you laugh, sees through your bullshit, and then tells you the hard truth. Someone who understands.

I don’t know what Robin was like as a person. But as a comedian he was hilarious, and as a story-teller, he was influential in real lives, and he will be missed. His relate-ability in both the laughter and the seriousness were what continually made him a presence that I believe made people feel like somebody may really understand them.

While his fictional characters have touched me I believe the man behind them was the one speaking truth in a way that made it matter in real life. I believe the man behind them understood the pain of the world. And he was the rare type of man who could both lighten that pain but also validate it.

Rest in Peace, Robin.