Warning — this post is going to be just a little unusual for me, no matter which, or how many, of my faces you know.

Shall we begin?


My epiphanies tend not to be blinding-light, road-to-Damascus moments (though I’ll admit I’ve had a few of those, like the moment when I realized that it was probably smarter to start carrying a walking stick than to keep falling on my head at inconvenient moments). More often, they’re moments when a great many things I already knew, miscellaneous bits of information acquired here and there the way a magpie accumulates shiny things, fall into a completely new, and perfectly obvious, configuration. The kind of moment that makes a person sit there with her mouth open, wondering idly if something’s going to fly in, while she contemplates the new pattern in her life and wonders what it’s going to do to all the careful constructs she’s already built.

I had one of those moments this afternoon. Some of my epiphanies (most of them, frankly) have very little to do with anyone but me. But this one… damn. I have to try to share it. If the pattern isn’t as logical to you as it is to me, I apologize; something I perceive all at once is hard to reduce to a linear medium like print. But I’m supposed to be a writer, right? That’s my job; getting what’s inside my head into yours.

I suppose this particular insight started with an article I read this morning, somewhere on the Internet; an article about the extent of Russian psychological engineering being conducted via social media. Facebook groups, and their equivalent on other social media (I’m primarily a Facebooker, myself, so I’m not as conversant with the other forms) seeded social media with messages designed to inflame, to set us against one another regardless of our political persuasions. Russian-backed groups posed as white supremacist organizations, published outrageous allegations, organized rallies, insisted that the only way to deal with illegal immigrants was to “kill them all.” They posed as BLM cells and so-called “Antifa”, advocated murder and rioting and looting. They posed as vicious homophobes, and as TERFs. And as individual trolls, they inserted themselves into as many conversations as they could, solely to fan the flames of our hatred for one another.

To a child of the Cold War, this isn’t as crazy an idea as it sounds. I grew up in an era when every school had its fallout shelter every classroom had its duck-and-cover drills; one of my earliest memories is of my father trying to explain the nuclear test-ban treaty to his three-year-old daughter so I would stop crying and go to sleep, without looking out my window waiting for the sky to glow, and then to fall. Paradoxically, I’ve always loved Russia, and Russians, ever since I can remember… but the hostility of the Russian government was a fact of my life during my most formative years. And it seems odd to that Cold War child that no one seemed to foresee social media being weaponized in quite this way – maybe if Facebook had been invented by someone a little older, the world would be a different place right now. Or maybe not…

We talk about terrorists being “radicalized”. I don’t know how many of us have ever given any thought to what that actually means, since it’s something that happens to people Other Than Us. Maybe we imagine being locked in a room, listening to a hypnotic voice chanting over and over again until the capacity for conscious thought is gone. Maybe we imagine a deliberate program of indoctrination, available in secret corners of the Internet to those fanatical enough to seek out the instructions that will turn them into killing machines.

I don’t think that’s what it means at all. I think it means exactly what’s been done to us, and is still being done to us. It means ensuring that the medium in which most of us spend so much of our time is filled with the voices of hate – sometimes the voices of those who hate us, and sometimes the voices of those telling us “we” have no choice but to hate them. It means saturating the public discourse with the language of fear and loathing and hatred, until those are the only responses we think of when someone disagrees with us. Until we respond even to those we love with anger and suspicion, prepared to be wounded.

I don’t pretend to be a professional in the field of psychology, but I do know something about the Jungian notion of the shadow. The shadow lives in all of us, the impulses and emotions and thoughts we choose (for the most part) not to air, because we know their capacity to cause harm and pain to ourselves and others. But sometimes, this theory goes, we feel we have permission to let the shadow out. There’s great power in the breaking of a taboo, a rush, a euphoria. And it’s addictive – once the shadow is out, it takes a tremendous effort to cage it again.

I thought, during the summer of 2016, that that was the appeal of the current occupant of the Oval Office – he was giving his base permission to let out the hate and the fear and the jealousy they’d kept bottled up. They felt safe, free to hate.

Now, though, I’m starting to realize that I was only seeing part of the picture. All of our shadows have come uncaged. We have all been radicalized. We are encouraged and prodded and coaxed to dehumanize those with whom we disagree – and that’s so much easier when they’re being encouraged and prodded and coaxed to dehumanize us. Those flames probably don’t even need to be fanned any more – but the fanning goes on, groups and bots and trolls and clickbait Web sites feeding the fire and waiting for us to destroy ourselves.

The manipulation has had another effect, too. One I can speak to from personal experience, and one brought home to me all too clearly last night. Some of us – many of us, I think – fight the radicalization. We refuse to join in the shouting, hurl the stones, lash out at enemies real and perceived. But there’s a cost to that, too: despair. Depression. I’m entitled to wear the semi-colon, and I might, someday; the night after the last election was the first time in my life I woke up in the middle of the night and prayed to die before dawn. The first, but not the last. Thankfully, I’ve found a medication regimen that works, and something else, which I’ll get to in a minute, and I’m no longer at risk.

But not all of us are so fortunate.

The poison in the air around us kills, as our m/m community learned last night, when one of us could no longer see any path to the light. James’ last Facebook message told us so, and said good-bye; what struck me about his message, though, and added to this quiet epiphany of mine, is that apart from its finality, his message could have been sent by almost any one of us. How many of us have “said good-bye” to Facebook, or social media, temporarily or permanently, because we simply can’t bear the hatred, the anger, or just the “drama” – us, turning on our own, treating our own the way we treat the “enemy”? The people who knew James well picked up on the difference in his final message, but I’m sure that to many, it was another entry in a wretched, hurting, despairing string of farewells. We hoped he’d take time away to restore himself, and come back to us when he could bear to, as so many of our friends have had to do.

James was one casualty in this war. I’ve known and loved others. I came close to being one myself.

For me, it ends here. The war ends here. I will not allow myself to be manipulated any longer, either to hate or to despair.

I mentioned “something else” a few paragraphs ago. I’m an Associate member of the Order of Julian of Norwich, an Episcopal contemplative order. Mother Julian was a medieval anchoress, the author of the first book published in the English language by a woman, Revelations of Divine Love. In a nutshell – the tl;dr, if you will – her premise is that God is love, that he created all things through love, that his will for the world is perfect love.

My own theology is a tiny bit more eccentric than Julian’s (good thing I’m an Episcopalian, we’re good with eccentricities). Julian was saddled with a theology that held that God was all-powerful, and caused everything that happened; therefore, if something bad happened, that theology was tasked with explaining why a good God made bad things happen, as well as with explaining why God didn’t just bring his will to pass, if he could do anything. My own personal theology holds that God isn’t all-powerful, because he gave us free will. Our own wills are powerful enough to do things God doesn’t want us to do, because he refused to create a race of slaves.

So if I am to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” if I want God’s will, that perfect love, to exist here and now, I need to give my small part of that will back to that purpose. My will has to be love, too. Fortunately, as one of my favorite benedictions puts it, “We are not called to love perfectly, only to love.” Because perfect love is much too much of a challenge for me – there are times when just plain ordinary love is well out of reach, and the best I can do is try not to hate, just for today. And sometimes I fall short even of that. But I’ve promised, I’ve bound myself to love. Radical love. So I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. It’s been a lot harder to do that lately… but now I see the strings of the puppeteers, the little man behind the curtain. It’s a different game now. (And when it comes to those who have deliberately aligned themselves with the hatred and the fear, for their own advantage — love doesn’t necessarily mean sweetness and light and flowers. But letting go of the hate frees me from the burden of seeking vengeance and frees me to seek justice.)

I suppose, in the end, this is another one of those epiphanies that’s addressed mainly to myself. It’s not my place to tell anyone else how to live their life, and it’s definitely not my place to consider anyone else’s path inferior to my own. But I can invite you to join me on my path – please do, it’s easier, and much more pleasant, to walk in company. (And it’s going to involve writing, I promise! – it’s the despair that’s been keeping me from writing, and I’m convinced that writing romance is part of the way I’m called to let that radical love into the world.) I won’t be used any longer, I won’t be manipulated… and I will love.

Walk with me, dear ones.