Back when I was a part of my family’s cult, people left [or were kicked out] all the time. We were supposed to cut them off when they left us, but I held a slightly different policy. I figured the last thing in the world they needed was to look at their phone or email inbox and see the name “Coller”, so I didn’t reach out, but I’m pretty sure I gladly welcomed anyone who reached out to me. (My memory may be more charitable than reality was.)
Some of us were very very close when they left. When they didn’t reach out, it kind of hurt, but I tried to understand that the relationship just hadn’t meant as much to them as it did to me. A long list of names fits here…I loved them. If they really cared about our friendship, it seems like they would have reached out. Why didn’t they give me a chance to react my way instead of just assuming that I felt the same as the other people in my group?
Experiencing The Mob
When I left, I reached out. To my cousins, to my friends, to my family, to other people people in the denomination. I was met almost exclusively with rejection, pity or silence. There were 3 families left; my closest friends from the org. I waited several weeks to reach out, and in those weeks, I think I learned why some people don’t reach out. As I wrote at the time:
I think I understand now. This sucks. I care very much about you. But sitting through another trial where I’m trying to convince yet another jury feels like more than I can take. I’d rather just take my sentence. Being judged is easy for me. I don’t mind people thinking bad things about me. But sitting through the humiliation of a trial and hearing the judge read the findings – it’s nearly unbearable. Count after count: you lose 3 friends for this sin, you lose 4 friends for this misunderstanding, you lose 5 family members for this unanswered question, but for that one we will allow you to ask for a re-trial. Just give me life. Just put me away forever. Give me the chair or the firing squad. I want to check out.
I think that’s why [those other men] didn’t call me [when they left]. They felt like there was at least a 1% chance that I would also tell them that I was done with them and ashamed of them and that their life did not meet my standards. That is not what I said to the ones that called, so I’ve thought I’m a pretty good friend. But no one is a good enough friend to be worth that kind of torture over and over and over. Losing a friendship, no matter how good the friend…it’s so much easier than this. They were probably waiting for me to call…or anyone – whoever was a part of the crowd (either by choice or just by appearances) and wanted to step out of the crowd. When it feels like there’s a mob, you don’t ask each individual for the nuance of their position.
I’m not a better man than [those other men]. And if I hadn’t been on the other side of that, I would now do exactly what they did. F*** it all – I’ll find new people who love me. But I know that I loved and accepted those who reached out to me, though I now regret waiting for them to do so. So this is me being my bravest self, signing up for more torture than I think I can take for the chance to not lose you. If nothing else, at least I’ll get the practice of showing up and being vulnerable and present in the face of extreme pain.
From where I sit, I’m fearful because you look like part of the mob. But I’m choosing not to assume what your response is. What I would love to hear from you is “Of course you are welcome in our hearts and our home. You have us forever. We are family and we fight for family. If you say you’ve messed up, I don’t need the details. And if someone else wants to give me more, I’m not interested. I am concerned about you, but I really just need to know what you need from me right now to get to where you think you’re supposed to be. And I’m so sorry that you are hurting.”
Whose Responsibility Is It To Reach Out?
It must vary from situation to situation. But in a long string of broken relationships, it’s almost universal, in my experience, that both sides are convinced it’s the other’s responsibility to reach out. I spent 40 years waiting for others. I hope to spend the next 40 erring on the side of the expression of love, and the hope for reconciliation, and empathy for different perspectives.
In your broken relationships, what would have to happen to initiate reconciliation?