While I talk a lot about my background here on the blog, I generally maintain some level of distance. Today I want to narrow that distance by sharing an email from a young woman who was a good friend of mine growing up. We’ll call her Kate. Her email reduced me to tears and reveals a lot about just how this sort of culture functions—and about how and why shunning occurs.
Kate was a good bit younger than I but was one of my closest friends during my high school years. She was homeschooled like me, and was growing up in a similar family. When I was in college I started questioning the beliefs I’d been raised with, and as a result, things fell apart between my family and I, and by extension between myself and everyone I had known growing up, both friends and parents. I knew that I couldn’t involve Kate in any of this. She was still in high school and I didn’t want to cause trouble for her with her family, who had before seen me as a good influence on her but would no longer. So I just sort of let Kate fall out of my life. I didn’t see any other way.
Several years after all of this I emailed Kate to apologize, and explained why I’d distanced myself from her. She accepted the apology, and said she understood, but volunteered little else. Time went by, and Kate headed off to college herself. Then suddenly she emailed me out of the blue, taking me by complete surprise. I’ve gotten her permission to share this email because I think there is much to learn from it. People don’t just wake up one day and decide to shun those who step out of line. Instead, they get caught up in an all inclusive culture and lose sight of how things can be different.
Hey Libby Anne,
I have been wanting to write you lately . . . mostly because I have started to understand some things I didn’t realize before and reevaluate things. I don’t know if this will really mean anything to you, but I want to apologize. Let me explain . . .
I hope this doesn’t bring up stuff too painful . . . but I feel that I need to tell you. I’m sorry for treating you the way I did and the way I have. Long ago, you were kind of the older sister I never had, and I looked up to you immensely. Everyone did, I think. When you started questioning things you had believed and embraced (and helped me embrace as well), I couldn’t understand why you didn’t want your parents’ advice.
In the sheltered homeschooling community, where marrying without parental approval or questioning your beliefs was yes, a sin (ugh), I didn’t understand why you were doing what you were doing.
I know you didn’t want to involve me in the whole mess, but the thing is, even if you had tried to include me in your new life, I wouldn’t have because I was a judgmental, sheltered, homeschool kid. In fact, I’m not sure my parents would have allowed it either because of being afraid of being “supportive.” This really, really irks me now.
I look back with deep, deep regret with this whole time. I’m sorry for letting adherence to rules get in the way of love. And if I had to do it all over again . . . if I had been older, if I had had a voice, if I had understood what was going on . . . I would have said that practically disowning you, shunning you as a community, and treating you as the black sheep was and is wrong. The fact is, you were making a choice, and whether or not I or others agreed with it wasn’t the point. I should have loved you anyways.
I am sorry that I failed to show love to you when you needed it most. I am sorry that I was so stuck in a system that mandated obedience of doctrine over people. I am sorry that I let my disagreements with you carry out into failing to love you as a person.
You might say that it’s not my fault, and I was so young at the time anyways. At the time, I really had no understanding of what was happening, and I can’t apologize for others, but can only control how I act. So I’m trying to make up for it now, even though I should have done this years ago when I knew it was wrong.
I’m sorry I haven’t apologized sooner. I’m sorry that I’ve judged rather than loved and shown grace. I’m sorry that I left you out of my life because I thought you “deserved it” because I disagreed with you. It was wrong. I am still learning what it is to love and extend grace, so I don’t claim to have it all done . . . but will you please forgive me for treating you so wrongfully?
When your friends are all the children of your parents’ friends and your entire community is fairly homogeneous and monolithic, the door simply shuts behind you when you step outside, with everyone you ever knew still inside. Some combination of the decision to just step away on my side and the decision to shun and reject on their side meant that I lost everyone I had grown up with.
Because I was in college away from home at the time, I was able to fairly seamlessly form new friendships and engage in a new community. I later married and moved with my new husband to a new town, had two children and made new connections. But still, there was a gap there, an ache. Everyone I’d grown up with was gone from my life. But now, this is no longer true. I have Kate back.
And there’s another lesson here, too, and that is the power of the blogosphere. Kate told me that when the first doubt descended on her, the first question and concern, she started googling. Ultimately, that googling brought her to my blog, and to other similar blogs, and she has now been reading this blogging community for over a year. Kate recognized my story and followed my blog knowing who I was. Little by little, gradually, she thought, processed, and explored. Each post I wrote, unbeknownst to me, was read by her. It’s hard to describe how humbling that is.
What we do here, fellow bloggers, matters.