Losing My Marbles
“Whenever someone supports you, or is kind to you, or sticks up for you, or honors what you share with them as private, you put marbles in the jar. When people are mean, or disrespectful, or share your secrets, marbles come out . . . Trust is built one marble at a time.”
- Brene Brown
Author's Disclaimer: I 100% did not run this past my husband before I posted it.
Last November, some people tried to take all of my husband’s marbles.
I am actually used to, if not okay with, people taking my marbles. I spent the bulk of my life refusing to even entertain the idea that someone might be willing to stick up for me, support me, or honor me, because when that doesn’t happen for you as a kid, it for sure doesn’t feel like it’s gonna happen as an adult. Having said that, I’ve been beyond fortunate to have friends who have put the loveliest, most rare marbles in my jar until it’s full to overflowing. There are people in my life who have given me more than I deserve, more than I could ever offer.
My point is this – I’m okay with people trying to up-end MY marble jar. I’m tough, and I’m mean, and I expect very little from most people so it just sort of feels like part of the price of playing the game.
My husband, Charles, is not like this. Somehow, in some miraculous way, in spite of the horrors life has served up to him with clenched fists, he has maintained his innocence. He sees the best in people. He loves with his whole heart. He doesn’t hold grudges. Someone could run over his foot with their car on purpose and he would assume that they had a good reason for doing so.
This is a man who cried during The Incredibles 2 and who tears up watching Downton Abbey every time any of the characters – ANY of them – does anything kind or loving. He literally cannot watch Breaking Bad or The Handmaid’s Tale because he can’t stand that the characters are being hurt. This is a man who spends hours every year helping his ex-wife with her taxes, not because she pays him, but because he’s kind. This is a man who gives his personal telephone number out to complete strangers who seem like they might be in distress. This is a man who has somehow maintained a childlike wonder, who believes in magic, who quotes Star Wars and Lord of the Rings at the bathroom mirror when he thinks nobody’s listening, who holds his Harry Potter wand while meditating; a man who would happily empty our bank account in the service of good causes if his stingy, money-grubbing wife was cool with that. He takes care of people. That’s what he does, and it’s who he is.
And because he’s so freaking kind and loving and forgiving, I get 7 different flavors of murdery anytime anyone is mean to him.
Last November, the unbelievably wrong-headed and poorly managed board of Unity of Birmingham decided to terminate Charles' contract. They did this for a variety of reasons, all of them spurious. He was “too vocal” in his support of the LGBTQ+ community. He talked about social justice, which people didn’t want, because church was a place you were supposed to go to “feel good.” He made hard choices, like laying off employees the church couldn’t afford to pay, even though these decisions kept him up worrying at night. Worst of all, he was in the military. So, in spite of the fact he’d taken a 50% pay cut in order to keep Unity afloat, in spite of the fact he was regularly working 70-hour weeks to pick up the slack of the reduced staff, they notified him by registered letter (they lacked the basic human decency to even pick up the phone) that he had 48 hours to clean out his office and then they changed the locks to the building. They treated him the way you’d treat a criminal, not the way you would treat a very good man who had always behaved honorably.
To say that this was devastating to Charles is to colossally understate the matter. I won’t recount the details of the crisis this threw him into – I will only ask you to imagine how you would feel if an organization to which you’d devoted unbelievable amounts of time and energy, and for which you’d make incredible personal sacrifices, did the same thing to you. It wasn’t just the firing, it was the heartless, cowardly, unethical, mean-spirited way it was done.
It’s not just a marble spill, it’s a shattering of the freaking jar.
This week we found out that, although Unity of Birmingham’s termination of Charles violated federal USERRA law which protects veterans, that might not matter, because it’s possible churches don’t have to follow federal law. Of course, an ethical organization would follow the law anyway, but I think it’s been clear for a long time that’s not what we’re dealing with.
Once I realized that the legal system might not provide my husband protection, I went into full vengeance mode. If the U.S. government wasn't going to do something about this, I was.
Remember how I said Charles doesn’t carry grudges? I am the universe’s counterbalance for that. I might say that I can carry a grudge so well that if doing so built muscles, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson should look out for me because I’d be coming for his job.
I have a very short list of enemies, all of whom I would happily destroy. You can only get on my enemies list one way: you hurt someone I love. This absolutely heinous woman hurt my best friend 5 years ago, and TO THIS DAY I entertain scenarios about how to completely ruin her day, peace of mind, and/or life. A teacher was responsible for damage to one of my children 6 years ago, and I don’t think I have it in myself to toss raw sewage on him to save him if he was on fire.
I’m not sure of all the reasons for my addiction to grudges, but part of it is probably due to the fact that The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books and has been since early adolescence. That (admittedly fictional) man spent DECADES training himself to do awesome crap for the single-minded purpose of demolishing his enemies, and then pulled it off with incredible patience and attention to detail, and I guess I missed the moral dilemma part that Alexandre Dumas included and just zeroed in on the amazingness of pulling off that kind of epic revenge plot. The Count was like John Wick but with twice the brain power and a broader set of revenge tools. It was something to aspire to, for sure.
Part of the thing with having an overdeveloped sense of vengeance is that you’re really good at figuring out ways to destroy people, because that’s where your creative energy goes. Unfortunately, in the past, like say, in college, I was extremely proud of this creative capability and I used it. Two of my targets dropped out of college, and another one joined a cult. I am not making this up, this is an actual thing that happened. Like, an actual person actually joined an actual cult as a partial result of my behavior. To this day, I wonder if I’d just been, you know, not horrid, maybe John would have decided the cult wasn’t for him.
So as of yesterday, I had a very straightforward, multi-pronged plan to accelerate the torment and demise of the organization that had hurt my husband, all of it legal, none of it kind. It included some especially harmful nuggets for people I felt were particularly culpable. While the organization is being poorly run and managed, and is likely doomed in the mid-to-long-term, I didn’t want to wait that long and I wanted to be a direct cause of its failure. I felt the response I had designed was proportional and just. More than this (and I’m being painfully honest here), I would enjoy carrying it out.
After crafting my plan I sat there with my thoughts. Every last one of them was dark. There wasn’t a single iota of me that didn’t feel that Unity deserved this. There wasn’t an atom of my being that didn’t want to follow through.
I thought of Charles with his kind, innocent face, grasping his wand as he meditated. I thought of John joining that cult 20 years ago, and how I still regretted the part I played in that (even though John had really pissed me off). I thought about the dark place I would need to live in in order to do this. I would be feeding the part of me that destroyed things, not the part of me that could build. I couldn’t love anyone, not even my husband and children, with my whole heart, if any part of that heart was consumed with revenge. Vengeance and love can’t come out of the same place; one would poison the other.
Our society is replete with meanness; we’re saturated in it. From internet trolls and cyberbullies, to the casual denigration of the marginalized into invisibility, to the actions and words of the vicious autocrat occupying the highest office of the land, we suffer from an overabundance of people trying to strike back against slights both real and imagined. We’re mean because we’re afraid. We’re afraid we won’t get what we want, that somebody will get away with something, that we’re not loved, that we aren’t important. We’re filled with a terror so huge and mammoth it would take a love that’s even larger to overcome it. This terror, and the way it encourages us to lash out, is a contagious sickness that magnifies as you attempt to combat it with more of the same.
I talked to my best friend (the one whose tormentor I would still obliterate if I could). I asked for some advice from trusted sources. And then I went home and talked to the man I would fight dragons for about all of this.
He’s hurt, he’s feels like he’s been betrayed by both his church and his country, but he’s ready to move on. He’s geared up for the next thing. He’s happy and excited about Magic City Spiritual Community, and he loves the people there. He’s getting to minister, and he’s getting to teach. He’s made a practice of knowing when to let go, and he knows it’s time (he wrote about it, rather prophetically, here). In the end, Unity couldn’t take any of that away from him – but I could, if I chose to be bitter and vengeful.
So I said the last thing I expected to hear come out of my mouth, because I don’t think I have faith of any kind: “I guess we’re just going to have to have faith that this is all going to work out the way that it’s supposed to.”
I don’t know if I believe that, even though I think I believed it when I said it. Sometimes THE WORST people prosper (cough, cough, some people in elected office). Sometimes people do horrible things and get away with it. Sometimes organizations screw people over for years and years and years without repercussions.
But then again, sometimes, your husband brings you all the marbles he can carry and pours them into your jar until it overflows.
I can’t restore Charles’ marble jar, the one that other people broke. But what I can do is make sure I’m always finding the best, most opalescent, sun-catching marbles the world has to offer and dropping them into the jar he carries now, one at a time, as weeks turn into months turn into years. I will be the person who brings things, not the one who takes away. As I do this for him, I suspect I'll find I'm doing it for me, as well, and for the others that I love and want to learn to love.
Maybe that’s all we can do for one another, in the end, one precious galaxy-filled marble at a time.