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Leah Perrault: A time to practise honesty and kindness

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  • June 12, 2020

Honest is hard. There is nothing like a season of physical distancing to remind me of that truth.

Our family has joined in the effort to protect the vulnerable by staying home and away from other households, drawing the six of us into closer proximity than in most other seasons. Honestly, it has been beautiful in some ways and really hard in others.

The thing about difficult seasons is that they have a way of exposing the things we try hard to obsessively weed out of the garden. In the same way that we can’t get to the pool for physical release, our big emotions have to stay home, too. The habits we have for building each other up and for hurting each other are magnified when we have fewer outings and interactions with people outside our home.

I wish I could say that honesty was my first instinct, but in most situations it simply is not. When people ask how I am, I consider how much time we have, who the person is, whether or not how I actually am is what they want to hear or if it is safe to even tell them. When my kids suggest that I am not being fair, I am quicker to defend myself than reflect on the possibility that I might be using my power in an unjust way. And when I am resentfully cleaning up a mess I didn’t make, I am often more interested in blaming my family for my unhappiness than being honest enough to ask for and then do what I need for my own emotional health.

When, exactly, did I learn to value false comfort over being honest? Over a lifetime, I think.

I do know when I began to see my dishonesty and denial for what it was. Depression lined up nicely along my perfectionism, and feeling frustrated with my relationship aligned neatly with my desire to be right. Tragic grief cracked it all open. I have learned that trauma plants itself on the fault lines in my soul and that healing happens when we trace the fault lines long enough to plant new seeds that will choke out the weeds in time.

Being honest, with kindness, is one of those seeds for me. The pandemic has given me a great opportunity to practise.

When people ask how I am, I can be honest, whether I choose to share a little or a lot. The comfort of others with my answer is not my responsibility.

When someone challenges my behaviour (child or otherwise), I feel so much better when I check with my motives than when I insist that I am always right. I can disagree and thank them for their observation or apologize and course-correct.

When I feel resentful, it is always a sign for me that I am not taking care of what I need. I can be honest about my needs and get them met before we work together on what needs to be done.

Maybe the hardest thing about practising honesty in a difficult season is that so much of what I want and need is simply not possible right now. Connecting with people in person, giving and getting hugs, play dates, swimming, our village to support us in raising our kids. It all feels like a bad dream we cannot wake up from.

But denying the pain of the loss is like pulling the leaves off the weeds and leaving the roots. The only way out of the discomfort is to see the roots of the pain and do the work of gently pulling them out without doing damage to the rest of my heart.

Honest can be uncomfortable because it exposes real pain, conflict and work. But honesty is a fertilizer for the life I want to grow. Being honest creates the space for something real in what is right now.

Not going to the pool means that we can plant a bigger garden. Not connecting with friends means that we can learn new ways to play as a family. We are finding new recipes when we are avoiding trips to the grocery store.

The honest truth is that this is hard, and we are growing into the family we will be when this season gives way to the next one.

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatchewan and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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