When Thoughts Leave the Mind (More on the ALI Community)
So I love talking about the history of the community, mostly because writing posts like that means that I get to revisit old bloggers who have stopped writing as well as their posts so I can grab their url. I have been reading blogs in the ALI community on a daily basis for 9 years, writing one for 7 years. (With 2213 published posts in a little over 2372 days… it means that for the last 7 years, I have written and posted on average one post per day. There are also hundreds of posts that are still in the draft folder. Whoa.) My Reader has always been at a couple hundred blogs; people stop writing, I add new ones… it all evens out. I also still like to read in the way I started, jumping from new blog to new blog by clicking through comments on someone’s post.
So I like to think that my view of the community comes from a long walk around the community vs. just dropping in on a few houses (and is therefore not unique; anyone who has been around a while has probably taken their own walk). My feeling is that we are a very supportive community. We tend to break down into smaller groups, sometimes by experience or situation (male factor groups or open adoption groups) but more often by how long you’ve been blogging or who your friends read. Back when the community was smaller, we did a great job of circling the wagons when someone was going through a tough time. It’s harder now that the community is so much larger, and people can’t possibly read every member anymore. It used to be that you could say a blogger’s name — Jenny from the IF Block — and even if you didn’t read her and email with her, you knew who she was.
But think about it this way: for some people, this community is the only community that remembers their child existed. That while they move through the face-to-face world without anyone suspecting what happened in the past, the people in this community not only know your child’s name (or the name you hoped to bestow), but they were the ones who were there in the middle of the night with a virtual hug when you were awake, crying at the computer after a loss. And even if you never meet them, they are walking on their earth with that name tucked somewhere in their mind, helping you carry that burden. For some people, this community is the only community that knows how far they’ve come. Who knows how dark their life felt two years ago, and how different it is now (or, conversely, how light it felt two years ago, and how dark it feels now). All those ALI kids that exist now — I remember back when their parents were starting to prep for an IVF cycle. We’ve known each other’s kids in a sense from before they were conceived, back when they were constructed out of hope instead of cells.
I’ve seen members of this community donate gametes to one another (and have children born from each other’s donor eggs, sperm, or embryos). I’ve seen members fundraise for one another so they could afford to cycle, and yes, have seen children born because of those funds. I’ve seen candy exchanges and card exchanges and get togethers and sleepover parties. There have been a few who have died, there have been a few who have lost their partner. There have been divorces and marriages.
And there have been some huge explosions that stretched across dozens of blogs. There have been people who have fallen through the cracks. There have been a handful of fake bloggers who created fake stories about fake infertility diagnoses or losses. There have been trolls from outside the community who have left comments across the ALI blogosphere, and there have been trolls from inside the community that have done the same.
Once, when I was teaching middle school, some kids ran inside during recess to tell us that a kid got a piece of mulch in his eye. The kid ended up having to go to the hospital, and the kids were upset over the thought of him hurt. A bunch of them cried. Josh couldn’t get over how the kids reacted to the other kid getting mulch in his eye. Most bloodthirsty, cruel middle schoolers would welcome the distraction and subsequent opportunity for rumour-mongering that comes from a kid having to go to the hospital in the middle of the day. They’d relish it like any good trainwreck, chatting by the lockers about how he would need to have his eye removed and wear a patch for the rest of his life. But instead, our middle schoolers cried. They were a good group of kids. They saw Mulch Boy as an everykid — any of them could have ended up with mulch in their eye, on the way to the hospital with their mother an hour away. They were worried about him. And that was how they were in general. That said, they also sometimes bullied each other and excluded each other and did the normal dickish things all middle schoolers do. But overall, if I had to describe them, I’d say that the mulch incident summed up who they were for the most part, the part that spoke loudest.
I think we’re fairly mulchy too. In both the mulch incident sense of the word, and the fact that we generally help each other grow and stay rooted in the chaos that is adoption, loss, and infertility (ALI).
That discussion on the history of thoughts about the Pain Olympics in the ALI community brought up the truth — most people engage in comparative pain or comparative grief at one point or another. But what we didn’t distinguish between was whether the thoughts remained in the person’s head or whether they came out of their mouth or in a blog post or in a comment section. On one hand, I sort of see a difference between thinking something and yet squelching those thoughts because you recognize that they’re hurtful (so you — in that case — are the only person who knows that you are playing the Pain Olympics).
On the other, we are (or become) what we think, right?
The truth is that unless the thoughts spill into actions or words, we have no idea what thoughts are tucked into someone’s mind, and frankly, I sort of like that bliss that comes with ignorance. I wouldn’t want the power to know what you’re really thinking. I assume that sometimes you think in your head, “what an idiot!” when you read something here, and then click away without leaving a comment. And I thank you for that… the not leaving a comment part. I don’t really need to know that you think I’m an idiot unless you can express that thought in a helpful manner.
So I do see a difference between thinking in your head “what an idiot!” and then squelching the desire to utter those words, and those who write blog posts or leave comments telling people they’re an idiot. And therefore, I see a difference between playing the Pain Olympics in your head, but then squelching those thoughts in order to either click away or leave a comment of support, vs. those who write screeds on their blog telling others in the community that they don’t know real pain or belittling someone else’s grief in their comment section.
Ideally, we would never think, “what an idiot!” or “you don’t know pain” in your head at all, but we’re human. And I think part of being human is not to deny our humanness but to work to balance our humanness (the desire to hoard, the every man for himself mentality, the mine mine mineness of being a person) with our need for community (it takes a village, we can’t do this alone, what’s going to work… teamwork!).
My only fear is that those thoughts — the ones we squelch — are a hidden gun. Let’s say that you’ve decided that your child won’t go over to any house where the parents keep a gun. Those who are open about having a gun are easy houses to avoid. Those who are equally vocal about not owning a gun are easy to trust (in this analogy, everyone is telling the truth). And then there are the houses you don’t know. They are not clearly posting an NRA sign out front nor are they wearing a Million Mom March t-shirt. These people may have a hidden gun in their house, even if they don’t participate within gun culture. Most likely, your child will never see or know of that gun. Which seems both safe and unsafe at the same time. On one hand, if the hiding spot is really good and even their child doesn’t know it exists in the house, there is pretty much no chance you or your child will ever know of its existence. It can’t do anything to directly hurt you if it never comes out of its hiding place, if that’s why you fear guns. But on the other hand, a gun in a house is always a risk. Always. 100% of the time. In the same way that a knife is a risk, and a hammer is a risk, and all sorts of potentially lethal objects are risks. We can’t pretend that a gun in a house doesn’t have the potential to be found and used. So if your fear is sending your child into a house with any gun, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s an openly owned gun or a hidden gun, it’s still a gun; it still has the potential to hurt.
Is a squelched Pain Olympics thought just a hidden gun? I don’t know. All I know is that if those thoughts come out of their hiding place, they have the potential to hurt. But if they remain in their hiding spot, they don’t really affect another person.
I’ll leave you with this thought. I heard a great lecture on the Ten Commandments last weekend, specifically about the last commandment which is the only one that isn’t action-oriented. It’s pretty apparent to the community if you steal, commit adultery, or murder if you’re caught in the act. But only you know (unless you express it to others) that you covet while you’re coveting. It’s all happening in your head. You could stand in front of me and covet, and I would have no idea. Unless I allow the thoughts to leave my mind or spill into my actions, I am the only person hurt by my coveting, as opposed to stealing, adultery, and murder which by definition involve hurting others.
I don’t know what to make of that, except to admit that I struggle with coveting and have always reassured myself that it doesn’t matter much because I don’t allow it to affect anyone else externally. It’s that aspect of humanness that I struggle with the most in terms of working with it in order to be part of the community, to follow a religion. The other 9 commandments are pretty much cake. That last one is a killer.