Copyright 2013 Pacific Northwest Writers Association. All Rights Reserved
Shut Up, I’m Sorry, I Love You
The salvation of man is through love and in love.
~ Viktor Frankl
Recently, in the middle of a heated disagreement with me, my son yelled “Shut up!” – then immediately added, “I’m sorry, I love you.” I found the quick succession of phrases funny and was impressed with how efficiently he traveled the emotional spectrum. He was also genuine – not just offering rote politeness. After his initial reaction, he remembered that at the core of our relationship is love – and he chose to return to it.
Shut up is one of the ways we try to exert control over things. It’s a mild stab at dictatorship – as in, “All right then, I’ll just SILENCE you!” Labeling and name-calling serve a similar purpose. When frustration peaks, and we’re feeling misunderstood and the other person seems glaringly wrong, we might attempt to shut the whole thing down. But, in actuality, it doesn’t work. Even if we manage to dominate in the moment, the argument continues within us – and perhaps with others on other days.
I’ve had occasional shut ups in my life (some overt, some veiled) and I’m sorrys, and I’m always striving to get back to love, though it’s often not the smoothest course. I’ve thrown my share of fits; I’ve certainly tried to dominate with my opinion. But the aftertaste is always that of pathetic ruler, unwilling to allow and hear others fully. I might have won the crown for a moment, but the benefit of the relationship was simultaneously lost to me.
We are in relationship to everything in our lives. I spend much of my time writing and making pictures and find great value in my relationship with my work. I love focusing on a moment, an insight, a feeling and striving to express it. I find that process and those resonant perceptions beautiful. That’s important to me. I even had a dream once in which I was feeling thwarted and yelled out, “I’m just trying to make something beautiful! That’s my thing!”
The dream was an accurate depiction of my connection to my work; it also accurately depicted an unnecessarily defensive stance. Our relationship to life is defined by moment-to-moment attitudinal decisions. I don’t need to make an agitated declaration to try to clear the field of possible interference or “thwarting.” My relationship to my life occurs in a private realm in which personal freedom – choice of thought – prevails. External interference is not ultimately relevant. These truths do not need to be shouted from a rooftop, only embraced – for they are rooted in the love at the core of all relationships to life.
No person, place, or thing has any power over me, for I am the only thinker in my mind.
~ Louise Hay
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, writes of his experience in concentration camps during World War II. While working hard labor at night, in frigid temperatures, he thought fully of his wife and saw that even in the worst of conditions, one “may know bliss” through contemplating his “beloved.” Later, suffering from typhoid fever, in an effort to prevent a total breakdown, he worked each night reconstructing his book manuscript. Frankl sustained himself with his understanding of “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” By maintaining his free mind, he allowed himself the choice to see love and meaning in life.
The concentration camps were a strategy for shutting down (primarily) one group of people. The Nazis called their plan the Final Solution – an apt title, since they perceived all problems attributable to one source: the Jews. From this perspective it’s logical that pointed annihilation would be considered a permanent answer. Yet threats and problems are ultimately perceptual. Whether the Jews were a threat didn’t matter; the perception that gained momentum was that they were. And behavior follows thought.
On the surface, this looks true: one person threatens the other; the other retaliates (“Shut up!” in some version). Yet unseen in the wings is I love you – because the deeper truth is we can love each other. Worldwide, we work together cooperatively and compassionately every day. Resources and monies are sent to rebuild and provide relief during times of crisis and challenge. Help is offered, prayers are sent, because we want to see each other well. There are dark moments and those acting from their perception of threat and disassociation from love. But in the end, if we don’t return to love, we compromise our relationship to ourselves and to life – because Shut up is simply not who we are.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.