I consider myself to be a fairly polite person. My mother taught me that. She taught me to respect people, no matter who they were, where they came from, what they looked like, what they believed…she instilled in me an ability to stand up for what I believe in but to also not cause arguments (especially when they aren’t necessary), and not to be rude.
However, I don’t think she ever counted on her daughter having exceptionally strong beliefs when it comes to controversial topics. When she taught me to be polite, I was still a child. I was to respect people (especially and unquestioningly, my elders), to do as I was told, to be seen and not heard (unless called upon).
These days, I can be pretty vocal about certain topics. Topics that get under my skin. Topics that speak to my own experience in life, as a woman, as a mother, as a survivor, as a god damn human. Like when I hear about women still being unable to obtain abortions in certain areas (and the way clinics are shutting down left and right here, harming more women than ever before), or when I hear about someone beating their spouse to a bloody pulp (since 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical abuse by a partner in their lifetime), or the way in which women continue to earn less than men for the same amount of work.
I recently published an article about another controversial topic that is near and dear to my heart. It’s about child loss and what it’s like to grieve as a parent who does not subscribe to a particular set of beliefs. It is about being an agnostic and/or atheist in a believers world. Salon picked it up and the response has been unexpectedly overwhelming.
I’d published a piece on losing Maggie before, where I received nothing but kind words from friends and strangers alike. This time, though, it’s been a mixed bag. Some people seem to lose sight of the fact that the piece is meant to exist to help other grieving parents with their loss and their feelings of solitude and instead only focus on feeling attacked about their religion, when I clearly don’t attack religion at all.
No where in my piece do I call people stupid or foolish or ignorant for what they believe. I don’t personally go out of my way to attack anyone or any belief. I simply suggest that while it’s wonderful for folks to be there for their friends and family who grieve, if they know this person is not religious, maybe choose a few different words of comfort when speaking with them.
Yet I am surprised at how many people have gone out of their way and taken time out of what I’m assuming is not a very busy day to Tweet me or write me lengthy e-mails and Facebook messages about how they believe I am wrong, and go on to basically do the same thing the article warns about–thus further proving my point about how people can’t accept that others don’t believe in the way they do. I won’t even get started on the highly offensive trolls in the comments section because frankly, I did not go through the 500+ comments because I am busy being a writer and a mother, and I just simply don’t give a shit.
Fortunately, most of the letters and comments have been fairly respectful (thank you to the many Jehova’s Witnesses and other Christians who have written simply to offer words of kindness. I’ve received some especially interesting and wonderful letters even from pastors and ministers who agree with my lack of belief in a “heaven”).
More importantly though is the fact that most of the letters and comments received have been from folks who wholeheartedly relate, many of which are grieving parents themselves. Thank you to the woman who opened up about her multiple miscarriages and the man who shared his solitude with me after the loss of his child, finding his wife going in the opposite direction and becoming more involved in the church. Thank you for your support and for letting me know that my words reached you and are helping you in some way.
I’m so proud that one piece of writing has gone such a long way. Because of my article, we’ve had dozens of new requests to join our baby loss community for agnostic/atheist mothers. It means that sometimes, writing really does affect change. It means I’m not just screaming out into the nothing any more.
Be on the look out for more outspoken, controversial articles from me in the future. Because someone’s got to say what’s on our minds.