When teaching AP language each year, my students always seem to struggle with truly grasping the definition of a paradox. And, to be completely honest, I generally quote them the definition, two ideas that seem contradicting at first but when further examined make sense. I give them an example, for instance, beautiful mistakes. We discuss, and we move on. And, even though I’m a die hard analysis nerd, I really never gave the idea of a paradox much thought.
That is until one of the three am conversations I so frequently have with friends. Quite often in my blogs, I refer to my paradoxical emotions. My battles between what my intellect says and what my heart feels. My existence in the gray areas of life, and my desire for more black and white. The desire for my feelings to make sense, be justified, at least in my own mind. But then, other times, I take pleasure in the gray, the emotions that seem contradictory but actually make sense. To feel anger which leads me to want to forgive. To grieve but instantaneously feel joy at a forgotten memory. To be blinded by the bad in the world, which leads to the amplification of the good. To want to forget the bad memories, but to need to remember them because they are a measurement of how far I’ve come. Constant tug and pull. Never traveling in a straight line, but zigzaging my way through a maze; backtracking down paths that I thought I’d conquered, only to relive then again. Feeling an emotion, and then immediately its opposite. Which one is real? Which is fake? How do you distinguish?
I struggle with my inability to distinguish because it, at least in my mind, is labeled as failure. Again, intellectually it’s silly, emotionally, it’s real. Surprise-paradox number five thousand and three, all within the last four and a half months. The back and forth, up and down, crying, happy, livid, forgiving – it’s exhausting. Often times it’s debilitating.
But as exhausting and debilitating it often times is, it’s how I know I’m making progress. Thankfully, few people in my life truly understand how I feel. And as alone as that often times makes me feel, it makes me happy too. I’d never wish this upon anyone.
Humanity, progress, reflection, exist in paradoxes. Recently I watched a movie, and it began with this quote:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”
You can imagine why this paradox bothered me so much. And, I began to reflect on the most difficult paradoxical emotion I’ve encountered. One I’ve failed to conquer, but frequently revisit. Losing J in such a violent way, shook my belief in humanity. Actually, it erased it for a short period of time. It actually made me seriously consider giving up teaching all together. What could I possibly do to change humanity, if hundreds of people drove off that night to save themselves -not my husband? I created a lot of enemies in my mind during the days I spent despising most humans. And, I thought of countless ways I could inflict as much pain on my enemies, as they did on me. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about the pleasure I might feel if they could just feel an ounce of the pain I feel daily. I wanted, needed to, had to find a way to defeat them.
But, I couldn’t. They didn’t give me any means by which to defeat them. In order to defeat someone, you have to be in their head, understand them, predict their moves. And, even at my worst, I just couldn’t bring myself to go there. So at least I thought…
Despite what I wanted to feel, I felt remorse for even thinking of vindication. And, over the past months I’ve tried to come to terms with never receiving an apology, and at the same time not wanting one as well. Sometimes I want to think humanity has lost all hope because it’s easier than accepting an apology I’ll never get. It’s easier than forcing myself to become a better person. But in that lies the ultimate paradox of it all…. I am defeating the enemy because I get the motive. I understand why I haven’t received an apology. Reflecting and becoming a better person isn’t for the faint at heart. It’s why so many people remain stagnant. And, I feel in some ways for the enemy, even at the same time I’m experiencing anger. I feel for the stagnant… And while this pull and tug drives me insane, it motivates me as well. It’s what keeps me walking the line J walked daily. It’s what keeps me from only thinking about sticking my toes into the black, but never crossing over. It’s what makes me empathetic….an emotion that requires humility and reflection.
I know you all probably think I’m insane for admitting to feeling for the enemy, especially when my last post didn’t reflect that at all. I debated on sharing this feeling at all because I thought you’d think I was crazy. But, my paradoxes are what make me human, and they are what cause me to grow. They are what keep me from vindication because they are my vindication. They are what encourage me to continue to teach because they are how I’ll make a difference in the world. More young people need to be taught to embrace the paradoxes in our lives, and to use them to come out on the good side.
Paradoxes are a representation of the good and the bad-how each are reliant upon one another for existence. How could we praise our Savior if we didn’t have a firm grasp of the evils He is saving us from? Not saying one must intentionally experience sin in order to appreciate His glory. But, when we do slip up, it makes us all the more glad that He understands and is merciful. He is why I can even begin to entertain the idea of understanding my enemy’s motives…
So, while my paradoxical emotions drive me insane, they are also my reminder of the person God is preparing me to become. And my reminder of the importance of recognizing them so that I can continue to walk the line with my head held high. They are what allow me to bless others in the midst of my storm….
And while I am far from able to forgive, our even truly understand, I’ll just embrace my paradoxes. I’ll ride out the conflicting emotions, and I’ll pray that each time I gain strength and more mercy and grace, so that I’ll slowly become the person He has destined for me to be.
Maybe you disagree with my feelings. Maybe you think I should be angry, our that in some way I’m betraying J by attempting to understand my enemy, or attempting to start the process of forgiveness. If so, please know you are entitled to your opinions, but you don’t live my life. I can’t continue to be angry; it eats away my being, and it causes me to never grow as a person. Being angry at him requires me to take off my teaching hat, and agree there’s bad in the world and there is nothing I can do about it. In my opinion in doing so I would not only be betraying the cause for which my husband sacrificed his life, but I would be betraying the person God created me to be. You can’t truly be a teacher and agree to give into the bad in the world. Those two can’t exist with in the same person. So, despite being robbed of the love of my life, an amazing daddy to my child, and so much more, I’m choosing to at least entertain the idea of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about me-my emotional well-being, not his. Forgiveness doesn’t justify his actions; it just allows me to be freed of SOME of the burdens he’s placed upon me. So, while you may disagree, please don’t think I’m in any way betraying J, instead, I’m attempting to be a better person, so that I can raise our child to be the man his daddy was, and so that I can become the woman who can continue to bring honor to my husband’s sacrifice, my family’s, and the families of so many others who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.