Friday, May 5, 2017

Stepping Back

It all started a litte less then a year ago when the horrors of Orlando were unfolding across network news in the US. Facebook was alive with its own news, thoughts, & lots of opinions. There was hurt, pain, & anger over what happened. During all the chaos I was pulling up names of a few friends who were traveling down that way, when a family member’s Facebook post floated across my vision.

The gist of the post was that the member wanted to ask their American family member what they thought of gun laws in the USA because they were tired of hearing about gun massacres as Americans were, in short, too stupid to give up their guns.

As an Expat I hear a lot more than people realise because, until I open my mouth, I look like everyone else. I’ve had people utterly embarrassed when they realise I’m an American, & I’ve had other people who don’t actually understand just how degrading what they say really is. I’ve never had family intentionally do it before though.

Friends of family members, yes. I’ve had a family members friend taunt me around a park during a party once, pouring out racial slur after racial slur & then belly laugh about how stupid I was to not even know he was insulting me. I’ve had another family member’s friend boldly declare on Facebook how they hate Americans, but never, until that moment, had a family member ever said it.

There was, suddenly, this little hole inside me that was quickly opening into a chasm, and in that solitary moment, alone in the bathroom combing out my hair. I cried. I cried like a big baby. I cried for all the years I’d lived in this beautiful country & stared at a sky where I didn’t recognised a single constellation, & yearned for the ones that could point me home. For all the missed Thanksgiving, for the lack of camaraderie and patriotism on Independence Day, for the missing fireworks that boom around the mountains & echo down into the low valleys, & I cried for all the blistering hot summers I’d endured with mozzie welts all over me. I cried for the traditions my kids missed out on, & I cried because I hurt.

My pangs of homesickness, in that moment, knew no depth. I cried for the years of love I poured into caring for my mother-in-law, & all the years I’d missed helping my own parents. I cried for missing out on the last years of my father’s life. I cried, because it hurt in ways that many will never understand. I tried to wash my sorrow down the drain in a hot shower, but the tears just wouldn’t stop.

In that moment I realised just how desperately homesick I was. Something I don’t talk about. Sure, I pang for certain things, & I miss people. Who doesn’t? But you learn to assimilate into the community around you, & you learn to enjoy the unique beauty many other people only read about in books. I often get homesick around Thanksgiving because there is no comparison to it here, & during that time I distance myself from things that make it worse, but in general I don’t talk about homesickness. 

It’s shocking to wake up one day & see that someone you trust could speak so crudely about you, but even more shocking is to wake up one day & realise that you have a bitter, ugly, sour taste in your mouth. One that, no matter how you try, you can’t seem to shake & spit out. One that would rear it’s head at the ugliest of moments & cause hot tears to spill, & the more I prayed the more I kept hearing the same thing, “Walk away.”

I’m not talking about leaving this country right now, but walking away from Facebook. The longer I stayed, the more horrors I watched unfold. Australian businesses mocking Americans in an attempt to make a sale. Groups on FB, that family members are likely unaware that each time they clicked on a post I could see it, which spoke of evil the meme creator wanted to cause on all Americans.

Rifts between friends & families over the copious amounts of false news floating around. People convinced you hate them because you didn’t respond to their every post, & lots & lots of bitter resentment oozing from everyone. Hostility at every turn, because people never seem to know if one is joking or not.

The more I was able to see the ugliness, the clearer things became, but in the clearness I also saw other scarier things too. Young family members & friends who click on lewd adverts, memes, & videos which then were popping up in my news feed, most likely unknown to the young person. Vulgar memes by those starved for love, affection, & attention, which resulted in having to remove people from my friend’s list.

Those friends who take a million selfies because they need to be told how beautiful they are each day. Those young friends & family members who take semi-lewd photos of themselves looking for a little attention, unaware of the type it’s likely to bring. Parents who have to be pumped up at every turn to be told they rock this world in order to make it through another day.

And those endless articles of hatred spewed from the left, the right, & everywhere in between. Christians friends screaming how we must show love all while “liking” memes that are full of hate towards various political parties & peoples. Other Christian friends who can’t do good or show Jesus’ love without coming on FB, complete with photos, to prove they’d fed the homeless, paid for someone’s groceries, or in some way blessed another person.

And somewhere in there, on rare occasion I’d see the only thing I was really on Facebook for, a photo of a family member I hadn’t seen in years. The sweet face of a niece I’ve yet to have the delight to meet, my deployed brother, my mother enjoying life, my older & equally sweet niece doing what she does best, a friend’s baby giving it’s first smile. All these are so far & few between though, that you spend months looking, reading, & watching absolute rubbish waiting for that one beautiful thing to float through.

The world’s need for instant gratification has reached an all time high. People who give up Facebook for Lent, apps to block Facebook because we are too weak to stay away. Friend’s who break the rules to get their kids on early. Teens who mock other teens for not wanting to be a part of social media. Groups who will only update you via Facebook, companies who uses Facebook in place of web pages.. the list goes on!

It was probably a month or two after the first ugly incident happened that I was quietly working away in my crafting corner listening to The Life Giving Home. I was colouring one minute & stock still the next as I heard the younger author say, “I decided to give up Facebook. Just for a month. I realised I was checking it way too often, & I needed a break.”

I listened as her story unfolded, of the changes that she noticed overcoming herself as she acclimatised back into family life around her. This young woman, who’d authored the book with her mother, stopped me in my tracks as I sat & listened & knew one thing was certain. God was speaking to me & the message was still as clear then as it had been months prior.

Yet, each time I planned to step away something was required of me at least once a day on the infamous social media site. I had items I was selling in a second hand group. I was waiting for an answer from a business before I placed an order. I was asked to help admin a planner group. I was waiting on a school order to arrive so I could reach out for help from fellow users if needed.

There’s always a reason, or excuse, if you allow there to be one, & that’s exactly what I was doing. I was strolling through FaceBook on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago waiting for the others in the home to get up, when I realised that I was so use to seeing rubbish I wasn’t really stopping to read anything, I was simply scrolling for the sake of scrolling, & it hit me: “This is pointless.”

And so I walked away. Not for that moment, but for the month. I didn’t say good-bye, I didn’t warn people, I didn’t make a grand announcement about the “sacrifice” I was making. I didn't change my photo to indicate I’d be away. I didn’t even turn my account to inactive. I simply moved on with life. 

 I admit it was odd at first, not pulling up FaceBook to mindlessly troll while I iced my bum knee after my daily workout. I had snapped a photo of one of my kids, over the holidays, to share  with my family, & it was odd not to be able to quickly upload it so they could see it. Then there was the need to find out where a local group was meeting & they only communicate via Facebook. Or the point where Facebook, suddenly aware I wasn’t visiting anymore, started sending me emails. Telling me how many posts people on my friend’s list had made, how many likes it had, which person uploaded a photo & when, anything in an attempt to lure me back.

The scary truth is, not only was I relying on Facebook for a fair amount of information & needs, but clearly Facebook didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t visiting anymore. It started out with just one email telling me just how much I’d missed out on. How many friends had supposedly posted, how many photos I’d missed out on, how many private messages I had, & so on. But when that lure didn’t work, the emails became more frequent. Some 3 weeks later & I’m getting 2 or 3 a day to tell me when people post photos, & who that friend is & how many people liked that photo. This morning alone I’ve received 3 emails telling me of people who posted photos, when the photo was posted & how many likes it already has. I’m still getting emails telling me how many private messages I have, how many friends have posted, how many family members have posted. Which is kinda creepy, to be honest.

As for the photo I wanted to share with family, I texted it to my mother, unfortunately I didn’t think to check the time & she may have gotten a fantastic photo at 3am, but she didn’t complain. I show up when I show up at a local business & if they aren’t open, then, unfortunately for them, I move on to another shop that I know is open & will have what I’m after. 

Sure, I miss hearing the accomplishments of my friends, & I do miss seeing those occasional bright smiles of family members, but in truth I don’t miss the stress, the judgemental ugliness, the constant seeking of self gratification, & the constant anger that floats around Facebook. Life is more relaxed, & to be honest I feel much less angst in my own life. 


Lisa said...

What a wonderful post, Kendra...thank you so much for sharing it. My dh and I have never been part of facebook for just those reasons you articulated so much better than I can. We've gotten a lot of flack from family and friends, but we know it's just what's best for us. I hope it gets easier for you as time goes along. I'm sorry for all the struggles that come with being American in a different country, but just remember we're all pilgrims who are 'just a passin' through'. We're not to be too comfortable here. Thank you so much for sharing your're in my prayers, friend! ;)

Kendra said...

Aww thanks Lisa. To be honest this post was a long time in writing, & i'm grateful someone gets what my heart was saying. :)

Ahh, a pilgrim, great way to put it!!

Multi-tasking Mama said...

Kendra, your post really resonates with me. I am an Aussie living in NZ looking after my elderly MIL. I get 'comments' shall we say made about Aussies in front of me and am not expected to be hurt by them either. I am sorry ignorant comments have been made to you.

I also find that FB can be so depressing and upsetting these days. I have two accounts, one a 'working account'; info I need to get for homeschool groups, extra curricular classes and schools and things I belong to and the other family and friends. I don't actually read the family and friends one, it's mostly memes or people sharing crap I don't agree with, nor do I post on it unless it's to wish someone a happy birthday. Your post inspired me to go through my accounts and have a good clean up. I am not quite there at closing it but, admire you tremendously so, for doing so.

Kendra said...

Aww, I'm sorry you're getting hit. This Expat business is not for the lighthearted is it? I think it's given me an eye opening experience though, good & bad, that I wouldn't trade for all the world. We have children who are bi-cultural &, of course, my husband is Australian, so you can imagine what he heard in the USA. He had some uneducated comments made to him where people presumed he saw lions & giraffes all the time. Okay, admittedly we giggled pretty hard about that one, we still do actually. ;)

I think it's very very easy to focus on the negative when you surround yourself with it too. I am so so grateful for a few very beautiful friends who shine both inwardly & outwardly & inspire me to be a better host, a better wife, a better mother, & to take it all to God in prayer. It's people like that who really help, without even knowing it, during those more difficult times.

I really hope you have some lovely friends who are able to support you while you're overseas! ;)

Sheryll Grotto said...

I hear you on the homesickness. It's always there, just usually buried way down deep inside. Bone deep. When it surfaces, I feel it so deeply. I appreciate all the blessings of living here, but there are definitely times that homesickness surfaces. I lost both my parents last year, and was so lucky to be with them the last few weeks of their lives. I'm so grateful for that.

Regarding the fb emails, I think there's a link at the bottom of the emails that says 'stop receiving emails like this' or something like that. I kept clicking those and turning off all of my notifications over and over again. I don't get any emails now except for 'see who liked your page' for my blog fb page. I also have all fb emails filtered automatically to a separate folder so that I don't have to sift through them to get to my real emails. I'm only on fb to participate in a couple of groups, I have shortcuts straight to those groups so that I don't have to see anything else. :)

Monarch Room said...

Thank you so much for sharing your heart. I have never thought about how hard it must be at times for those living abroad. Hugs from afar. I have had many of these same thoughts about Facebook too and from time to time will log off for a long period. When I have people have been shocked - like how could I ever consider it getting off of FB? Silly. I picked up my Life Giving Home to read the chapter you were talking about, and am thinking a break for me sounds good too. Too many voices are never good. Clearing that clutter does help us to see more clearly the faces right in front of us.

Stacey said...

Just came across your blog, and so much of this post resonates with me. I stepped away from Facebook during the last election cycle here in the US, and stayed away for 5 months. Best decision I ever made. Scrolling through posts, more often than not, just made me feel frustrated, irritated, and brought out a side of me I didn't like.
I was only an expat for about a year in the UK, and thankfully, no one really said too much to us. My husband had a very "uncomfortable" taxi ride once, and oddly, I had a nurse make a weird criticism of George W. Bush when I was in the hospital after giving birth. I can't imagine being on the receiving end of the kind of ugliness you describe, though. When people fail to see you as an individual, with thoughts and feelings, but rather as a punching bag for any distate they have for America. My heart goes out to you, truly.
I have found Instagram to be a much more positive environment, at least among the family members and friends of mine who are active there. The majority of posts are family snapshots, and travel photos - precisely what I want to see, with minimal commentary. It's a quick scroll through on my phone, tap a few hearts, see what folks are up to and how big nieces and nephews are getting.

Kendra said...

Oh Stacey, how rotten. I got screamed at by an in-law over Bush as well. I just sat there smiling, I mean, really, what else can you do?! When the person was done ranting my husband quietly asked them if they'd ever lived in the USA, if they were a US citizen, & if they had their lives completely turned upside down by 9-11. When the answer was negative his reply was, "Then keep your mouth closed." Ahh, politics.. :)