A couple of years ago, I stood in our kitchen surrounded by post-it notes stuck to the cabinets in front of me. Each note started with the title I had lived with for almost a year as I wrote my book: I Stand on the Bridge. Each post-it, 10 or 15 of them, also included a different subtitle. I had asked several people which subtitle they liked best and had made tick marks beside their preferences. My dear friend, Jeanne, had sent a new idea instead of voting for one of the few I’d emailed around. Her suggestion was Bridging Languages, Cultures and My Life. I was pissed that she had stepped outside of my ideas but I decided to post the new possibility with the others.
I remember the point of conversion in my mind and heart. I had called Kristin, my editor. We were, once again, discussing the title, this time with post-its surrounding me. By then, I was curious about the new possibility. Instead of the stiff firmness in I Stand on the Bridge, “bridging” was an active verb.
I asked, “What about this new one?”
“Penny, bridging is what you do,” Kristin replied.
I felt existential recognition in that moment, recognizing myself and being recognized by another. My legs were tingling and I turned from the place of compartments I had built for myself—a place where a solid bridge could connect two different characteristics or languages or countries or races or genders to the thinly-boundaried amalgam where everything connected.
See, when I was 25, my youngest sister got sick and remembered she had been raped many times at the camp where I spent my summers as a child. This is the tale that turned my pure foundation of family into a nightmare, after which I taught myself to compartmentalize. My parents denied any of their own culpability in Susan’s story. Likewise, I had no personal memories to corroborate it though, believe me, I did try digging for them. Susan chose not to accuse anyone directly but instead moved to Washington, estranged herself from my parents and began to heal. In the interest of maintaining a relationship with her and also with my parents, I erected and plastered a wall between those relationships. I could believe, love and be with Susan. And I could believe, love and be with my parents. Physically and in my mind too, the two were absolutely separate. Crazy-making, I know, but the effect was I could survive, even thrive.
Over the years the wall between Susan and my parents has crumbled first with a facilitated family meeting about ten years into the estrangement. But my compartmentalizing strategy worked so well that I applied it in other parts of my life. For years I maintained stiff compartments for work and home. My deep faith and the words that describe it were for home use only. So was fun and love and hugging. This strategy did help me separate church and state as I labored for the least advantaged children and families in hospitals and public schools. I maintain an abiding appreciation for using secular descriptions at work where I respect differing philosophies.
On that book-title night though, I saw many of my life experiences line up as preparation for this moment. I turned away from compartments and turned toward wholeness, across my life.
Now, most of the time I live here, in this place of I-Am-Whole—recognized, loved, free to go forward and love without separation and unconditionally. No qualifications and no holding back, anywhere, any more, at all.