Speaking Truth with Love

Getting used to change is a bit like growing used to regularly being slapped around the face with last week’s unfinished to do lists, left out in the rain and still dripping when they hit your cheeks. Yes, there are worse things that can happen; yes, it sometimes brings the wake-up call you really need; but it is an experience to endure, not enjoy, when you are actually in the moment.

Change erupted within my household this week, catching us unprepared, bursting onto the scene in the shape of a red cassock, topped by a very self-satisfied grin. The Paleontologist is now officially a choir girl, and has been corraled immediately into a gaggle of rehearsals, services, and outings to Greggs. As her parents, we are of course delighted, and keep reminding each other of that as we search for the give in already stretched-to-bursting timetables that will allow us to officially transition from independent adults with some control of our lives into stereotypical glorified taxi drivers.

The Cowgirl is not delighted. Don’t get me wrong, she’s very proud of her sister, and very happy to announce her pride at the top of her voice in a crowded church. But she is also having the security that has always surrounded her shaken to its foundations, and she quite frankly Does Not Approve. Her sister is, in many ways, more of a constant than her parents: the one she conspires with after lights out; the one who held her hand in the long and lonely lunch breaks when she first started school; the one she worships as she treads the road less travelled, her footsteps, like King Wenceslas, breaking the terrors and harshness of winter and setting a clear path for her sister to follow. And now, sometimes, she’s not there. She’s singing when she used to be helping to imagine a zoo, an aeroplane, an exploration of the Antarctic; rehearsing when she used to fight for control of the remote control; absent when she should be walking into the swimmig pool and giving her sister courage by her mere presence. And so swimming lessons are avoided; TV choices change; shouting matches and clingyness both increase in equal measure.

As a parent, you know that one day, you will no longer be the centre of your child’s world. They will no longer believe you have all the answers, and they will be right. They will ask for your advice, and mock the answer you give them. Their hearts will break and kisses and cuddles will no longer fix anything at all. But when one of your children falls apart because the other is growing up very slightly faster than they are? All you can ever do is love them as hard as you can, and hope that will still be enough.

Two children in matching jumpers, carrying matching Lego, travellating together into the distance.

Five year old Cowgirls are not the only ones who don’t like it when their familiar realities shift under their feet. Those still fighting the transitioning reality of climate change are in the same position. Everything ahead of us is concealed in a haze of uncertainty and the disagreement of experts. Everything behind us is not only familiar, but also heavily weighted in the favour of those who most like to cry nonsense at the mere idea of climate change. Everything is about to come crashing down on our heads and their profit margins. And like a five year old, they are losing their tempers and overindulging in their freedom when they have it and spending a lot of time pretending they are not huddled on the sofa hoping this is all a bad dream.

Speaking truth with love is a phrase often used, and often misused. Sometimes it means “I’m going to explain everything that is wrong with you, but say it with a smile and terribly earnest eyes.” Sometimes it means “No offense, but…” Which is inevitably followed by a list that is likely to make you curl up into a ball and hide in a dusty corner until the middle of next summer. What it should mean can be just as difficult to face. It should be an honest reflection, a clear and unblemished mirror, held up without judgement or pain. But it is not speaking truth if you say only what your audience is already aware of, just as it isn’t loving if you say what they are utterly unprepared to hear, then leave them alone to deal with the consequences. Love is not an easy thing to feel, to offer, or to accept. But honestly offered and willingly accepted, it is a thing that can open minds and hearts and bank accounts, and is probably the only thing left that has a hope of saving the world.

A fence crowded with padlocks, looking out over a deep blue ocean.

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