When I was in elementary school, my parents bought a video camera with a tripod. Every family event they would set that thing up in the living room and press record. Recently my dad had all those vhs tapes put on a DVD for my mom so our home videos could be enjoyed again, such gems.
I remember one event, I am pretty sure it was Christmas, especially well. For every Christmas my family would all sit in the living room and the kids would pass out the presents. (The video recorder perched on it’s tripod in the exact right spot to catch ALL the action.) Once all the presents were equally divided, we went youngest to oldest to open them. Everyone watched everyone else open their presents, one at a time. When it was my turn, the video camera is on me. I am not sure what I got that Christmas, although it very well could have been the year that “Santa” brought me Amy Grant’s ‘House of Love’ cassette tape and a walkman. Oh the joy and freedom of “Baby your the Lucky One” and headphones. But I digress. I don’t know what I got, but boy was I thankful. Ecstatic even. I had a tendency to overly express my gratitude. And if we were watching that home video together you would see me in my nightgown/ oversized family reunion t-shirt, puffy bangs, big round blue speckled glasses, full face with squinty eyes running to my parents, hugging them and saying thanking too many times to count in the kind of high pitched voice that characterizes little girls.
To say passion has always been a word that has marked me would be an understatement. Just ask my mom. She will tell you stories of passionate outbursts for all things, whether good or bad. Now that I have my own girls who feel things strongly, I have more compassion for both my mother as she raised me and my younger self as we both had to navigate so many emotions.
As an adult I have learned to tone myself down in most situations. Mostly I try to not talk about things that ignite the fire inside of me because the blaze can make people back away in misunderstanding and judgement. I have learned that if I enter a social setting and make the conversation all about the other person, then people will like me and I usually can hide the strong side of myself.
The problem with this plan is that in order for the justice work I do to move forward, I have to tell people about it. And like most things that have to do with valuing people, when I talk about sexual slavery, sexual exploitation, labor slavery and labor exploitation the inner fire gets stoked.
So many of the conversations I have end with the other person saying something like this, “I can see your passionate” or “I love your passion” or “You are really passionate about..” In these moments, pointing out my passion doesn’t feel like a compliment, but more like a pat on the head. What I hear them saying is, “I am glad you are passionate about this, so I don’t have to be.” or “Good for you for being passionate about this..I am not.” My passion is great for me, and maybe I am doing some good work, but they aren’t passionate like I am, so therefore, they don’t have to join me. The more I have these conversations, the more I hear passion as a dirty word.
Now, I know that not everyone feels things as deeply or as strongly as I do. My husband, for example, is the steady stream to my raging fire. We need each other to live a somewhat balanced life. I don’t expect everyone to react to the world as strongly as I do. But I do hope that my strong reactions will help others to see the gravity of what we are facing in the world, wake up and take action.
Passionate people aren’t to be written off or put in a “that’s nice, but you are crazy” box. They aren’t to be ignored because they raise their voice without meaning to, drawing attention to things we all would like to pretend don’t exist. Like slavery. And poverty. Lack of clean water, and homes for children. Pornography addictions ruining families and creating child abusers. Materialism filling landfills with clothes worn one time and then thrown away. As I raise my passionate voice, you may be looking around thinking calm down lady, while I am looking in your eyes and praying you will catch the fire so we can together create change.
If passion makes you uncomfortable, if you are tempted to use it as a dirty word and shy away when someone’s fire begins to burn, maybe instead of backing away you could try leaning in. Warm your hands and your heart by getting closer to someone’s fire. Listen to the truth that leads them to be so passionate and as you brace the uncomfortable and then, maybe you will ignite too.
One of my little girls is driven by an act first, think later kind of passion. She bursts into rooms and gets so excited and thankful about life. I am scared that in my parenting I will dull her fire and I pray that instead of dulling it, I stoke it to burn in the right places, for the right things.
Passionate people are often misunderstood, they can let their fires get out of hand, but when they learn how to control the passion that they have and when they direct it towards things that matter, they can engage their world and bring change. They can be like the grateful child at Christmas with big glasses and an even bigger smile drawing people into the warmth of their excitement.
What kind of light will we bring to the world if we learn to lean in to passion and listen closely to those who carry the torch?
How will darkness be affected if all catch a little fire?