Day 24 of 40 Days of Story: Ready to move on from conflict?

Me: Always…and not in this lifetime.


In this 40-days of Story I’ve been so ready to move on from conflict. I’m an optimist by birth and a conflict-avoidant by training. And…I’ve also become a big believer in the value of conflict.


As we’ve discussed there is no story without conflict. It’s true in story structure…and in our own lives.


But in the last couple of weeks I’ve had enough of conflict—enough to halt me writing for a time. I was sick. I was traveling. Yet that’s not really the story. What kept me from blogging was heartbreak.


I—like most—prefer to keep my conflict quiet. Hidden. Properly closeted.


At times this is wise. Strategic. Appropriate.


Why We Shouldn’t Hide Conflict


Yet there’s an intriguing thing about conflict—especially when it comes to our personal lives. For us to move through it, it must be born witness to by another.


I’m in no way advocating going all social media on your private affairs. But if you don’t invite others—at least another—to know the conflicts in your story then your successes will not carry the full weight of their meaning. The highs of your story will be lost on others if they never know your lows.


Yet, this is far from easy. One of the reasons is because many of our losses don’t have clear definitions or closure.


Several years ago one of my psychologist friends gifted me with the term: ambiguous loss. It was during a time when I was realizing I likely wouldn’t be able to have biological children. I was struggling to know how to grieve it. The naming of my ambiguous loss came as such a gift.


I heard the term used the other day in a NPR story about a forensic scientist searching for the bones of children lost in the fierce cyclone that hit Mozambique[1]. This scientist was embarking on this Herculean effort so the parents would have some form of closure…that their loss wouldn’t be so ambiguous.


While few of us will face such a tragedy, none of us escape loss. And many of our losses can feel like unmarked graves.  There’s the gut-wrench of a miscarriage, infertility or aging parents, the loss of a significant relationship before the markers of marriage and divorce, an estranged adult child, discarded dreams or job loss, the cruelty of mental illness and addictions, and then there’s aging with its own host of ambiguous losses.


It’s in these kinds of losses we need community all the more. We need to have others stand by our side, gaze at our unmarked graves and grieve with us…to bear witness to our ambiguous losses.


Yesterday, I had a couple of friends do that for me. They surrounded me as I said goodbye to the loss of a relationship. We marked it with the burning of poetry…and all the hopes of love the words contained. So hard…and so helpful.

Why We Must Always Have Conflict (in this life)


While losses can break our hearts, they also remind us our hearts are alive. When all conflict is done, our stories are over. And when we avoid conflict, we are actually shutting down what defines our story: desire.


The fact that we have conflict in our lives means that we’re risking and we’re invested. We don’t fight for what we don’t want.


So cheers to conflict…and a community that bears witness to it!


I’m curious how you mark your own ambiguous losses…thanks in advance for sharing.