Recently I found myself in a discussion with friends where my words evoked a response that left me feeling 11 blocks from the intersection of Heard and Understood. “Meh…“, I thought, and let it go.
Yesterday while talking with a friend a red-headed man came up and randomly commented about us both being redheads. I couldn’t be bothered so I blew him off. He chided me in that he was merely socializing. Global Warming had not yet occurred in my heart so I’m sure he felt misunderstood … no matter that his drink was likely a smidge stronger than mine.
Late the other night, I visited a friend in the hospital. It was a last-minute text. The need was urgent, so I went. It was a moment to connect, to invite Heaven into her room, to comfort. Yet late at night, in a sub-zero, sterile hospital room, there is nothing that says, “Stay a while. Take off your jacket and put up your feet. How’s your family?” But because I’d chosen to be there I ignored the atmosphere and played the love card that was in my heart.
The contrast of these moments is vivid to me. And we only have moments, even soundbites by which an interaction is sealed into our minds. We can choose to connect or disconnect, and it’s often our sense of person hood that guides us. We can choose to remain emotionally available or check out. Our culture stick checks us, “They’re not worth your time, Samantha. You have other things to focus on.” But truthfully, there’s nothing that says, “I cherish human life” more than appreciating what we have with someone right in front of us. Living with our walls down makes us vul.ner.ab.le to rejection ever and anon. But no matter what my failure rate is, or how often I take a bruising for being misunderstood I want to master the art of really seeing people, and embracing their words for what they are.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis,
Got to get back to running the world from my sofa …
A gardenia bush blooms by the front door of the house. It’s fragrance evokes feelings of nostalgia. Without thinking I pluck a bloom whose leaves were bruised, and set it on my desk. To my delight, it’s fragrance filled the office, and I thought about something a family friend once told me.
Pauline had a gardenia bush that she kept in her home. In Northern Michigan a gardenia bush hasn’t a prayer outdoors with the weather-ly elements. But year after year, that small bush bloomed in it’s sunny corner of the room. It was Pauline who told me that a gardenia’s most poignant aroma comes from a bloom whose leaves were slightly bruised.
I cannot help but ponder the metaphor about life I’d just stumbled on. When looking at the white perfection of a bloom it seems impossible that bruising would have a purpose or function. Can it be true that the deepest and richest aspects of our lives are borne out of pain and loss? So often we put off grief and keep pain at arm’s length. Our walls stay high so we stay dry. Indeed. I’ve never been so dry, and crackly uncreative as those seasons when my walls were up. Arms flailing and inappropriate, silent gestures to the world at large … my pain. My world. “How dare you rock my boat?” These are words I’ve whispered in the direction of those who have hurt me. The petals of a gardenia are not bruised intentionally. But when it happens a deeper, even more priceless beauty is evoked: aroma.
So often we are desperate to retain that gracious, white perfection in our lives that we refuse to live. We refuse to try lest we make a mistake, lest we be the ones delivering the bruise to another. In order to really live we must learn to allow ourselves to make mistakes.
I live life with a focus on the numerous gifts and goodness that have come my way, but I must admit I have experienced a lot of losses. I identify with Lewis’ train of thought. When so many loved ones have come and gone; so many failures outweigh so few victories. Then there are questions of whether or not the victories are the right victories? After a while it seems simplest to just stay out of it. Stay out of harm’s way. No more bruising. No more mistakes.
And then the priceless realization. Did you know that the oil from a person’s fingertip can cause a gardenia’s petals to bruise? Or the delicate visit of a hummingbird, a falling leaf, a raindrop? And so it is with our hearts. At times there is a truth that we needed to face, a season of maturing, or a chance to become less victimized. It’s a design for life. The elements that we genuinely need to grow and become will find us, no matter how careful we are, no matter how much we surround ourselves with ‘safe people’.
Our task is to receive the moment like the morning dew. Let God do His work in our hearts. We press past the yawning grief and fear, and we become the beauty that the season intends.