Experience teaches only the teachable. – Aldous Huxley
…(but) what’s the use of tears? – Herbert Kretzmer & Alain Boublil
I love the smell of summer rain. Spicy-sweet, it says, you needed me.
This morning, I think we did.
Let’s be honest: sometimes summer is exhausting.
Every day in July and August I have a list of things I should do.
Then I see the sun.
It’ll go away if I don’t go enjoy it.
So I do.
And every day my list gets longer.
The truth is, I don’t like my list. I’d rather be outside on my deck with my book and my coffee. Sitting. Breathing. Fantasizing about the garden I would grow if only I wasn’t a black thumb.
Enjoying the beautiful weather – that’s what I should be doing.
Sometimes the shoulds of summer – as do the shoulds of anything – become oppressive. Bright and invigorating, the sun says you can do it and enjoy my warmth and sit still a moment.
It also says, come and play and make new friends.
That’s hard work for us introverts.
Take my oldest girl, for example.
Last week I picked a demure Noelle up from day camp. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t smiling.
She wasn’t herself.
I asked her if she wanted to talk about it.
No. I’m tired.
I just need to think for a bit, Mom. Don’t ask me anymore.
Eerie silence settled in our car.
(Our car is never silent.)
Mom, why do you think Quinn is so mean to Rachel?
(Yes. I’m one of those parents who lets their children watch Glee. Parts of Glee. Highly-edited, closely-supervised parts. So… not much of last season. Not only for the mature content, but also for the lack of Finchel. Believe me, my girl is all about the Finchel.)
(Gah. We’ll get to that later.)
For all of Glee’s faults – and there are several – more than once it has given voice and imagination that lets my deep-thinker express her difficult emotions.
Like last Tuesday. My little girl was in pain. That awful, heart-wrenching, irreplicate-able female relationship pain. A thousand small things over a hundred small moments collided to make her feel sad, awkward, and, in her own words:
On the outside.
I hugged her and told her how much she was loved, important, special… needed. How her daddy and I named her ‘Good News’ for a reason. How so many people could not imagine life without her. How the world would be a little less bright without her.
Just like it would be without any one person.
Glee-themed lesson in tow, my brave girl got up the next day and went to face her pain head-on. By the time I saw her just before dinnertime, she was settled, happy, content.
The night before I’d seen so many tears that I entertained fantasies of a modern Spanish Inquisition that grilled the moms of daughters who said make other girls ache like this.
But then we’d all be grilled.
No matter what we’d like to think, good people sometimes hurt other people.
And sometimes those good people are us.
A few weeks ago I sat transfixed as a beautiful friend shared her call to adopt.
At the end of the night I went home angry.
It had nothing to do with her and everything to do with me.
A decade ago David and I talked about adoption. We’d both worked in orphanages overseas. We’d both had difficulty coming home. We’d both said, someday… we will do this.
And then life happened. Leukemia happened.
We’d been talking about if and when we should still adopt – or have a third biological child – on January 6, 2009.
On January 7th, I got that now-infamous phone call.
The answer was obvious. Get our own kids to adulthood. Don’t bring any more into the mix.
In the four and a half years since, I’ve not even allowed myself to think about growing our family. It’s not possible. You don’t need more children. Don’t let yourself think about what you can’t have. Be content. Be grateful. Be happy.
And I am. Just…
I came home from what should have been an empowering, beautiful night and asked David:
What’s wrong with me? We haven’t talked about this in years.
We hadn’t talked about it because it always came back to the same thing: its just not fair to put an orphan in a family where another mother could die young.
So why do I care? All of a sudden? Now?
David smiled at me and said,
You need to go Burflehunting.
As boy scouts we used to sing this song about imaginary ferocious animals called Burfles. Our scout leader would stand up and yell,
Goin on a burflehunt.
Got my gloves.
Got my bazooka.
I ain’t a-fearin.
I don’t get it, I said.
He jumped up and started doing the actions.
To catch a Burfle you had to conquer all of these obstacles. Some you could go around, some you could go over. Some of them, usually the ones right before you caught the burfle, you couldn’t go over, you couldn’t go around,
You had to go through.
For four years, I’ve been squashing this thing. This heart to do something else, something different, something new. These desires I committed to in my twenties have been pushed aside for this hairpin bend in the road that has seeped into every. tiny. crevice. of hope.
Sometimes bends in the roads are corrections; other times they’re merely detours.
I don’t know which one this is yet. Definitely the first. Maybe the second. Probably both. But the thing with detours is that
eventually you find your way back to the road you meant to be on in the first place.
I went to sleep with David’s words – especially his, I wish our family was bigger too, and I wish you’d never gotten sick, either – vibrating in my heart. I woke to find my chest sore.
And I cried.
I hate crying. Snot, saliva, and sinus headache – none of it is pretty. It’s hard work.
No wonder we try to avoid it.
But at some point in pain’s path, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, we’ll find a fork.
To the right: the wide gate. Easy. Fast. Lots of company to cheer us on the way with way to be tough and just get over it or just don’t think about it.
It’s the path of the bitter and independent.
To the left: the narrow gate. Difficult. Slow. So small, so sparsely-populated, we wonder if anything’s there. The ones on that road appear nothing more than weepy victims of sad circumstances so tragic we wonder if they alone were responsible for their own misfortunes.
It’s the path of the free.
They don’t tell you that on this side, of course. They don’t show you that down that tightrope path is a community of broken-hearted, tightly-knit, warm, happy, and gracious souls, tied together by their own softness, compassion, and life.
They don’t tell you that truth often comes with tears or tears keep your heart open or living things need to stay wet in order to stay alive.
They just show you all the company you’ll have on the easy path of the angry.
Here’s the thing:
It’s the soft ones, the wounded ones, the open ones, who will sit and cry with you.
Like my friend who’s going to adopt.
I told her my line. Orphans. Sick mom. Not fair. I told her the truth. I’m jealous.
(How easy it is to make the person we’re jealous of the villain. Here’s a tip: they’re not.)
Honey, she said, with tears in her eyes.
I texted another friend the next day. I’m a beautiful mess over here.
I was. I’d woken up to an renewed ache I’d denied was there and let myself go through it.
Like I should have done a long time ago.
And when the tears were all out, I didn’t feel angry.
I felt free.
Earlier this week an oil cargo freight train derailed outside a small town in Quebec, killing fifty and decimating the town.
Twenty-two children died after eating a free school lunch in Patna, India.
Yet every time I looked at Google News, the biggest story was Cory Monteith’s overdose.
A number of internet responses protested our ‘intense public interest’ (in the words of Vancouver investigators) in the death of a local celebrity. It’s ridiculous to care about someone you’ve never met.
I agreed with them.
And yet if I’m honest, I’d tell you that I felt like crying when I heard the news. My throat got tight each time I saw a news clip of Don’t Stop Believing. I wondered what to tell my Glee-loving, Canuck-fan, Vancouverite, musical girls.
Turns out they handled it better than most.
Mom, that’s so sad. Drugs are so bad for you. What would be so wrong in his life that he’d feel he needed to do that?
Here’s the really crazy thing:
Embracing our own pain increases our compassion for another’s.
Our North American attention is disturbingly skewed.
But the answer isn’t to care less.
It’s to care more.
It’s not to be indifferent to one person’s tragedy. Even if that person is famous and we think their life is easy.
It’s to apply that intense concern over one person to all persons.
And we start by calling bull-*($@ to the lie of I’m over it.
There’s a gate ahead. Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Better go through it. – Scouting song
Friends, our tears matter. They matter to us. I believe they matter to the One above us, too. I believe there’s a reason He promises to be close to the broken-hearted (Isaiah) and give them grace (Proverbs). There’s a reason He collects our tears in a bottle (Psalms).
I think it’s because He can do something with tears.
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies. – Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil
Stay soft, my friends.
Even if it means crying.
I promise you,
It’s worth it.
If for no one else’s sake,
for your own.