Perhaps a parent walked out on your life too early.
Perhaps a friend spread a terrible rumor that cost you a lot of friendships.
Perhaps a lover walked away without even a glance back.
Perhaps a family member abused you.
Perhaps a well-meaning clergy said something he shouldn’t have in consolation of a death.
Perhaps a sibling committed a crime and got you involved.
Perhaps you found yourself in over your head in a relationship and no way to get out and be safe.
Perhaps you, even you, betrayed yourself with the lie that you are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough. Just not enough.
The vast majority of us have those memories, those bits of us that leave smudges, cuts, sometimes deep, gaping wounds on our hearts. Life leaves us aching something terrible. No matter how hard we fight to forget, how hard we try to be soft and gentle and kind, how hard we say it doesn’t bother us…we still carry our scars on us like a brand. Battle wounds.
Life, and the living of it, leaves us with two choices in these circumstances: bitter or better. Hope or cynicism. Soft or hard. And the choice is up to us. This is not about pretending the battle never happened. No, no. I would never advise that. It is a terrible and dangerous practice, one that I used to succumb to each and every day, growing ever more weary and burdened.
This is about using the battle – the good, the bad, and the ugly – for something beautiful. That said, cynicism is always an option. I chose that one for 23 years. Hard-hearted doesn’t even begin to describe me then. Cynicism wears the scars proudly and uses them to hurt as one has been hurt. Cynicism sees the boyfriends as always leaving, the parents as always unreliable and irresponsible, the friends as always traitors. Even if they aren’t. The cynical life, while relatively safe, offers a future devoid of any hurt. And devoid of any love, too. It is the safest and saddest way.
Living soft, living hopeful, just living, is also an option. This way is far more dangerous. One’s heart is bound to get broken in this battleground. Hope not only acknowledges past battles, but guarantees more. More scars. More tears. More hurt. Dangerous, yes. Risky, absolutely. Without a doubt, you will get hurt while living hopefully. Painful, awful experiences. Without a doubt, though, you are going to LIVE.
Recognizing hurts and dealing with them rather than sweeping them under the rug is a good thing. A healthy thing. And when they are handled, when they are settled, when your soul is at peace with what has happened to you and why…you can smile again. I promise. You can pick yourself up and you move on. It may take awhile, but I suspect that people are made of far stronger and more resilient stuff than they realize. If we would only give ourselves the grace to grieve and heal, we would be far more likely to grasp at hope instead of hanging ourselves on the noose of our own unmet expectations. Understanding the beauty of pain and healing opens us up to grace. To love. To joy.
Being hopeful about the future is hard. That man may not call you for a second date. That new friend may start rumors, too. That person you wanted so very badly to stay might leave. Those are scary places to be. Heartbreaking to live. But if we don’t at least try to live them, then the past has already won. The future is choked out and darkened by the things that have not even happened yet. Living ceases. Darkness sets in. We roam about in self-fashioned prisons and we are safe. And dead.
I cut my hand the other day on a rusty screw. An old friend applied the antibiotic and the band-aid and just when I thought it was ceasing to sting, he playfully stabbed at it a few times with his finger, laughing and saying, “Pain makes you feel alive!” I collapsed in my usual giggles, but in a somber moment, even I would have admitted he spoke some serious truth under that bathroom light. A life that renders no pain renders no release from past pain either. Pain, hurt, heartbreak, ache…it is all part of life and the living.
I am not dead yet.