A close friend of mine- S- tells me about the first ever spell of heartbreak in her life. It is a story she has told me time and time again. A heartbreak that unfurled before she and I were close enough to call each-other 'friend'. I am sitting on her carpeted floor on a humid afternoon, twirling my shrunken hair between finger and thumb and fussing about how much hair I've lost in the past few months.
"I can't tell if it's the pain in my heart or the chlorine from my swimming class, S," I say, sighing heavily, fingering my hair in frustration. For much longer than I can be at ease with, I have begun to notice tufts of hair slip into my hands and slide down my body into the drain while I shower. For much longer than my pride would like me to admit, my heart has been grieving. If this grief is a song, my hair is right in tune with the melody, falling on cue with the sad notes of my misery. The days have fluttered by like sickly moths and my hair has thinned out, bit by bit. There's been nothing to be done about it except watch in despair as my body weeps. In this moment as I sit there, my mind weaving in and out of memories of when my hair was once thick with life, a quiet anger is my companion.
S looks me over with knowing eyes. She recognizes my agony for she, too is steeped in it. In the past while or so, mere months within one another, we'd both loved, much sooner than either of us had thought was even possible. We'd both felt it was right, that the object of our respective affection was a kiss blown from heaven's throne. In this moment as I sit there, we've both been badly burned and are still asking God Whys and Hows and To-What-Ends.
"Give it time," she says, as much for her own benefit as for my own. We talk a little more about my hair and somehow, as conversations are known to, our chatter meandered off to something distant and unrelated.
S tells me about her first pain of this sort, about how she'd cried and cried. She tells me again about how it was in the midst of these tears that she'd began to know God in a whole different light. She hadn't asked for it- she hadn't known to. It'd just happened. He just suddenly become real to her in the thick of her pain.
I'm in awe as she narrates this, a story that I have heard several times now. I do not know, in that moment, that weeks later I'll stumble across something Audrey Assad said, that "suffering is redemptive". That I'll marvel at the simplicity of that truth and the anchoring gravity of it. As I sit there in awe, she says something that I go on to store in the compartments of my mind where I keep thoughts I intend to revisit.
"I cried for months, and then one night, I couldn't cry over it anymore, so I cried because my grief was coming to an end." This struck something in me. The fact that we can grow so intimate with our mourning that when the healing begins to come, we begin to feel like we're losing a part of ourselves. When the our companionship with pain has it so that the wholeness we've been praying for feels like a new loss in itself.
This is how I've been feeling lately. I do have tears left to cry, but this far they have only come at my expense, so I am not crying anymore. I have realized that the only way to carry on is to accept what was, what is, and give myself fully to what will be. This means that the tears have to stop flowing in that direction. This means that the lethargy, which has trickled into many aspects of my life and has been born of a poisonous sense of inadequacy, has to leave. This means that I must pray, as much as I've pursed my lips and kept my eyes averted from the heavens. It has but also has not been a spiritual defiance. It has been a grief that's a sort of quick-sand, and I've been kicking and screaming and sinking deeper. I've realized that I must be still and wait patiently for help. I must trust that my cry will be heard- that it has been heard. That I will be lifted out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire. That my feet will be set on solid ground. That I will be steadied as I walk along. That I will be given a new song of praise to sing. That many will see what has been done for me and be amazed, and that their trust will be placed in the one who does it all for me. (Ps 40:1-4) For now, I pray that my lips will be unsealed, so that I may sing praises. (Ps 51:15)
I'm not crying anymore and that frightens me in many ways. I am angry. Angry because there's a silence that I'm deeply uncomfortable with- one that's characterized my loss all this while- one I want to go away, because this silence breeds more questions in my mind that I'm tired of asking. The silence has led to my silence. I haven't written. I haven't prayed. That's unlike me, and that's toxic. I'm angry because like everyone, I want to be heard, I want my pain acknowledged, I want to make peace, and I was given none of this. I am angry because I made mistakes in the past and hurt people and it's only now, that I was hurt, that I understand the extent of that. It is riding me with guilt, with a retroactive self-condemnation. I want to go back and repent, but it feels like too little much too late.
Isn't human nature wicked? The fact that we must experience something, or draw some connection between that thing and ourselves, to truly empathize? To truly be compassionate? To truly repent?
But anyway, it looks like there's going to be good coming out of this. So if you need it, that means you'll heal. You will. The healing might come in small, discreet doses that come with side-effects of their own or it might come out of nowhere and take you by surprise- all at once when you rid yourself of everything that reminds you of everything and finally begin to loosen your grip and trust God to make beauty out of it. Maybe it will sneak in, or flood in in torrents that leave you drenched.
Whatever the case, the healing will come.
Prayers that would be Hannah-like in their abandon have been jammed at my throat for months now. I have wanted to sob them, the which are wordless grunts and anguished growls, loudly in churches I have grown indifferent to. I have wanted to stomp these prayers in the tightly packed dirt of sidewalks. I have pondered in the darkness of my college dorm room on all the ways that I might pray them out and ease the swelling in my throat. I have pursed my lips, afraid that praying these prayers will mean surrender and require loosening my grip on everything I treasure.
I am believer in everything that's peculiar. I am a believer in God, and in love, and in wombless motherhood. And if rejection is a towering cathedral with weekly services, I am a faithful member of this church. I have been baptized in its murky waters and have lived long days with its bitter benediction as my companion.
I pray that you will heal. I pray that you'll listen to all those songs again without that sickly ache in your heart. I long for your joy, for a laughter that claps out of you untainted by sorrow. I pray that you will see your worth. That you will no longer be bereft, that you will dance over your own existence. That you will remember who you are, and how worthy you are of adoration and of a love that will stay. A love which, torn between the push and pull of life, will still decide to remain, steady and firm like the ground beneath your feet. That you will realize that your being loved is not a distraction. That if heavenly glory was forsaken for your sake, your being loved is not a crippling inconvenience.
Each of us is worthy. Of a Holy sacrifice, of an anchoring love that does not sprout wings and take flight. We are worthy of a love that will invite us in in the midst of life and its frenzy and ask us to sit amidst the madness of it. One that won't treat us like a roadblock, like a detour. One that'll make us part of its daily ritual. One that'll see our beauty and our strength and stand with us in our imperfection. One that prunes and heals and builds and believes in everything we're made to be. One that does not require us to change, but expands with us in the direction of our growth.
No one can condemn us, not even the lack of love. No one can accuse us, not even the departure of a love. Nothing can separate us from this truth, for we are wholly loved with a holy love.
There is a dethroning that happens from a broken heart. A shedding of every reminder that you're royalty. Rich garments are traded for sackcloth, and the mourning settles in in joy's stead. Everything becomes blurred, tainted by the reality of loss. Absence becomes a presence of its own. You grow weary of yourself, weary of the snail's pace at which the healing comes. You flinch at the mention of love, of that sort of companionship. A deep, insatiable longing poisons your bones and it aches to move around in the world.
A Private Observation:
When my heart was broken, I began to notice tufts of hair slip into my hands and slide down my body into the drain. My heart was grieving, and my body joined along. The days went by and the hair fell out, bit by bit. There was nothing to be done about it except watch in despair as my body rid itself of my crown.