How some feathered friends unlocked my heart.
- Roberto Corralo. Flickr, http://bit.ly/1CmZSyh
As I confessed here recently (Black Heart Down), I had reached a point of emotional numbness, leaving me impervious to significant, tear-worthy moments. Ten years ago it took very little to reduce me to a puddle. Now I was a desert of dispassion.
Not to feel the sting of tears is an unhealthy place to live. Occasionally I would be in the presence of people leaking sensitivity down their cheeks and find myself attempting to work up a drop or two. I was about as convincing as your five year-old trying to cry his or her way out of a well-deserved punishment. All they can muster is a crinkled face and an eye cutting your way to see if you're buying.
We were staying at the lake house of some precious, generous friends while I composed the above post. I was hoping to unstick myself from the Tar-Baby of indifference I had become.
Typically, when I find myself on an unstable patch of life, I resort to three practices that help me fight my way back to solid ground.
Reading books written by those who are further down the path is one of my first action steps. If I am going to knock my head on the low-hanging branches of doubt, disillusionment, and disappointment, it’s comforting to discover hikers sporting the same bruises on their foreheads—misery loves company.
Praying is good (Though I have to fight the urge to doze off or mentally wander. My deep spiritual groanings often morph into picking at my toenails and creating a mental list of all the items I need from Walgreens!)
Writing is extremely therapeutic. If you dug through my purse, you would find countless scrawls of attempts to refine my thoughts—written on church bulletins, envelopes, and gum wrappers. And to be sure, wrestling that blog post to the page was helpful.
Despite my work reading, praying, and writing (with additional help from eating and binge-watching The Blacklist), my apathy remained. Would I ever feel anything deeply again?
One afternoon as Len sat working on his novel, I moseyed down to the lake to sit on the dock. It was a beautiful day—sunny, breezy, and balmy. I settled back in one of the chaise lounges and...lounged.
I stared out across the lake. Occasionally a small boat would putter by with fishermen on a mission. Or larger boats with laughing pods of people celebrating the day. We would wave to each other, strangers, but united in our appreciation of the goodness we were all experiencing.
After the wakes settled, I noticed a team of ducks in the distance, floating their way across the lake. Having once hatched a mallard at the Woods' house, I feel a special affinity for these adorable birds.
I sat up in my chair to watch as they drifted and dabbled. Suddenly, one of the waxy-feathered crew tipped head first, dove, and disappeared under the lake’s glistening ceiling. I strained to see where it had gone. In a few seconds, it reappeared…popping up like a beach ball. My face relaxed into a smile. Soon, more and more of the tiny black silhouettes dove and bounced back to the surface. I found myself lost in a game of guessing where each would reemerge.
The wind must have picked up because somewhere in the second quarter of our water fowl match, my eyes were wet. I wiped, first with my fingers, then the back of my hand. I looked back at the ducks. My gaze blurred again. I dabbed but could not stop the leak. Soon I was using the sleeve of my t-shirt to wipe the tears. I hated to concede that these were actual tears— knowing I would ultimately confess to Len, “I finally had a break through!” “Really?” he would ask. “What was it?!” “Ummm, ducks….”
But there they were, the first drops falling from the crack in my emotional dam.
The initial tears may have been duck-inspired, but the ones that followed were from a place of joy...realizing that my heart was not completely dead.
It was a fourth, counter-intuitive practice--stillness--that made room for a "Holy interruption," where mystery intersects our physical lives. I have had such moments while sitting at a waterfall. Or when watching hummingbirds zip around my head on the patio. Or when staring up into an endless, starlit sky. Each speaks to something I can’t conjure or control—reminding me that it is not my job to rule the world.
As I continued processing, I found these words of C. S. Lewis, "The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal."
The deep sadness I had been experiencing was only because I had had a history stuffed full of love, trust, joy, and goodness. I was grieving having left the party of my own life.
But on the lake three weeks ago, some Holy ducks floated by...inviting me back to the party.