I remember once when I was a boy, wondering if my knee would ever heal. A baseball slide on hard-packed dirt had torn it open. Then I had fallen off a bike. Mashed it into the ground in a soccer game. Made a heroic dive across the playground during PE. Every few days, the same. Finally, infection set in, and with it came the reality of an uncertain outcome. The improvement from one day to the next was below my threshold of perceptibility, and I couldn’t help but feel I had stumbled into something well beyond my miniscule powers of making-right. The waiting was agony.
If this had been the only issue I was managing, it wouldn’t have been too bad, but life has a way of flying into the breach like platelets into a cut. Around the same time, I was having such a hard time at the school I was attending, that I cried to my mother when the car pulled up to the curb, and begged her not to make me get out. It was a new school and I didn’t really have any friends, and I was bumped up a grade to boot after about six weeks of class. Too smart for my own good. Smaller than most. It was an awkward age, and I had moved from a small town to a bigger city, and I couldn’t make sense of the jokes about girls and boys. I couldn’t think my way through any of them. I tried to laugh it off, but they saw right through me. I was never really on my feet there.
My first day in the new grade I was escorted up the stairs and into the instructions for a multiplication test. In the old grade we had been all about addition and subtraction. In the new one, my first gift was one hundred and twenty seconds with which to solve thirty problems. All the other kids had been given the chance to memorize their times tables, but all I had was this brain too smart for its own good. I knew enough to know that multiplication meant a lot of addition, and felt obligated to do something besides sit there like a fool, so I ground my teeth and tried like hell to solve two hundred addition problems in the remaining ninety seconds. My teacher was, I think, impressed by the valiant effort, but I was stretched tight as a drum. I fought back tears as I stared into my chicken scratch. I felt like I had some kind of goodness in me that mattered, but that I was hopelessly over-matched. In other subjects, it was the same.
Sometimes lying in bed at night listening to the odd siren, I worried the Russians would launch their nukes, or that someone might grab me when I rode my bike through the park about a mile from my house where people were reputedly killed by knife fights. One involving swords. Laying awake in my bed, looking through the curtains of the French doors that opened from my room onto the length of the upstairs hallway, I realized that if I squinted, the light at the end of the hall would distort into a line, like a beam of light you might see coming from behind a saint in a painting. I wondered if I could ride that light to places. I wondered if I had discovered something unique, something that mattered. How does my eye do that? Maybe I can live this way, too. Squint towards the future and have it stretch out before me like a ramp to a bright place.
My goal in the morning was just to relax and let my knee heal, not take stuff so seriously. Then Rebecca came in with some kind of collage art shoebox textile whirly-gig ensemble that she and her graphic artist mother had made together in just one night, and I plummeted. My goal for the day was just to get by. To not get blown over by my thoughts. If I just wait long enough, my knee will heal up. And here this girl was already setting the world on fire. I couldn’t help but ask myself: do you see what happy children accomplish? How effortless it could be?
So much of me was plain to see even then. Goodness, over-matched. Somehow an outsider to my own life. Caring, overwhelmed and uncertain. This past month I have worked long and hard on figures, analytics, and graphics. I have loved it, and I have found others that do, too, yet Life can still find ways to multiply excessively. Inner seasons turn. The tide comes in and the moon is hidden by clouds. Later, the tide recedes, and the sky is revealed. These times of inner witnessing have a way of opening us up. I feel that gnawing hunger to sit alone under the night sky with Hafiz, with myself, holding onto the silence like a refugee pleading for asylum. I know if we do, the silence between us will draw my heart out into the open, melt it into ribbons, wrap me in them, bless me top to bottom, bathe me in the sacred, show me a dimension too often curled in on itself. My little secret is how much I care. My secret is how much it hurts sometimes, how much we give to just occupy one transient moment, fully. To be real enough to be swallowed whole. To recognize the bounty we receive in witnessing just one drop of Silence.
Loving isn’t necessarily long conversations. It sneaks up on us. Someone we work with every day but hardly know, one day we realize, their Presence changes the tone of our existence. It’s not always easy to look up from our lives, to let it wash past for a while like a stream through the forest.
Jesus, I ask, when will the awkwardness in my Loving disappear entirely?
He laughs. My friend, whatever on earth are you talking about? If you only knew… If you only knew what I see, when I look at you…