Nicole Law outlines a new – and better – way of living.
“You resemble Elsa, from Frozen. I don’t know why ..”. It was a casual remark from someone I had just got to know … I laughed it off but there was a dull pang in my heart.
It was a frightening comparison. Anyhow who has seen the film will know who Elsa is. She is poised, regal – and pretty! I liked that part – but reserved. She lives in fear, wrestling with her secret – she was born with the power to create ice and snow. Is that really me? I asked myself. Do I chill the environment around me?
That fear still remained – of opening up and of choosing vulnerability. To me, getting to know a person is a slow revelation – to know what gets that person out of bed, to know why he or she recoils from my hug, to know the story behind the creases around their eyes. I enjoy the process of finding out something new about the people I love everyday, of finding myself sitting across a table and relishing the comfortable silence between us. There is so much love in not needing to speak.
Blame it on the introversion or blame it on the historical record of hurts and trauma. All of us tend to retreat inwards when we suffer pain or rejection. We curl up into a foetal position and let the world move ahead without us, just for a little while.
I am reminded of the quiet wisdom of CS Lewis who notes: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.”
Indeed, the temptation to self-preserve and protect oneself from hurt and pain is alluring. We build walls around ourselves to keep ourselves safe, but really, it’s to keep ourselves closed off from the possibility of a ‘re-entry’ into our sacred personal space. We mothball our feelings waiting for ‘the one who will understand me’ and correspond to them, but the longer they remain wrapped up, the harder it becomes to release them. And the moths still manage to eat them up, leaving us emotionally holed.
I am not saying we should go round declaring our feelings to all-comers. That’s an infallible way to make people flee from you. But we should guard against that excessive reserve which almost imperceptibly cuts us off from others. I hear it in my own voice sometimes … the harsh edge that accompanies a heartbreak. The guarded response to a friendly overture. The hollow laughter in a crowd. There is a certain hardness of heart that calcifies over each betrayal, each disappointment and each abandonment.
It’s easy to walk down this path. One starts to detach oneself from the difficulty of living at the intersection of pain and joy.
Each time we trust someone and show a little bit of ourselves, we take a big risk, especially in a world where softness is sometimes frowned upon.
Perhaps you have also been inundated with phrases like, “you care too much”, “you feel too deeply” – the key words here being “too much”. Choosing to be unaffected by the world around us and the suffering of others is easy. We only need to turn up the volume on our laptops or plug our earphones in. It is more difficult to look squarely at others in the eye and to see their humanity too.
These days, I choose to show up as myself and not a caricature based on other people’s perceptions of me. I choose to keep my heart soft and supple and to forgive, especially when it is difficult. This means approaching conversations with my family and friends with the intention to understand instead of a defence of my perspective. This means expanding the space in my heart to know that their words and actions are a reflection of past hurts, stresses and struggles. This means losing the smaller battles to win the longer war.
In the short term, I will experience my fair share of pain but the pain itself need not be a disempowering force that renders me paralysed. Pain is a pathway to endurance and meaning.
I challenge you too, to soften the ground of your heart and to love well and deeply. Sure, there will be those dry and arid seasons or that impenetrable night, but there is immense value and power in a heart that continues to love in spite of it all.
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