How many times have I heard, “Things are not what they seem?” It’s usually given as a warning, someone speaking it with the energy of “watch out” because you can’t know what’s coming your way! I can hear Lerch playing the organ in the background… creepy, howling, discordant chords of caution emanating from the bearer of the ominous warning. Frankly, I don’t really need someone to scare me or warn me, I do pretty well on my own, with my own monkey mind and internal dialogue.
Luckily for me, though, I like a good surprise. So when I hear “things are not always what they seem,” it’s generally an invitation to bring all my senses to attention and with a goofy smile and the excited, joyful anticipation of a little kid say, “REALLY? How cool!” Luckily I have managed to keep a tiny piece of me that is that small child, with an innocence that knows there is a present under there, a wonder-filled revelation – a gift of immense proportions!
But that wonder-filled revelation, that fabulous present, can come in different disguises. And while I’m pretty good at being excited about the idea that things in front of me aren’t what they might appear to be, there are times I get broadsided. Indeed, things aren’t what they seem, they are worse! The gift someone is bestowing upon me turns out to be more hurtful than I could ever have imagined a person capable of sharing. The pain that accompanies the gift is like a dagger, cutting so deeply I believe the wound will never heal.
Lord knows I have done my fair share of causing hurt, being thoughtless, and engaging my mouth before I really hear the words in my head that I am about to say out loud. All in the name of caring, thinking I know better, or worse – thinking I know what’s best for the other person. A few months ago I was the recipient of what really seemed like someone’s thoughtlessness. Things were not what they seemed to be – my wonder-filled revelation was delivered in a most unexpected fashion. Someone was mean to me. I don’t know any other way to say it, except from my child-like, naive way of being.
On the playground I was made fun of, picked on, pointed at and criticized. I think we believe that as adults we don’t actually do these things, sadly we do, everyday. And not just to strangers, but to those we profess to care about. The language is different, the bullies are different and the playground may look differently, but the result is the same. We are mean to each other and we hurt each other.
I’m guessing the words this man said to me were his way of caring. To think there was any other reason for saying what he did would mean I believed him capable of being intentionally cruel, and honestly, I just can’t bring myself to believe that about him – or any human being.
As I stood there listening to him, I allowed him to finish what he was saying because I was so shocked. I was paralyzed and I’m not sure I could have stopped him even if I wanted to, so all I could do was smile, nod and leave as quickly as possible. In the solitude of my car, I wept, I sobbed, I choked on my tears while gasping for air.
Finally the fog of disbelief that had rolled in lifted enough for me to connect with myself, with the pain, the torment. To my astonishment, I was struck with a glaring truth – the words he had spoken to me were my own words of disdain and disapproval. In that brief moment, his voice had become an echo of my own internal dialogue that questions my worth and denigrates my own beauty. Things are not what they seem to be.
In the blink of an eye this seemingly horrid, cruel man had become my teacher. He had found one of my deepest, darkest wounds and exposed it to the light, given it a voice. This turned out to be a gift of immense proportions, yet I sure I even wanted this present because I wasn’t sure the pain would ever go away. I was so vulnerable, standing there naked to the world, opened once again to be wounded. Only this time, the wound was an old one. He had not inflicted new injury, but rather he had removed the blade that had been embedded for decades, and with its removal, the bleeding, the anguish and suffering necessary for my healing had begun.
I spent the next few days lost in myself, confused, numb, hating him, hating me, doing anything I could to dull the sharpness, to soothe the raw edges. Each day I thought the crying would stop and every day my body was wracked with sobbing fits. And each time the tears would subside, I wondered if this release would stop my insanity.
I have spent my life slowly covering over the original me, and thankfully it continues to get worn back by quiet teachers who appear now and again. I have no choice but to be with it, to lean into this experience, embrace those parts of me he has given voice to that have been awaiting integration.
I sigh heavily now as I type this, as I surrender to the knowing that each time I question my own worth, deny my place in my world, a teacher appears and points me to the unloved and unlived pieces of my life. These are the pieces I have tucked away believing they were worthless, and are now gasping for air.
Things are not always what they seem to be. This man, who barely knows me, probably thought he was giving me some words of wisdom or being compassionate, yet unwittingly he had given me a gift of immeasurable value – the gift of being present to my own cycle of being and becoming – from brokenness to wholeness to brokenness to wholeness. It can be a frightening and disheartening process where life, a teacher, dismantles my current phase of wholeness – of becoming. Then followed by the process of grace, the eroding away of what is not life-giving, and then reassembled into my next phase of wholeness – being.
These unlived portions of my life are not what they have seemed to be. These gifts come in unexpected places and in the smallest of spaces. I see them with new eyes, I hear their voices calling out to me. They are the cycle of being and becoming, of transformation and healing. They are an invitation to bring all my senses to attention and with a goofy smile say, “REALLY? How cool!”