Your hands have made me and fashioned me, An intricate unity… Job 10:8
I feel too much. I feel too strongly, too wildly, too richly. I’ve always felt it a curse and a burden. I watch others not feel. I watch the straight of their upper lip, their stoic eyes, the composed brow. I search out the mask of their existence that walls up their emotions.
I wonder, “Have they heard this story before? Heard it a million times over and more? Is that how they are innoculated from feeling it?” Perhaps their brains are stone impervious to feeling. Perhaps they’ve forcefully developed the ability to take a hot air balloon ride during the telling; so to be far away in their minds not even listening to the tale. Escaping by pressing the freeze button and edging out cares with a layer of frosty crust.
Why can I not feel? Gargantuan tears gather in the corners of my eyes which widen with the trick of keeping them balanced in place. My breathing starts to catch in my throat clawing to get out in sobs and stopping my nose from storming down the gutter beneath it is nearly impossible.
I will give thanks unto thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well. Psalm 139:14
One day about two months after my father-in-law passed away I sat listening to my husband recount a funny story about his father. Since my husband is a natural born mimic he can conjure up his father’s voice so perfectly it can raise the hair on the back of your neck. He retold the story about his father’s following the advise of Norm Abraham, the home builder; and the frustration of the advice totally going awry. “I wanna take Norm….” my husband mimicked. The look on his face revealed to me a smile. Tight at the corners hinged on the cushions of his cheeks, he was looking back in time and gritting his teeth holding back a laugh.
I on the other hand, had heard the story a million times and never tired of it’s telling. But at that moment I was overwhelmed with grief. I was, of course, the only one that cried before, during and after the funeral, in secret, I kept it to a minimum and sequestered myself from everyone as they, naturally, never shed an outward tear.
But this time, the overwhelming cascade of grief I felt, this was other worldly. And–it wasn’t mine. It was a torrent of pain, the bone crushing grief pain, that sets up inside and the only way to assuage it is a healthy round of wailing. I sat with it atop my chest, until it enveloped me and I was thrown on top of it, so real it was that I could stand upon it and surf over it as it subsided. When it passed it was such relief. The entire time my eyes were locked on my husband’s, as he sat impassively with what would pass as a smile on his face.
When I recounted this experience to another, she said quite matter of factly, “That was the Holy Spirit.” She went on to explain it as a gift. The gift of empathy. A transforming gift for a split second being able to truly experience what another suffered. I was left to ponder the ramifications of this.
I didn’t have that amount of grief toward my father-in-law at all. I had the natural daughter-in-law whose inclination was duty and respect toward the man amount of grief. I loved him for who he was, and loved him for the man he raised-my husband. My grief was equal to my shock at his passing, and my concern for my husband’s loss, appropriate and concerned.
So it stands to reason the overwhelming grief I experienced was not mine. It had jumped from my husband to me. In that tight grinning memory, all the pain of what could have been and would never be, all the gain that drove them from their very first to their last encounter gripped my husband. For a long palpitating moment I could feel it. I didn’t ask for it, I wasn’t looking for it, I never expected it. I couldn’t recreate it. But there it was.
Since then, I have occasionally experienced the same transference of emotion. Once while sailing past the grocery store I spied a young man sitting at the foot of a locust tree. He was alone and seated on the grass with his back against the tree and his elbows on his knees, hands clasped under his chin. I could only see the crescent edge of his face. I saw him for a split second but felt the large regret that comes from being so far from home. The wonder of what in the world brought me to the place that I am so alone, and how can this possibly be. When everything I cherish is not with me, what have I done? It was powerful and surprising, as if the feelings levitated out of this man and searched out a person to attach to.
At church that very night I heard the familiar practiced lament of the unresponsive, “This is our country! By God! What is going on?” sort of banter. I felt my mouth open to reveal the pain that this one human being experienced, but knew the futility of fighting with feelings.
Feelings droop and tangle on themselves as soon as you want to announce them. Fighting the unreasonable O’Reilly sound bites with feelings would be doom. Last I heard “it is not illegal to be a human being” is a quote that really resonates with me.
With cowardice I did not honor the gift God placed on me, and reveal what I experienced. Which might have given voice to a marginalized group of people working here for the mere honor and opportunity of doing so in the greatest country in the world. Something deftly overlooked by people whose need to whine and blame takes precedence over thinking for ten seconds of how they came to be here.
I have since learned that we are each intricately and wonderfully made. We are formed in our mothers womb, knitted by our very God. Our sovereign God. The one who makes no errors. The one who has a plan for our every thing. The one who knows my every day till the last one.
Knowing that, I can rest in myself. I don’t have to aspire to be a pillar of solid unreaction. I can rest in the understanding that when the gates are lowered and feelings splay across my being, that I can learn from them. I can recieve them and look to the source and be grateful for them.
I can watch others and sit with them patiently and see their feelings blossom, swelling to a crescendo and help pick up the pieces because I know where they will fall. I can fathom how one feeling threads to the next and feeds off another. I can dodge and gauge the harmful ones having steered them toward the rocks so often on my own.
This is what it is to be alive. To feel. The changing inner turmoil that splashes outside of our body that is displayed with red rimmed eyes and shining cheeks so that others reach out and wipe the tears away. We feel so that we can connect.
Anything less is not living.
What I feel has been such a burden is really a wonderfully complicated gift you bestowed upon me. I am learning to appreciate the way you have created me and ultimately only want to serve you. Help me to do so with out fearing a back lash and let your words always grace my lips.
Composure so often belies tenderness. Help us to reach out to others and learn what they feel and let them know that they are never alone because You, our Almighty Lord are indeed with them.