At times I almost feel I could identify the moment the sad crept in. In my broken memories I watch the soft smile of my childhood slowly slip away. As time goes on it gets harder to remember the time before, when giggles and joy were my currency. I know it was there, but it has been lost and buried beneath the hardness of the life I held.
As a child I often played alone, not because there were no children nearby to play with but because playing alone was the only way I felt secure and free. No one could tell me I was doing it the wrong way. I played alone because when I played with the other children they pointed out all the ways I was different, the ways I didn’t fit in. When I would lose a bicycle race or fall off a pogo stick or take a really bad shot at the basketball hoop the other children would laugh – as children do. They were not mean or vicious children, they were kids learning how to live in community. We all had some of those playground experiences while growing up. It’s part of life.
I was a child who never learned to shake things off, though. I took in the ridicule, deep within myself, internalizing their amusement and my pain. I gathered every peal of laughter and held it close. Like stones they collected in my gut, growing heavier in time. Every laugh added to the pile. ‘You can’t sit here’ placed another stone on top.
That’s an ugly dress
Can’t you do something with your hair
You’re too skinny
You shouldn’t sing
You blew the curve
He doesn’t like you
She’s only pretending to be your friend
I didn’t invite you to my party
She’s a better dancer than you
I took them all in, one by one, adding to the pile of stones. Adding to the weight. I didn’t know how to let them go. I didn’t know how not to be crushed by the building pile.
The people closest to me were ‘suck it up and walk it off’ people. They stood tall, braced against the ills. I was not one of them. The ones who should have been my trusted confidants called me a wimp when small things hurt me in big ways. They did not see the world the way I did and could not understand what I could possibly be so upset about. If my body was not broken or bleeding they didn’t understand how I could be hurt. They couldn’t see how broken I was on the inside. They didn’t see my heart bleeding for everyone around me. I stopped asking for help, stopped trying to feel better. I believed there was something wrong with me and I simply needed to live with it. So, I kept taking in all the hurt and never letting it go. I kept feeling deep, personal pain driven by cast-off comments. I took the world seriously when it was only trying to make me laugh and move on.
It is as if I were born with a broken heart. It was splayed open, spilling affable love out into the world, longing to receive healing love in return. When I was very little I used to wake up each morning and sit on my window seat to talk to the birds outside my window. I would tell them how beautiful their songs were. I would comment on the warmth of the early morning sun. When I would play outside I would lay on the sidewalk and watch a worm wriggle across the lawn, giving him gentle encouragement. I would find mushrooms in the yard and study the beauty in their perfect lines and fuzzy spores. I wanted to love the world. But when it came to people, they were much harder. They often didn’t want to be praised or encouraged or admired by me. Maybe they did, but they didn’t always know how to accept it. It was the only gift I had to give, though. Time after time it was rejected, and my open heart was martyr to a unforgiving world.
All the hurt I’d gathered through the years got in the way of being loved by those close to me. Carrying that many stones can only result in a very large wall between me and the world. I still want to love the world, but this wall is in the way. A wall I built. I created the very barrier that continues to break my heart. It is a heavy life to carry when you don’t learn to put down what is no longer yours.
Sometimes words come into your path at just the right time and all at once the view changes. Thanks to @damagedave on Twitter, I had that moment recently.
I read those words and exhaled a lifetime of broken-in jeans. I saw myself in these words and it shocked me. This was the moment it occurred to me that I did not have to carry the weight of the laughter and the ugly dress and the hurtful comments and the rumors and the lies and the betrayal. I had believed that was my brokenness and it was mine to carry with me always. It was my identity. I walked away from that life. I hid that person as much as I could. I buried the hurt, I disguised the sadness, I smiled past the heartache. I broke in those jeans to fit like a glove. I never took off the suffering. I still hold those stones, weighing me down. I forgave the ones who hurt me and left behind the ones with whom I couldn’t heal. But my heart still suffered because no one told me I could let that part go.
“You’re a stronger person now” they’d tell me. “You don’t have to see them ever again” they could offer. “What they said in 5th grade doesn’t even matter now” they proclaim. All this time I’ve tried to create a new me that somehow covered up the old one – layered on top. This ‘stronger’ version of me was still tired. She still carried the pain and the weight of the past. She still wore her suffering.
Thank you @damagedave for being gracious in your words and reminding me that I am worthy of that grace, too. Maybe I can slip it off now and then, for a little while, try on a life not wrapped in well-worn suffering. Maybe there are more comfortable things out there that will fit me much better. Maybe it’s time to look.
If you wear your suffering like broken-in jeans, this is your reminder that it’s okay to take it off. It’s not as comfortable as you think. Trust, and grow with me.
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