Bless her heart. My stepmother called twice today. She's eager to book my would-be trip to France this summer in which I'll watch a dear friend say her vows in wine country. I appreciate her generosity and attentiveness without any allusions to Southern snideness. It's actually her mother that taught me this phrase. Bless her heart, she says with all sincerity and love. Bless her heart, she says through spits of laughter. She means it and so do I. Bless her heart.
While I managed to rush her off the phone in the first phone call, she didn't let me hang up the phone this time without asking how I am. She's worried about me. I can hear it in the way that she asks -- tentatively, eagerly, lovingly. She really wants to know that I'm going to be OK.
My reply isn't what she wants to hear. Although, I'm not really sure what anyone wants to hear from me right now. On Thursday, I had coffee with a dear church member whom I invited to "talk" after the two year anniversary of his wife's suicide. To all outward appearances, he seems like he's doing just fine. I know that grief is private. Trust me. I know what it's like to put on a brave face and pretend like everything is peachy keen. I know what it's like to present that facade in order to avoid the frustrating comments from people that have never experienced grief of their own -- and certainly have never met my own particular form of grief. I know all of these things, but I was not certain that he would want talk to me. He did. Over half a cup of coffee, he poured his heart out. He told me all of the things that he's been holding in his heart that he doesn't know how to tell a soul. And then, he sighed. "This must be hard on you," he said. I looked perplexed. "It must cause you to relive your own grief."
He would never let me touch him but I wanted to hold his hand. I told him not to worry. My own story of grief has pulled me into this work. I told him that I know what it's like to not be able to really say how much it hurts. I told him that it's my deep honor to sip coffee with him and hear these stories. "Bless your heart," he said. He can hear it in the way that I ask -- tentatively, eagerly, lovingly. I really want to know that he's going to be OK.
Of course, the truth is that we're both broken. We're both hurting. There will be things that happen in both of our lives from now on that will heighten that sense of loss -- silly things like wondering if we can ever love again. His story is different than mine. I'm a young lady, in his words. He'll start receiving social security on Monday. And yet, the story is familiar. Another church member asked this debonair widower on a date. They're going to dinner, but it's not just a casual meal. It's loaded. It's filled with emotion that she can't possibly understand. Only he can know that array of emotion that explode with a simple dinner invitation. (I want to rip her to shreds, but that's another matter.) He cried into his coffee when he said this. He wiped away tears that a veteran of his age doesn't ever get to show and turned to his "young lady" pastor to ask if this meal was a betrayal to the woman that he couldn't save. Bless his heart.
This is what always surprises me about ministry because I heard my own story in this story. I heard that story of lost love. The story that reeks of rejection. The one that insists that you didn't love that person enough in the way that they needed to be loved -- even though there never would have been enough. I heard it. Clearly. And yet, even though I heard myself in his story, I told him something I wouldn't ever tell myself. I told him about the love of God. (Simple enough concept, right?) I told him that if we really believe that our knowledge of God is revealed in love, shouldn't we always seek more love in our lives? Isn't that what God would want for us? The monologue was longer than that, but you get the gist. When I was done, and finally caught my breath, he avoided my eye contact. "I guess," he muttered.
Damn it. I don't want to hear it either. God may be love but I don't feel very loved. Theology doesn't matter when the heart insists upon its own wisdom. Well, maybe the heart isn't wise but it certainly is stubborn. It doesn't want to be happy as I'm grateful to read in others words. It just wants to figure out a way to heal. Or at least, that's the best that I can really figure out about my broken heart.