A couple of days ago I was talking with my friend when her four-year old daughter, Sydney, tipped off a piano stool backwards onto the floor. We darted over to her and she lay there on the floor looking up at us saying, “I’m okay,” but the look on her face told us she was clearly rattled. My friend scooped her daughter up and with complete understanding of her little one said, “that was scary, huh? It’s okay to be scared.” Sydney wrapped her arms around her mom’s neck with her back to me and quietly let out the tears she’d been holding in so bravely. A few minutes later she was fully recovered and back to her happy-go-lucky little self.
I think we all have the tendency to cope the way Sydney did. When something upsetting happens we shake it off and put on a brave face, partly to reassure those around us, but probably more to convince ourselves that we’re okay. Something injures us, and we put a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding from our open wound. The only problem is that in shutting off that part of us, the part that’s able to hurt us so badly, we cut off circulation to an important part of who we are.
Whatever or whoever our problem is, we want not to care. We want to be these strong, stoic figures that can make it through our life-altering events unscathed. I don’t care that he left me, I don’t miss playing soccer that much, I’m not scared that I quit my job, I’m not worried about my health. I’m fine, everything’s normal, it’s no big deal. But sometimes, we can’t be okay, and by acknowledging that pain (be it past or present), we’re able to feel like our whole selves again.
As I’m writing this I’m reminded of the old Papa Roach song, Scars, that I remember being an especially big hit with me and my friends in college who were dealing with season-ending injuries, and it still hits home.
I tear my heart open,
I sew myself shut,
My weakness is,
That I care too much,
And our scars remind us,
That the past is real,
I tear my heart open,
Just to feel.
Whether our pain is ongoing or in the past, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s there so that we don’t become too mechanical. Feeling the bad leaves us open to feeling the good, too, and we can become the stronger, more complete people we were aiming to be in the first place.