Why didn’t I stop it? The question echos through and around me, wraps itself around my heart and constricts my breath. Why didn’t I stop it?
And yet, I know that sometimes it’s only through the telling of the story that we heal…
I sit “criss-cross-apple-sauce” as I study the baby book in front of me. I place my small hand over the even smaller hand-shape that was pressed here not so long ago. My child self, eclipsing my infant self. It’s obvious from what is written here that my mother loved me, once. What did I do, as an infant, to earn such affection from her? How can I become the child my mother loved again? I examine each page slowly, desperate for answers.
My life becomes a search for love. I study the popular girls in my class, the successful women on the television, the members of my family who seem to “have it all.” A deep, hidden part of me decides that I need others – particularly men – to define me, that I need the respect and admiration of those around me in order to feel worthy and loved.
As a young adult, I am given a book called The Rules. Advertised as a formula for being “desirable and mysterious,” the authors claim their list of do’s and don’ts will help me “land the guy of [my] dreams.” I vow to follow this set of rules. I twist the meaning of the word “love,” give it an impossible definition and spend the rest of my life chasing it.
The illusion. The Sisyphean Stone. My very own Holy Grail.
Predictably, perhaps to all but myself, I never find it. Always, I am left holding an empty sieve, after all that is real and tangible has been sifted out in my efforts to breathe life into the idol. Each time, I harden my heart a little further. In an attempt to stifle my desire for this love that has became such a hateful enemy to me, I build my fences higher, my walls thicker. But I discover that no matter how safe I make my fortress, no matter how I try to deny myself, I still yearn for the living ivory sculpture, never understanding that what I am searching for so fervently isn’t real.
And now – too late – or more likely because of, I discover that she is a figment of my imagination. That I sacrificed everything on the altar of a fantasy. That I didn’t stop it because I couldn’t. This was my story, and our stories always reveal themselves, in some way, with or without our permission. And I realize – too late – or more likely because of, that I am and always have been loved. Imperfectly, perhaps, but loved. And I see how imperfectly I have loved others and how much pain and joy and hope and tenderness can be present in imperfect love between fallible, selfish, screwed-up children of the Most High. I find myself unmoored in a strange, frightening world that is rife with possibilities and potential, but also pain of my own making. My pain, and the pain of others, rests on my shoulders.
In the end, I find that the answer – the only answer that makes any sense, the only answer that is useful and applicable – is to accept love exactly as it is, which is all it ever will be. It will be fluid and changing, flawed and insufficient, risky and raging with the need of forgiveness. It will be also be perfect. Because this love – a love that holds the door open, come what may – is a love that only God can refine, strengthen, maintain and heal. I will learn to love and accept love from this place of freedom, to recognize that pain and love are sometimes bound together and allow it all to wash over and through and from me.