Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Not in the Driver's Seat

The Rev. Gini Gerbasi 
I've been thinking this week about what it means to love people - to really, genuinely, throw-open-the-doors-of-your-heart love them. I've been thinking about it because several people I know (and love) have been caught in that raw, painful, beautiful place you find yourself in when someone you love is at one of life's major crossroads: college, marriage, divorce, childbirth, life-changing diagnosis, death... You know what it's like to be in those places. And I suspect you know how hard - and sometimes how beautiful - it is to love someone through them.

Loving another human soul is effortless and impossible, glorious and maddening, joyful and sad. Heartache is real. I think our hearts like to stay all tucked in and curled up around what's safe. But loving another requires us to unfurl the wings of our hearts, stretching us where we are stiff and weak. It's also risky, because opening our hearts exposes them to the very real possibility of heartbreak. And I think it's also a bit like how raw open skin hurts even when air touches it. Exposing something to the open that's usually hidden beneath protective layers just plain hurts. 

When we truly love another human being we make ourselves vulnerable to them and all of the things that impact their lives: their relationships, their successes, their failures. It's all there, blessing and hurting us as well. It's like we're living two lives - only with theirs we are not the ones in the driver's seat. We can't steer clear of hazards for them - we can only watch and ride with them. And sometimes it's a lovely drive in the country, and sometimes it's a thrilling ride on the Autobahn, and sometimes you can see the wreck coming and can't do anything about it. And there you are, slamming your foot where the brake would be if you had one, but you don't. And then you're both screaming and rolling end over end, and when it settles down you're climbing out of the wreckage, checking you both for wounds and calling for help. 

Helmets and crash suits would keep us from getting hurt, but they wouldn't keep our hearts as open as they need to be. You can't listen as well, or hold a tiny hand, or wipe away a tear, or feel the warmth of a hug when you're wearing all that protective gear. 

But it's worth it. We may risk heartbreak, but to truly know and genuinely love another human soul is the greatest joy and gift there is. It's what we're made for. I'm convinced it's why God decided to come and live among us. There was just no other way for God to love us unless God could be real with us – and risk everything to love us – the way we risk everything to love another. There are no crash helmets for that.

The Rev. Gini Gerbasi is the assistant rector at St. John's, Lafayette Square.