Saturday, September 25, 2010
Coming Out of Hiding
My friend and I actually had the kind of relationship that I've learned over the past ten years is the only kind of relationship I want. I call her my soul sister because, although I hesitate to believe in soul mates, she was one of those rare people who knew me (the real me), and still accepted me. Not only did she accept me, she loved me. It wasn't the kind of friendship where we had to talk everyday, but when we were together, it felt like I could be (figuratively) naked and know that I would not be judged.
After ten years, we spent a day together in Miami at the beach. We ate and talked and walked and laughed and almost cried. In one of those moments, I wondered aloud what happened in the ten years that had passed, and why we hadn't talked in so long. She said (and I paraphrase), "I figured you were hiding, and I knew eventually, you wouldn't hide forever. I knew we would be back in touch again."
Ten years ago, I left my family and friends to pursue my Master's degree. I immersed myself in my job, my grad program, and my new-found relationship with God. Over the past ten years, I have spent most of my time either at work or at church. Yes, I do have friends. Some friendships are more authentic than others, but very few of my friends, if any, could be considered "soul sisters". As I was going through my separation and divorce, I refused to open up to men at all. I gave women a time-frame before I would consider them friends. I wore a smile, I talked a lot, and I shared what I was experiencing; but truly, I never really opened my heart to anyone. I used work and church to cover me. My spirituality was worn as a cloak to protect me from anyone who would break my heart or cause me to lose trust. I told myself over and over again that, "I cannot trust anyone but God." I even used Scripture to back me up: "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man." (Psalm 118:8). As a result, a cocoon of protection wound tightly around my heart.
One of my grad school professors, whom I often quote (and probably have several times here), told me in my first year of grad school that, "You have such a beautiful heart. It's such a shame you won't allow anyone to see it." I really had no idea what the man was talking about at the time. For many years, those words haunted me. I thought I was "letting my light shine" - and I was, at the very least, letting people see glimpses of it. At work, with my students. At church, with the other congregants. But in my personal life, the isolation I insisted upon kept me hidden from anyone who could potentially hurt me. The truth was that I had allowed myself to live without breathing. (Huh?)
Cocoons, according to cocoon.org, are a protective casing around an insect, spun during the pupal stage - the life stage in which an insect undergoes transformation. The cocoon is built to protect the insect from a "harsh or unfriendly environment". In a cocoon, an insect can live up to an entire winter season without food or water, the essentials necessary for our survival.
According to my favorite source of information (Wikipedia, of course) the English word "Spirit" comes from the Latin word Spiritus, meaning "breath". The spirit is known as the energy present in all living things. It is active; the vital principle that gives life to a being.
So, how did I allow myself to live without breathing? The protection around my heart allowed me to live, even without the essentials of love, connection, and authenticity. But my spirit (my breath), although fed by God, was closed to others. I inhaled God, but I never exhaled. I kept it in, just for myself - for my own survival, never to be shared with others.
The cocoon is breaking now. It is being split open, because the "winter season" of my life is over; God and people are demanding that it be over. The splitting is a bit painful, but it brings to mind a conversation I had with another friend who came to visit me over the summer.
This friend is someone I have known for almost thirty years, but we hadn't seen each other in twenty years. When we first reconnected, he told me that he believed God brought us back together. We have had some ups and downs since we've reconnected, and I thought it was time for us to separate because I felt hurt a lot during the process of building a relationship with this person. During this last visit, I refused to leave the protection of my cocoon, but before he left, I asked him why he thought God had brought us back into each other's lives. He said (and again, I paraphrase), "I have always known that you have something so special within you - a light - that you hide. You live in an unhappy state, almost a state of depression, and I believe God wanted me to help you, so that what is inside of you can show."
And so, the light that fights to shine brightly - that light that is seen by others even when I desperately fight to keep it hidden sometimes - has won. I am not going to fight myself anymore. I am coming out of hiding.