The ancient Greeks had an aphorism, well one of many: gnothi seauton. Most of you may have never heard the greek, but you can readily understand the English, even if not in all its depth (which, to be fair, is still hotly debated in philosophical circles): Know Thyself.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know the mysteries of all mankind, or even of a particular people group, especially not when I feel I’m still learning how to know just myself (and a little of my husband, you know, so we build a better relationship by sorting out what makes your spouse tick so you can better meet their needs, wants, and avoid unnecessary upsets as much as possible).
But I do actively pursue a course in Heather, and as selfish and self-centered as that may sound, it’s actually a course in “How can I finetune Heather so that she ticks more effectively, more efficiently, more pleasantly… how do I go about finding where she needs some finetuning, and then finetune her to be a better human being. How can Heather become ‘all things to all people that she might reach some?’”
It was some of this “know thyself” stuff that brings me to last night. I saw with John watching a favorite TV show last night. Someone died in the show, a character who has never lived in order to die, someone I didn’t even like all that much. And I sat there and cried my eyes out. I wept brokenhearted for those left behind, for the loss of a future between the characters, for the silly folly of life that means one minute you’re alive and well, and the next you’re on an irreversible course to a death no one imagined for you. (OK, Peanut section, you can giggle at me now… because if it was a TV show, the writers had to imagine that this would be the way the character died. But the character doesn’t know that.)
I marveled on the fact that I have such a tender heart that breaks so easily for fictional characters. I’ve joked that I’m not a small woman because I need room for this big ol’ tender heart of mine… and joked that on nights like this one, where the heartbreak is so big, that maybe I’m not big enough yet, It’s an attempt to bring levity to an absurd situation… Heather’s sobbing over a TV show/movie again. Isn’t that silly!
The truth is that I do weep for fallen characters, but more than that, I weep for the pain it mirrors in real life. Last night, as I wept for a life seemingly cut short, somewhere out there in the great big world, mothers and fathers were saying goodbye to terminally ill children for the last time. Husbands were kissing their wife’s forehead because he couldn’t reach her mouth with all the life-saving equipment in it that just wasn’t working. Children said goodbye to parents, to grandparents, lovers saying goodbye to their beloved, friends saying goodbye to beloved friends. As I sat here, insulated in my home, my heart was there, with the ones whom death leaves behind for a while. I wept for all the losses, for all the stupid mistakes that became fatal mistakes, for all the illness we can’t cure yet, for all hope that seems to die with a loved one. My heart broke for all of them, without knowing any of them,
And because I know myself well enough to know that I don’t sleep well when I’m feeling the hurts of life, I made a point to go find something wonderfully light and glib that makes me laugh for joy… a robot singing about scientific efforts and survivors of said efforts. Yes, I get the irony. “Death depresses her, so she listens to ‘Still Alive’. No, that’s not depressing or about death at all… when it talks about killing, or the ones who are dead…” Yet there’s something about little Moxie singing it that makes me smile and giggle.
As I lay in bed, unwinding, thinking about my reactions, I realized something about myself. There was new knowledge of myself to process and file away. I put it on twitter like this: “My emotional pendulum doesn’t have a ‘subtle’ setting.” I feel deeply. I mean, really really deeply. That thing you saw that was mildly amusing? Days later, I can still laugh myself hoarse and purple at it. I made a joke at my Pastor’s expense (he was there, he chuckled) the last day of April; it still make me giggle when I think of it. People I know hold contests to see how many shades of red they can see me turn if they get me laughing. Folks have threatened to call for an ambulance if I didn’t start breathing.
And if that’s excessive to the point of being almost sad, there’s anger. I don’t watch the news, because I go from mildly upset to outraged and incensed in no time. I’d give the Incredible Hulk a run for his money. And there’s the thing where I weep openly, brokenheartedly for characters I barely liked on a TV show that’s not even real.
Once my emotional pendulum starts to swing, it swings HARD. I once thought I might be bipolar, the way I can swing from such extremes so easily. And I’m not sure that leaping from “That’s not right” with my indoor voice to “HOW DARE THEY!” in a scream is necessarily good or helpful or useful at all. I’m going to need to learn a certain amount of moderation, I know.
But in the continuing study of all there is to this woman we call “Heather”, I’ve found a new, useful fact. Subtlety is not my strong suit. And while I do need to moderate my reactions, I’m still pleased with the tenderness of my heart.
Lord, may I never ceased to be moved by death, for when I am, I am as good as dead myself. May I never cease to laugh freely at even the dumb stuff, for when I do, I lose the joy of more than just a moment, but the connection to the greater Joy I have in You. The road you’ve marked is a narrow one; keep me, Lord, ever on the narrow road.