So much of our experience is wound around our wound. Its presence in our life is so subtle that we often don’t recognize it for what it is. It appears seemingly out of nowhere sometimes, and other times you can see it coming at you like a freight train but you can do nothing to stop it or step out of the way. We have many wounds that we are walking around with and some people have more than others. We are the walking wounded. And if we’re not careful about tending to our wounds properly, we can become the walking dead.
I have walked a long, lonely road to be sitting in seminary where I’m studying to become a priest. Most of this road has been of my own creation. At some point my identity got wrapped around the notion that I was not welcome and that I’m merely being tolerated by the people around me who do belong here… the people who are invited. This is my long, lonely road. And I’ve been walking it all of my life. This is my wound.
This wound has to do with articulation… how I articulate myself… doing the right thing, saying the right thing, looking the right way, giving the right gift, creating the right atmosphere… that’s always been in question and it continues to be. I’m blessed though, because I know without a doubt that the core of who I am is something that is right and good and true. This has never been in question. I’ve just always been confused and profoundly hurt as to why it hasn’t been welcome… and that is a big part of why I disappear and try to avoid putting myself “out there”. This is when I stop moving, when I become the “walking dead.”
I’ve been attending to this wound for several years now. It has gotten to the point that I can almost be flippant about it as I notice how it controls what I do and say. This wound is why I’m a people pleaser. I don’t want my articulation to offend anyone because if it does, then that’s just more proof that I’m not supposed to be here. I watch myself avoid conflict or dance around the truth or devalue my contribution. These are all ways in which I manifest in this world. And I’m learning to develop other ways of being that are not controlled by my wound. As I learn these new patterns, I can feel the wound healing.
And then… out of nowhere… something happens. It feels like the wound is ruthlessly ripped open and prodded with a hot iron poker. And then I watch myself take the salt in my hand and grind it deeply into my own open, bleeding wound.
It’s easy for me to tell the story of what happened to me today but that’s really not what matters. In essence it was just someone expressing anger over what I had done… how I had articulated myself. And my reaction was to spiral down and think that I have no right to be here. I wanted to leave seminary. As I write this, I still want to leave because right now the force of the interaction has obliterated all other sensory input. I feel utter shame. But I’m trying to hold the tension… even though my grip is desperate and shaky.
I have already forgiven this person for reacting the way that they did. I understand that people get caught in their own reaction and I absolutely forgive that. But now, when faced with forgiving myself for not knowing the right thing to do, my compassion is completely dry. All I hear in my head is that “I have no right to be here”… “who am I kidding that I think I can be a priest”… “no one else who has been an Episcopalian would have made such a mistake, much less a Christian.”
And here I am on the long, lonely road again.
My calendar this year has, as its photo for February, the steaming Minerva Terrace at Yellowstone National Park. If you’ve never seen this amazing creation, the mineral deposits create a thick white crust around pools of scalding hot water. But the white crust looks like ice, like something found on one of the polar ice caps. And because there is steam in the photo, you wonder who is melting the ice. However, if I were there in person, I’m sure that the sulfuric air and the heat would be giving me more of the story. The senses can get mixed up sometimes and give wrong signals. It’s only when we step back and assess the full situation that we get a better picture. It’s only when we are willing to hold on to the tension of what we think we are seeing, that the truth can bubble to the surface.
Interestingly enough, underneath the picture is the following statement:
Compassion isn’t some kind of self-improvement project or ideal that we’re trying to live up to. Having compassion starts and ends with having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves, all those imperfections that we don’t even want to look at.
The calendar is right. It’s so easy to have compassion for other people, most of the time anyway. But to have compassion for ourselves, for our own wounds… that’s another story. I’m not talking about the wound we feel by having our feelings hurt… that’s one that we like to hold on to so we don’t have to face the really deep one. This deep wound is the one that can and quite often does control what we say and do, how we think and react. We are utterly convinced that this wound is a necessary part of our identity and we refuse to let it heal. And we take every opportunity we can to open it up and rub some more salt in it.
The tension created by trying to hold its lying message until we can see the truth is too great… and so we believe it again and again and again.
So, I’m going to change my statement a bit…
We are the walking wounded. And if we’re not careful about tending to our wounds compassionately, we become the walking dead.