I was borderline rude with an acquaintance in public today. And that’s not like me.
I don’t know the man well, but we always have a friendly chat when we run into each other. When he approached me in a restaurant Sunday evening, I just wanted him to go away. I wanted everyone to go away. He asked me how I was doing.
“Well, to be honest, I’m in a mood when I’d rather just have the whole world leave me alone,” I said.
I tried not to make it sound personal, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain. I made another comment or two, but I pointedly turned my attention to my MacBook’s screen.
He sat down near me and kept trying to chat. I replied as little as I could and I kept my eyes on the screen. He eventually finished eating and said goodbye. I told him I’d probably be more social again the next time he saw me.
After he left, I thought about the apparent contradiction in me today. I’ve been emotionally drowning on the inside, for a couple of reasons. I have walls up against the whole world and I don’t want to let anyone inside. I want to be left alone.
But I’ve also been a lost little boy — waiting for someone to rescue me.
When I was a child, it never occurred to me that anyone could rescue me. The idea would have seemed ludicrous. It would have sounded impossible. And I would have thought it was weak.
I always felt that I was alone against the world. I always thought I could be my own champion, my own rescuer, my own hero.
I didn’t need anyone.
I felt that way because there was no one for me to count on. Why believe in a fairy tale rescue for myself when I was alone against a world that left me increasingly numb and cold?
It took me a long time to realize this, but my intense desire to rescue others — cats, dogs and even people — was partly a matter of me projecting my desire to rescue myself. Something in my unconscious believed that by rescuing others, I was somehow rescuing myself.
And maybe I believed — in a deep part of myself that I can’t quite access — that if I rescued others enough, I might be worthy of someone else rescuing me.
I’ve bumped up against these ideas here before. I’ve written about the realization that the cats and dogs I rescued were rescuing me at the same time. I’ve also written about my instinctive understanding that relationships between people who’ve been hurt are ultimately about mutual rescue.
There’s a common idea in some modern pop psychology that two people in a relationship shouldn’t need in each other. The notion is that two partners should want one another but they shouldn’t actually need each other. They should each be independent enough to stand alone.
I get the concept, but I think it’s bunk. I think we’re so hesitant to put complete trust in a partnership that we’ve developed an ideology — and morphed it into psychology — that the two partners don’t need to fuse into an inseparable partnership.
I think that idea is wrong and dangerous. It goes against all of human history up until the last 50 years or so. In the best relationships, each person brings the best he or she has to offer — and trusts the other person to be strong at times in places where he or she is weak or broken.
I think we’re all broken. It just takes some of us a lot longer to understand that and then to accept it.
I have enough pride that I don’t want help from anybody. I don’t want to accept help, much less ask for it. I have so much trouble trusting that anybody could finally be worth my complete trust that I’m always looking for a reason not to trust.
I usually find that reason not to trust — and then I pull back.
For all these reasons, I have thick walls against the rest of the world. It seems safer. It’s less risky. There’s less chance of hurt or rejection or disappointment.
But English writer C.S. Lewis gave a powerful rebuke to this fear-based desire of my heart.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” Lewis wrote. “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
I think this is why I have to rescue others, whether it’s cats or dogs or people I meet. This is my only defense against locking myself up so tightly that no one can ever get inside to rescue me.
In the meantime, I have to keep living with a contradiction which is more visible at some times than others. I’ll keep locking myself — at least partly, when I hurt the worst — against the vast majority of this fallen world.
But I’ll try to tear down the wall around my heart when I can. At least a little. I’ll try to stay vulnerable. I’ll try to let myself hold onto faith and hope — and especially love.
In my most secret heart, I believe the day will come when I can rescue the right woman — and it will turn out that she has arrived to rescue the lost little boy inside me at the same time.