Here is a truth about life and relationships: We put up with it until we don’t.
When we were children, we had to put up with it in order to survive, but we don’t have to put up with it any more.
We spend the first 20 years of our lives learning habits from the two most significant people in our lives, our parents. And then we take these habits and patterns and we apply them to the next 20 years. We apply them directly, by doing them. Or we apply them indirectly, by reacting against them and doing their opposite, or by inviting people and circumstances into our lives that will replicate original patterns to which we are accustomed. We tell ourselves all sorts of stories about these things, but pretty generally if a way of being is bad in one’s family of origin, it will plant bad seeds yielding bad fruit. If we do nothing to prevent it, we will naturally find ourselves in the midst of a wild habit-sowed tangle by middle age, trapped and unable to see anything but a patch of blue sky suggesting that something else is out there.
We can hack and burn our ways out, and turn our backs to the brambles and declare that we’re finished, but it’s not true. If you turn around, there it is. You just want to be finished. But you know you’re not finished when you resist people or events that point out, “Look here! Brambles!” and you shush them, or get angry, or look away.
But, still: “Look here! Brambles!”
Eventually, you realize that you’ve been putting up with whatever pricks, pokes, and draws blood, when There Is No Need. There is a Promised Land accessible and calling to to you, a Kingdom, and it’s pre-Pandora and pre-bramble and thorn. There is no drop of blood on the thumb or on the heel.
To get to that place, though, one must leave the briar patch far behind. Far, far behind. One must sally forth, seeking a new home.
Along the way, there are people who have thorns. They prick you, and you put up with it until you don’t any more. You know you’re getting closer when you don’t put up with the pricks any more.
You know you’re getting closer when you start to run, and your feet are unencumbered, flying along on joy.
The Biggest Thorn
The biggest thorn in your life teaches you to unconsciously avoid or attract people who are similar, so that the wound can be inflicted many times until you become a person who consciously deals with the wound.
There are thorny people all around me. Most of the time I can make use of their wounds, but sometimes not. Not too long ago, someone who reads my blog emailed me and challenged, “When are you going to do something with yourself?” or some such. This reader and I have been doing a sort of a choreographed dance in which we take turns being each other’s thorn. One leads, and then the other either follows or retreats. But because we know it’s a dance and we are as much part of each other’s healing as we are potential foils of it, we keep communicating. I love this reader because this reader is honest. This reader is a truth-teller in the most fantastic, beautiful, and fearsome ways. I have come to begin to love this reader and treasure this reader.
Another person in my life is a thorn who is very much like my old thorn: shallow, narcissistic, a pretender, a liar. Words and deeds do not match. An inflatable person. Someone to be avoided on one level and tolerated on another. And loved on yet another. It is like eating supper with Judas. You know who he is. You know what he’s doing. You even urge him to do it, and do it quickly. And you know he will hang himself afterward, because eventually he will have only regrets. And you love him and let him do all of it, anyway. It is just that clear.
I appreciate getting my comeuppances from people I don’t have to live with, from acquaintances or even readers. I welcome their barbs, intentional or not (and mostly not), because if they did not come through those I don’t know very well, they will come from my family members, co-workers, neighbors. I take them among acquaintances because I know for sure that everywhere I go, there they will be. If I resist the thorn in a reader because I resist the wound in myself, I will find that thorn every old where. If I resist the faithful wound of a friend, I will receive only deceitful kisses of the enemy, and I won’t grow. I will stagnate in the middle of the briar patch and I am no Brer Rabbit, cleverly able to trap others there and escape myself and make a good story of it. This is not entertainment. This contains bloodshed and blood letting.
Letting people be thorns in your life is like growing rose bushes. We put on our gardening gloves and say, “Look at you! So thorny. Your thorns are painful.” It’s not enough to just put the gloves on. You have to go about gardening with intention. And if the thorny bushes resist, we garden anyway. You don’t just set fire to your rose bushes. You prune them, but you wear gloves.
What I Would Have Said
Growing up with thorny people, one learns to remain silent in the face of abuse, lies, dysfunction, dissembling. When hurtful words were said, we were children and didn’t know how to respond. Upon entering adulthood, we still don’t know how to respond. As we heal and grow, though, we learn that there are many things that can be said.
What I would have said, had I known what to say, or even think: I expect words and deeds to match. Don’t just tell me you’re a loving person and then act like an asshole. What bullshit! What hypocrisy. Either be loving, or don’t. Be Christian or Buddhist or Humanist or whatever your True Religion of Self is, and act like you mean it. But don’t you dare say one thing and do another and expect me to sit here and pretend with you. I won’t do it.
What I would have said: Because you speak love but do harm, you’re not my friend. I would have said, “You’re not my intimate if you are Far Away both physically and relationally.”
What I would have said: I am lovable. I am good. I am beautiful and have a deep well of self. I’m not common or predictable. I’m not you, and I’m not who you imagine me to be, nor who you say I am.
I would have said I am not an object to be used. I am a person. I do not exist merely as your audience, your foil, or your object to be acted against, your prop. We are both fully human and I am fully alive. I invite you to be fully alive, too. I invite you to consider what you are doing. I invite you to look at this reflection. See? I hold up a mirror. What do you see?
What Would You Have Said?