This past September, I had my heart broken.
I’d hit it off with a man I met in Switzerland. A traveler, like me. An adventurer. Someone who saw the world like I did.
He pursued me and wooed me, whispering French in my ear anytime I was talking to another man, making bids for my attention, saying all the right things along the way. And, after some hesitation on my part, we started seeing each other.
A week or two passed. He told me he was in love with me, half-joking. We laughed a lot. He asked me not to hurt him.
Then we went to a party together one night and it was too loud and rowdy for me. I stayed for a while, but then told him I wasn’t having fun and was going to go. He said he wanted to stay and hang with his friends. He said he’d message me in the morning and we’d spend some quality time together. I said goodnight and kissed him on the cheek.
That night he cheated on me.
In front of my friends.
Just moments after I left the bar.
If this happened two years ago, I would have spent a week (okay, a month) in bed. I would have blamed myself. I would have asked what was so wrong with me that men couldn’t stand to be faithful, or even simply respectful. I would have rolled around in my misery.
But these days I’m a different person.
Was I still hurt? Yes. Did I still curl up into a ball on the hard dirt at the campground and have a tear-filled meltdown? Yes. Did those old questions about my value as a human being rear their ugly heads? Yes.
Did I internalize those things, dissolving into a pile of my insecurities? Not this time.
Instead, I packed up my things and I took myself for a ride on the Glacier Express, something I’d been wanting to do all month, but hadn’t yet gotten around to. I reached out to my girl friends and sincerely asked for help, love, and a sounding board. When people told me they loved me, I listened. And when my heart asked whether or not I was lovable, with yet another failure under my belt, I gave it a firm, loving yes.
And while I was doing all this, I made mental lists of everything I was grateful for. That I had amazing friends who were there for me. That I was loved. By many. That I was capable of being hurt because I have an open heart and, as the monk who wrote Radical Hospitality says, “an open heart will be broken; this is undeniable.” That I was capable of extending grace to him while at the same time standing up for myself.
But most of all, that I am I capable of extending love to myself, that I am stronger than I’ve ever been, that I’ve come so far.
That’s the thing about the low points in our lives. Sometimes we don’t know just how far we’ve come, how much stronger or more loving or braver we are, until we hit a snag.
As C.S. Lewis says,
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.”
So, I am grateful. Even for the really difficult parts of the last six months.
Because the sudden punch in the gut, the smack down, the low points…they show me who I am.
They show me that I am more capable of love today than I was yesterday. That I’m stronger. That I know myself better. That I’m closer to the person I desperately want to be.
A person who loves fiercely. Loves herself. Loves her friends. Loves even her enemies.
A person who walks the line between self-respect and empathy.
A person who does justly and loves mercy. Who lives well and extends grace to those around her. Who practices empathy even when it feels impossible.
Because when I’m suddenly hurt, what I see in myself isn’t an ill temper, low self-esteem, or a free-fall into depression.
It’s the ability to fight tooth and nail for my joy…and win that battle.
And most of all it’s love.
Difficult, beautiful, necessary love.