She shares the tale frequently.
The one of a rebellious toddler with a shaggy hair cut – his red locks grazing the back of his neck as he turned his chin up to look at her with defiance in his big brown eyes.
“Don’t touch that,” she said softly, “it’s hot and you
will get hurt.”
Always curious, you could watch him processing her words behind his crinkled forehead.
With defiance, he made his own decision, and leading with his balmy palm, stuck all five fingers straight to the coils and promptly started to scream.
I’ve been thinking of that little toddler and all the tales of caution we get served up.
Don’t put your hands on the burners, take your vitamins, avoid cigarettes, build up your 401k. For if we do all the right things, we’ll get out unscathed.
This week started with me calling 9-1-1 for a stranger in Macy’s. A pregnant woman had fainted. We were shopping for jeans. Dylan helped her partner lay her down on the worn green carpet in the department store. Undertrained staff frantically fumbled and we, just bystanders, made the decision to call for help. While Dylan moved the tables stacked with denim, I leaned over and counted the woman’s breaths saying “Now. Now. Now” to the dispatch woman on the other end of the phone. Another kind stranger fanned the woman with a crumpled flyer full of coupons waiting to be clipped.
I did something kind. We responded to a situation and when the emergency team walked in, I said good luck and we went on our way. I didn’t have it in me to stick around and see what happened next. Was it any of my business anyway?
The week ended with someone I love in the hospital and while she is ok, the tethers of vulnerability connecting us still brought me to tears. A friend was evacuated from her house due to forest fires.
All of these people take their vitamins, eat vegetables, and save money where they can. They tsk at diet soda and hug their loved ones and take deep breaths.
They’ve heard the tales, took caution, and still seem unable to escape the pain.
How do we witness and engage in others pain? How do I experience the heat of their experiences surging into the hot plates sitting in front of me?
Whether we know a diagnosis is coming, or show up and ride an elevator up to a sterile room full of beeping equipment, or call the adoption agency, or click send on the email with the hard to say feelings from years of resentment. We have choices with how much we want to touch the burning red. We can see it coming. The response is ours.
Is it really protecting ourselves to avoid the glow all together? Where can we lean in and feel the heat and not get scorched?
Or perhaps, we need to grab and hold and promptly let ourselves scream.
The choice is ours. What a beautiful thing.