"Push me! Push me!" we pleaded. We had the best recess monitor ever, Mrs. Hauns. She was the youngest old person I ever knew. She had a short, pixie hair cut and a smile that made this six-year old believe we were actually friends. She gave me the biggest push ever and I soared! I threw my head back and laughed.
And I watched as she pushed my friend. Over and over she pushed her. My friend laughing just like me. Except, I only got one push, and Mrs. Hauns kept pushing my friend over and over. It just wasn't fair.
I've always been "easy to read" when it comes to my facial expressions and how I feel about any given situation, so it was pretty obvious to Mrs. Hauns how upset I was as I suddenly jumped off my swing and stomped away. "Hey," she called after me. "What's going on?"
I turned around, threw my hands on my hips and, with all the gumption and spunk my six-year old body could handle, railed against the injustices of getting one singular push versus the hundreds of pushes for the girl she obviously liked better than me.
She crouched down to look me in the eyes and explained. "Oh, Bridget," she sighed. "I wasn't pushing you not because I don't like you; I wasn't pushing you because you don't need me to. You know how to pump your legs and you always get so high. But your friend needed my help more."
I think that was the first time I realized that when you're strong enough, people assume you don't need them. See, in my six-year old mind, I needed someone to want to push me. I needed them to make that choice. To choose to help me, even if it looked like I didn't need it.
As a young adult I remember getting into a fierce fight with my mother. My world was always so black and white. There were definite categories of right and wrong, of fair and unfair. And yet, I was able to see a million shades of green in a single tree - there wasn't just one. I would cry at a sunset and not understand why others weren't. My heart would swell and ache and I'd wipe away tears as we played Ravel's Bolero in high school; images of starlings performing their stunning aeronautical choreography in my mind's eye. Yes, my world was black and white and filled with obvious injustices I felt born to point out, but my world was also filled with so much emotion: love, beauty, pain, tenderness, excitement, fury and fear. The problem was, no one else in my world thought, or felt, like me.
I was forever being described as "too emotional" or "too sensitive" and "always looking for a fight." I'll admit to the overly emotional and sensitive side, but looking to fight? I hated fighting. I just felt that things should be fair, falling neatly into an already labeled box and I grew frustrated that no one - no one, around me seemed to see things that way, too.
And so it was that I found myself full of fury, fighting injustice, yelling across the room at my mother, "you always help him!" I accused her, referring to my brother, who in my mind was now clearly old enough to take care of himself. "Why can't you help me the same way?!" (Now, understand it wasn't true that my mother didn't help me. Of course she did. I was a very young single mother who was going through a vicious custody dispute and losing the house I lived in. I was worried and anxious and scared, and yes, she helped me. She helped me more than any person I knew and I was incredibly appreciative of it, but I also felt that she was doing way too much for my brother. She was doing things that he should be doing. I felt she was being taken advantage of. Where she would push me once on the swing, she would stand behind him and push him all night long, well past the point her arms grew weary and heavy, and he would just enjoy the ride, oblivious to her exhaustion and fatigue.)
She paused and looked at me for a moment before speaking. "I didn't help you because you didn't need it. You're strong enough to figure it out on your own."
Couldn't she see? I didn't want to be strong enough.
I don't want to be strong enough now, either. Instead, I want to crumple into my soul in the middle of a dirty street, tears streaking my face as I scream out, "why have you done this? Why are you punishing me?" I want to lay on the wet pavement and heave sobs so loud and so scary that all the people staring at me from their safe distance won't know what to do. I want someone braver than me to pick me up and carry me home, where I'll take to my bed for a month and refuse visitors and barely eat.
I want that because well, who wants to pump their own legs to lift them to the heavens, when you could sit back and let someone else do it for you?
Except, that's the thing about grief. No one can do it for you. You have to choose to be strong enough to gather yourself from the street, throw your legs off the bed and stand. There's no time limit. And you can go as slow as you want; but only you can do it.
I have a cousin whose leg was destroyed in a farm auger. I remember my grandfather crying. I remember going to the hospital and seeing my cousin forced to sit in a wheelchair, a maze of metal rods and pins sticking out from his mangled leg. He was in so much pain. I'll never forget his eyes; wild with pain and fear. The nurses could change the dressing, monitor the pain meds, soothe his mind with encouraging words, hold his hand to steady him, but only he could find the strength and the courage to work the physical therapy. Only he could choose to stand on his shattered leg knowing every cell in his body was going to scream out in pain.
There are times when I can barely lift my head to whisper, "I am not strong enough to handle this constant ache in my heart, Lord. I am so weak and so very, very weary." But then God sends to me a soul-nurse, who tenderly changes the dressing wrapped around my wounded heart and who chooses, with typewritten words folded neatly in a bright, green envelope, to help me to stand.
"Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid or terrified because of them,
for the Lord your God goes with you;
He will never leave nor forsake you."