When I am sad or lonely, I like to hold a little bear my fiance gave me, whom I call DanDee after the name on his tag. I like to look at the red heart on DanDee’s chest. When I place four fingers on his back and one on his chest and press gently, rhythmically, it looks like his heart is beating.
That heartbeat to me represents something I cannot explain. Ivan loves me. I didn’t work for it. I didn’t ask for it. The thing is fragile, but surprisingly strong — tensile like the strand of a web. Magical. Miraculous.
Sometimes, in some relationships, that precious thing is broken. We have names for when that happens. We call it pain. Depression. Fibromyalgia. Bitchiness. Suicide. Regret.
People walk around with holes inside themselves, I realize now. Growing up deeply loved, I am just beginning to understand what it means to have a hole.
I think of a story a friend told me. As a young man, his mom died. When his dad remarried, he hoped for a relationship with his stepmom like he’d never had with his real mom. He picked her flowers from the field. The next day, they drooped in their vase.
“Throw them away,” she said. “They’re just weeds.” And just like that, the hope of relationship died, withered with the rootless flowers in the sun.
“Did you say anything to her about it?” I asked.
“No,” he said. But he still cried about it, years later.
Relationships can be like that. It takes two to make one. It takes two to keep one. And maybe the thing that hurts the most is that maybe the one that committed the hurt never knows.
That is why I am humble in my friendships. In any breach of relationship, I may be the one who committed the hurt. My friend’s stepmom had no idea of the damage she’d done. In her mind, she was just cleaning the house.
I had a friend who died and left me a Christmas cactus. I watered it for a while, but then I put it in a back room and forgot about it. It’s not that I didn’t care about her. She had been my best friend. But I’m not a plant person, and that’s all.
The cactus shriveled in its pot.
One day another friend — someone I trusted with all my heart — turned her back on me. Long days of trouble had come before. Now, seething with hurt and anger, I told God, “If you want me to forgive her, you’ll have to help me, because I don’t have it in myself.”
Just a few minutes later, Mom said to me, “Did you see your cactus? It has two blooms on it.”
I went into the back room to look and — miracle of miracles — two beautiful white blossoms grew on the cactus. It had never bloomed at my house before.
“I started watering it,” Mom said.
If the heart on the bear represents something fragile and precious that is relationship, the blooms on the cactus represent something fragile and precious that is relationship regrown.
Through that broken relationship I learned something about self-respect and about giving both myself and my friends the freedom to be gone. Friendship is a gift given freely. Don’t grasp for it, don’t hold it greedily, or it will crumble in your hands.
But I do hold hope before me, a blossom in my open hand. Relationship is a miracle no human can produce. I cannot make it. I can water it, but even for that task I may be inadequate. Sometimes, after long drought and aching death, at the finger of God, deep in the soil of a failed pot, a miracle is reborn.
Lucinda J. Miller lives in Rusk County, Wis. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.