“You know my name, not my story. You’ve heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.”
Jonathan Anthony Burkett
I’ve often thought about the difference in hearing and knowing, seeing and feeling, observing and understanding. I think it has become so easy to go through life focused solely on our own little world and we forget about the rest of the world, filled with people who have stories and pain and joy just like ours. I think too often we simply bump into each other rather than really seeing each other. We talk but we don’t always hear, we hear but we don’t always feel.
There’s so much depth behind the words that describe our experiences. Death. Divorce. Cancer. Love. Birth. Addiction. Recovery. Moving. Marriage. We throw these words around when sharing our life and our experiences with each other and we say things like, “I’m going through a divorce.” Or “I just had a baby.” Or “My brother/son/mother/____ passed away.” We hear each other say those things and we may even empathize with their meaning because we too have had that experience or can at least imagine what it might be like because someone we love went through it; yet I still find a numbness displayed, both in saying and hearing those words. The word itself does not convey the depth of feeling and meaning behind its experience and existence.
I have always been in love with and fascinated by the ocean. I think parts of heaven will be filled with people just surfing continuous waves. I know very little about the inner workings of the ocean and the science behind how it does what it does; but I do know that waves break because the amplitude of the wave has reached a critical point at which the energy has reached its capacity causing the crest to overturn and the wave is transformed into turbulent kinetic energy. When watching the waves of the ocean, we see the beauty, peace and serenity it provides. We see the rolling waves and the white water caused by the breaking of the wave and we stand in awe, yet we still don’t fully grasp the magnitude of what is happening before us unless we have studied the ocean. We appreciate what we can see with our eyes and hear with our ears, but there is literally an entire ocean behind each wave; an ocean we could only understand if seen and experienced through the heart. An ocean which we know nothing about. An ocean filled with life we can’t see, danger we don’t understand, and borders we cannot fathom. The white of a breaking wave is much like the words we use to describe our experience. Words show the breaking of energy. They explain the skin of a person, not the heart. Christopher Paolini explains it beautifully stating, “The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”
I think many times we stop ourselves from feeling the whole thing or knowing the experience behind the words because it’s too much. We do this even in our own lives and in our own stories. It’s a means of protecting ourselves from going too deep into each other’s experiences and pain because maybe we’re afraid we won’t make it back out.
In fact, people who feel too deeply and “wear their heart on their sleeve” tend to be deemed weak, too sensitive and too emotional. We tend to appreciate the surfers of the waves and forget about the divers who go out into the ocean to learn about it’s depth. We are more interested in the surface because it’s easier to grasp.
Much of my life feels like it happened to someone else, like I’m telling someone else’s story. I say the words but don’t feel the feelings. I used to think that only people who had been through the same things as me could really understand how I felt or what it did to me to go through them. I still believe that to some extent, but only in the fact that unless you’ve truly felt the feelings death, divorce, children, or any other experience brings and know what it looks like to walk that journey, you cannot truly comprehend it. You may empathize with it or imagine it, but you can’t fully grasp It. At the same time, I sometimes think that people who have been through more of the big, tough things in life are in fact less able to feel with others in many ways. They often become jaded by their experiences and rather than staying busted open emotionally, in order to function in life they have to bury all that stuff somewhere and lock it up. They feel there is no choice but to stuff down the pain and keep moving because if they felt it, remembered it, talked about it or shared it, they’d fall apart. Our experiences, especially the painful ones, get thrown out into our ocean of life and we only share the waves with the world. It creates a numbness, a cold distance, a hardness.
People don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like being broken and busted wide open in front of each other. It’s uncomfortable to feel our depth among others. What if they don’t get it? What if they disagree? What if they think I’m weak? What if they’ve been through this too and handled it better? What if they judge me? What if they really knew me?
It’s a scary and vulnerable thing to truly be seen and known, and we adults don’t feel comfortable there; not even within ourselves. There is truth, and even necessity, in not living our lives busted open in every area all the time. Its wouldn’t be functional to literally feel the depth of every emotion within ourselves and for everyone else at every moment, nor would it be appropriate to share our entire ocean with everyone we encounter. All I’m suggesting is that we be aware that behind every word and within every person, there is an ocean of life we know nothing about. I love this quote from the movie Crash that says, “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” I don’t think it should be that way. We shouldn’t have to crash into each other just to be seen. We shouldn’t have to drown in the ocean in order to understand and connect to the waves.
Let’s try to see each other. Let’s allow ourselves to be busted wide open for people and to understand rather than just observe. Let’s feel. Let’s be present and conscious of one another. Let’s dive into the ocean and explore its depth rather than simply watching the waves and saying we understand. God created us to see each other, to feel with and for one another; even if it hurts, even if it costs us something. To deny that is to deny our humanness.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying the surface of the ocean; but when you look further and finally realize all that happens under water, you see you’ve missed the whole point of the ocean. I pray we learn to relentlessly pursue one another, not just on the surface but at the core. I pray we learn to see each other and to feel with one another, the same way God sees us, feels with us, pursues us, weeps for us and is broken for us. We can’t possibly feel and understand every experience of everyone we meet, but we can certainly learn to at least appreciate the ocean behind each wave we see.
“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” Sarah Kay