There are days when Sunshine speaks and suddenly it looms large in front of me. With a word and a dip of the head, I see it. The wall. It is built to protect, to create safety, to keep out pain.
I see it and I want to soothe. I am safe, my dear. I am loving. I want only good things for you. I would never, ever willingly hurt you.
And we work and I whisper through the chinks, and I show my character fully. I do not fear vulnerability because I choose this child. I choose this hurting one. And she lets me climb a ladder and talk to her across the top. And she starts to build her own ladder, cautiously, surreptitiously.
I pretend not to notice, and just absentmindedly poke at the loose grout at the top. Maybe offer to take a brick or two off the top. A concession in a smile. A laugh. Eye contact.
And one day, she sets her ladder astride the wall, too. She climbs the rungs, one by one. Some days up, and other days back down again. But always closer. Always drawing nearer.
And together we start to let the light in. We start to tear down what is not necessary between us. We count out the weight of each brick, the terror or the pain or the sorrow that put it there. We mull over the meaning of goodness and evil. Together we weep to think about all the evil that pushed us painfully to find one another at this wall and yet how very good it is that we are here together. The rough hew of the corners of such things scrape against our souls like the edges of the bricks that lay around us.
She is so far from me.
She is rebuilding that wall, I fear.
And I think maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe the work was for naught. Maybe she is slipping her way back down the ladder and away from me. Maybe this work, it meant nothing. Maybe love isn’t enough.
And so I wait here, on the other side of the wall.
Some days I think it’s so easy. Why can’t she just take up the sledgehammer and knock away all her self-imposed obstacles and stop building? It’s right there, resting next to the ladder. Either way, my dear one. Either way. Just come. Just be with me. I am safe, and I am home.
And so I try to busy myself while I wait. I look to my own space and try to be patient as I sit here.
And then I hear another voice. A calling out. And I walk a distance from her wall and I listen again. I look and I see an eye looking through a chink at me. A man whispers to me through the crack. Hello, he says. I’d like to invest in you. I’d like to see what is on the other side of your wall.
I don’t have walls, I say. That’s silly. No. Walls are the things that are built when you feel pain and sorrow and terror.
Oh. Oh, yes…that. Those are things I know about.
And I take a step back from the voice and I look up. And I see it looming before me. A wall. Built carefully, brick by brick, with my own hands. My own tears. My own pain. My own fear, insulating me, steeling me from further hurt.
And maybe from future hope, too. Future love. Future possibilities.
And I look over to the wall I have been working on so diligently with my Sunshine. So much progress. All the while, this wall of my own stood, growing ivy, becoming a fixture in my soul.
I tell myself that this is different. I had a lot of reasons to build this wall. I had a lot of things that needed to be protected.
I had not even realized it was there.
Maybe that’s the shock of it, these past few weeks and months of realizing that I’ve built some pretty high walls myself. And then after I built them, I hid them and somehow convinced myself that they didn’t exist. I was fine. Safe. Solid. I was in the business of recognizing the walls in others and loving them apart. I was sure that all of my walls were obsolete.
And then the voice came calling to me from the other side, and I can’t pretend any longer. But I don’t know what to do. This wall has been here for so long. I know how to man the gate, but to knock down the whole thing entirely? Impossible.
I list the reasons out. I don’t know the character of this person building a ladder so he can talk to me a bit more easily. It could be Bad coming again to trick me. I could believe the same lies. I could be wronged again. It could mean feeling pain….a pain altogether different than the pain of loneliness and isolation that I have come to know in the space I have built. That at least I know. It is familiar. And maybe loneliness is better than risk.
I don’t want to be vulnerable.
My breath catches. Because I see now. I see what I have asked Sunshine to weigh. I see what it means to contemplate such bravery. What each rung of the ladder costs.
I thought I understood. I thought I related. And I did. I do. I understand pain and fear.
But I got impatient with this process of wall-breaking and pushing away and pulling in and sorting through the pieces together.
Her fears are not my fears. Her walls are built with many of the same ingredients, but the pattern is her own.
And I stand here, frozen.
It’s terrifying to think of knocking down my own wall. But I so want to. I just don’t know how. And so I pick at the grout and talk through the chinks and slowly work on building my own ladder. And I approach her wall with more grace, too. More compassion. More patience.
And as I do, I understand even better what doing such things cost my girl. And I marvel at the things she has taught me. She has shown me that there are things that are worth tearing down walls for. She has shown me what joy can result from stepping beyond your own self-imposed protective borders. She has shown me that trust doesn’t just build things; sometimes it helps to break things apart, too. And I’m ever so grateful.
I hope I get to be brave like her someday.