The past weeks have been dimmed by a cloud of disappointment. Great and grand hopes and dreams have not been dashed to the ground – in a strange way it seems like those would be easier to bounce back from – but rather by a myriad of small things. Mom always called the soft edges of this phenomena death by a thousand cuts, those ‘oh no’s!’, ‘I wish they would have,’ or ‘I was looking forward to,’ moments that will never come to be. Moments where you realize that reality, after all, will not meet the shape or size of your expectations.
On Sunday afternoon I cried walking down Atlantic Avenue. I had reached my relational capacity over the weekend and could not wait to be home to relegate myself from society and the world. The week had taken too much out of me and I needed a safe refuge. All I could think about was hopping into my bed and tucking myself between the freshly laundered sheets to sleep. The moment I noticed a troupe of winter boots outside my home I felt my heart fall to the ground. I burst into tears and called my parents once I realized that the thing I needed would not happen. My fingers began to tingle in response to the distress. It was dramatic. The last thing I felt like I could do was make small talk with relative strangers, so I went on a walk to calm down and wait out the swarm of people buzzing in the apartment.
I’ve been tasting a strange cocktail of disappointment and joy these weeks. I’ve found myself enjoying life in a more deep and profound way. I’m pursuing things I love that give me life out of freedom, and not despite guilt. Yet, these great experiences and adventures have exacerbated my profound longing for deep friendship. In the Problem of Pain, CS Lewis writes about this pain saying, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.”
A few years ago I would have been ashamed by my longings, these expectations (dare I say, needs) cloaked in high level aspirations; especially when they went unmet. As Lewis said above, it’s easier to admit to a stubbed toe than to admit that yes, you did actually want that thing after-all. I’m OK tackling life by myself, but I am human. I want to be known, loved, and taken care of and I want to know, love, and take care of others too. Life becomes exhausting without a mutual, shoulder-to-shoulder give-and-take. I crave deep friendship and care in my current context here in New York City.
Throughout the joy and disappointment of the last weeks, in a paradox as natural as the Gospel, these longings have been sustaining my heart and pointing it where it needs to be: towards the furious love of God. I’d rather experience the frustration, delight, and pain of the past weeks, the highs and lows together and not one without the other; or worse, neither.
My longings won’t be completely satisfied in this world. No matter how beautiful, perfect, joyful, or terrible things may be, I know vindication of my longings will come someday. In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton wrote “Indeed the Lord of Compassion seems to pity people for living rather than for dying.” Lord of Compassion, give me grace to sustain the disappointments and the joys of life and truly live.