After weeks of enduring his flipant responses, obscene remarks and disinterested stares; I stepped out of my role and spoke out of turn. "Why can't you just be a little.....softer?" I implored. I expected a shrug, a rude gesture, but not a verbal response. The break in the soft spoken voice betrayed the vision I had of him. "Cause soft things get smooshed." Of course, I thought, my mind conjuring up images of a loaf of bread under a can of beans, an animal hit by a car, a child dominated by someone much stronger. The moment was powerful. Some piece of me wanted to just hold this little boy. Perhaps some piece of him would have liked to have been held. Instead, there was an unspoken truce between us that began that day. I no longer tried to "fix" him, and he no longer tried to impress me with his knowledge of obscure and insulting put downs. I'd like to say that he became less rigid and more participatory, but he didn't. I don't know the ending to Shane's story, and can only hope that he was able to safely soften at some point.
The change I can see happened inside of me. My eyes were open to the hurt experienced by others. My soft heart learned to defend itself somwhat from the smooshing that comes when it crashes headlong into someone else's pain. That feeling, like a concussion of the heart, happens when we love deeply. It happens when we care that someone is hurting. Sometimes, it seems we are outnumbered by the Shanes of this world, and we become tempted to wear a helmet on our hearts. It is during those times when it is most rewarding to take the helmet off and be even a little bit softer. When we're soft, we are vulnerable to the sneers and jeers of others. There are those who will need to deflect our kindness, and others who will insist that harshness is the only way to deal with a harsh world. Shane was right. Often, soft things get smooshed. But sometimes they don't. Taking off the helmet doesn't mean opening yourself to an onslaught of abuse. It means extending a hand, opening the heart, and reveling in the beauty around you. Today I wish you soft things.