What sets your heart on fire?

My Curly Girl has a teacher who, among other things, is a cancer survivor. We love this teacher–he’s helped us navigate some tough middle school moments with creativity and grace, and he’s brought out the very best in M when it comes to her fierce love for all things theatrical.

When I was diagnosed with lymphoma, he was one of my first emails, because I knew that he would be a support for M. And in his response to my email he told me about his own journey with cancer, and he said, “I’ll tell you, it’ll teach you things for sure. You’ll learn.”

It’s been six months, many very scary days, many very tearful moments, 4 very successful two-day chemotherapy treatments, and some moments of feeling flat-out awful since he wrote those words to me. And for the last few days, they’ve been stuck in my head like an earworm of your most guilty-pleasure 80’s rock anthem. Because what I learned for sure these last six months is this: there is nothing like truly coming face-to-face with your own mortality to set your heart on fire for everything that matters most to you.

Nothing matters more to me than that my daughter carries with her into adulthood an unshakeable sense that she is and always will be loved beyond measure; that she believes in the depths of her heart that, no matter what, she will never be alone; that there is nothing she could ever do that could ever change how fully and completely God knows her and loves her.

Nothing. Matters. More.

But y’all? What sets my heart on fire is wanting that for everyone else, too. Every. One. (Albeit, full confession, there are those I struggle to want it for as much as others….)

I am, at this point in my life, convinced that the vast majority of what’s wrong with the world is rooted in unresolved grief, both individually and collectively. Whatever it is we’ve ever lost — namely any sense at all that we are worthy or loved or held fast –has wrecked us. Whatever dream has died — be it of a relationship or an idea or a desired way of being–has devastated us. And our inability to deal with the pain that comes with loss of any kind, whether it is physical or spiritual or mental or emotional, leaves us fearful. Anxious. Unable to trust any sort of inherent goodness in the world or how much our place in it matters.

And the fear roots, deep in the places of our souls where we hurt the most. And hate and anger flourish. And the schisms born of different ways of being or believing, of different life experiences, become vast chasms of rage and misunderstanding that lead us nowhere but further apart.

And, as a result, we build our lives and our communities on the lie that we are so different from one another that there simply is no other way.

If what I want for my precious girl, and for all of us, is to ever be fully true, we must find another way.

We do not have time, y’all, for the nonsense of hot takes and snarky identity memes. We do not have time for the arrogance of “virtue signals,” like “if you believe (insert supposed belief), then you are (assumption about a person’s ideology or theology or any other “ology.”) We do not have time to destroy one another. Life is too short. And we are, each of us, too sacred.

In your soul and mine, God dwells, and this alone should draw us to one another.

This alone should help us see past skin color or ethnicity or socioeconomic status and into hearts that look far more like ours than we ever want to admit. This alone should help us draw lines in the sand over things that truly matter, as opposed to things like wearing a cloth mask during a global pandemic. This alone should cause us to stop judging a person by what uniform they wear or what school they attend or what house of worship they belong to or what the bottom line of their bank account equals.

Good lord, people. We just do not have time.

Stop. Step way from your screen. And listen. For the love of all that is holy, listen. Search for what’s real and true and engage your mind and heart with someone who isn’t like you. Check your own assumptions. Your own biases. Your own world view. And seek to understand someone else’s.

We will not be able to fully love ourselves, to truly see our own worth, until we’re able to set aside the narratives of “either/or” and engage in the very messy work of where most of what’s best in life dwells–the “and.”

Because it is exactly in this grey area where we learn how complicated we all are, and how beautiful it can be to embrace the complication with our full hearts, such that your pain and mine somehow mend one another whole.

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