I had just finished my swim and was collecting my things to put them away, as I overheard a man distraught on the the phone. “What? She’s leaving me? I can’t believe she is leaving me? What am I to do? How can I rescue this?” Pain flowed from his words. He was so disconnected from the world around him that he seemingly didn’t notice he was in a public space. He hung his head allowing it to fall into his hands. The heaviness of his emotion was far too heavy for his head to hold on it’s own.
I walked into the sauna, leaving the man and his broken heart just outside. I sat and breathed out longing for the man to know peace. I watched him out of the corner of my eye and wondered what the whole story held. As my mind wondered a woman walked into the sauna. Her face was heavy, her eyes glassed over and a grey cloud hung over her as if she were Eeyore. She breathed out a breath of composure. Her pain too was palpable. We caught eyes at one moment. I smiled. She mustered up a half-grin and quickly diverted her eyes. She stayed in the sauna until the emotion came too close to the surface. She quickly made her exit.
As I watched the man on the phone and the woman with her nearly exposed tears I heard yet another person. This person would breathe in deeply, lay his head back and then exhale as if he were trying to breathe out darkness. His breathing told a story of its own. I was struck as the pain of life surrounded me visibly on the faces of three strangers.
On this particular day I felt at home amongst the brokenhearted.
I was reminded of the fact that we each have a story. The person in the car in front of you, the mom with the screaming child at the grocery store, the barista who gets your order wrong… twice, the CEO, the cleaning crew, each person carries with him or her the heavy realities of their personal story.
All too often we engage those around us through the lens of how does this person impact my life. Do they inconvenience me? Do they make my life less comfortable? Do their actions evoke feelings of discomfort? We then make judgements based upon how our own lives are impacted by the other. This judgement is an act of thoughtless narcissim and entitlement.
Yes, that is what I said. (One more time, this judgement is an act of thoughtless narcissism and entitlement.)
As I sat in the sauna that day, my heart was heavy, twisted with the pains and vulnerabilities of my own story. I too needed the grace of others. I wondered if my own pain helped give me eyes to see the pain of others? I wonder, today, if one of the graces of the redemption process is found in a deepened ability to see beyond self, to loose the narcissistic edge and grow a compassionate spirit towards those with whom my life intersects (on any level)?
It is all too easy to live life with me at the center. It takes the grace of God to give me eyes to see those around me. My prayer today for myself and subsequently you, is that we be transformed into men and women who practice the art of loving the stranger. That you and I would be driven by a desire to breathe life into the lives of others through our words and actions. I pray too that we would have eyes to see, hearts that respond with compassion and just enough gumption and obedience to do something in response.
God, please save the narcissist, in me, in those who call themselves your children, so that we can love well the world around us.