On most days, I’d say life is great. Really, it is, beyond my wildest dreams. And those who know me well know that my smile is real. Years of sports have taught me to focus on the next play, not the last one, but when I’m not happy, don’t worry, I won’t smile at you. It’s the Doug Barkman guarantee. Add to that, our twisted expectation as Christians that the healthy sojourner struggles not. So, when I look at my life – my work, my friends, my home, and my family – and see ridiculous blessings, I can only assume that the tears inside me are counterfeit. The joy is based on real things; the pain must be a lie.
The reality is that I have, in the last six months or so, been repeatedly brought to the edge of tears, and tried my best to stoically claw my way back to safety. Not always. Christal knows. Some of my colleagues know. It’s a dirty secret, that sometimes situations hurt, deeply, and there’s not much we can do about it. I’ve cried with parents of students, rarely shedding a tear. I have hurt with friends, and my stupid imagination has put me into the emotional sidecar of other peoples’ pain.
And yet, here I am, tears crying to be freed, listening to All Sons & Daughters’ Oh How I Need You on loop. This time it’s for a new friend, his wife, their son, and their daughter. Their heartache, a word too callous to encapsulate this grief. Not that these salty driblets do anyone any kind of good. It’s not that I see it as a sign of weakness, and I’m not fishing for someone to tell me it’s okay to cry. I’ll be the boss of my tears, thank you very much. But in this moment, I’m forced into retrospection and see that in only a short span, I’ve been faced with a greater number of emotionally-demanding situations than in previous years combined. My life is really wonderful, yes, and my heart still breaks for these situations. Every one.
To be clear, I’m okay with the heartbreak. I just need a good cry, that’s all. I really don’t want to stop bleeding for these situations, because it feeds my understanding. It hurts for them, so why shouldn’t it hurt at least a bit for me? I guess what I really need is a good rainstorm to camouflage my borrowed tears, or an abandoned warehouse in which to dance off the emotional overstock. It may not always come at the time of pain; the visible Doug doesn’t have tear stains on his cheeks. That works for me. When I’m in the middle of a situation, stoic is a pretty natural resting-face. It’s when I step away, with the right people, that I feel safe enough to finally say, I’m broken right now, for this situation or for that.
Oh How I Need You. And maybe to chop up some onions in a dust storm.