Something happened to one of my close friends last week, though she didn’t tell me what exactly because she said she couldn’t.
She talked about how we all have these great experiences under our belts, but at the same time, there are all these bad ones “that weigh us down, that raise the bar for happiness,” she said. She said that there are always more expectations for happiness, and yet there is always more opposition, which makes it seem like happiness is so hard to get to.
She’s got a point, one that’s been on my mind lately, although I don’t really know why.* The older we get, the more crap we have to deal with, go through, it seems like. “The innocence of childhood,” which my dear friend referred to as gone, which my dear friend has been so much a part of in such a lively way, seems to fall through our fingers, the older we get. Or at least it seems to.
I wanted to tell her this: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, partly because I wanted to make her laugh–we both hated reading that book in high school (even though we both read it in different high schools, states away, before we knew each other**), and partly because we both read that book and didn’t really get it. Until maybe now.
I remember reading Maya Angelou’s autobiography in high school and thinking, GROSS, this young black girl lives in this sucky racist society, gets abandoned by her parents, then ends up getting raped by her mom’s boyfriend? WHAT THE HECK?? Even now, I can’t help but think, How does that happen? Because it does.
But how come?
I remember having to write a paper on it: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and yet I couldn’t figure out what Maya Angelou knew. She never really told us in the book and the ending seemed pretty depressing. The whole time I kept thinking, I don’t know why the caged bird sings and I don’t know why this book was called that.
I still don’t, really. Other than I have a book of quotes and poems on love by Maya Angelou and all the quotes are, of course, about love—but about how healing and transforming love is. I think that means a lot, especially from someone who had experienced so much horror from those who were supposed to love her the most. From those who were supposed to teach her all about love and how good it is.
But they didn’t. They lied to her, and stole from her, and beat her body and heart down until her hope almost broke.
But somehow she figured out love and healing and forgiveness anyway. I can’t help but think, how does that happen?
“Ezekiel,” meaning God will strengthen. Meaning, the name of that one prophet who had to tell everyone in Jerusalem why God was going to destroy it. The name of that one prophet who was kicked out of Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon for the rest of his life. (I wonder if he had family or friends who were left behind.) The name of that one prophet who saw so much death and sorrow and destruction and yet, in the midst of it all, told all who would listen (I can only imagine how much he wanted them to listen) about all this beautiful stuff that was going to come someday if they could just wait for it. All this gathering together, reuniting, healing, blessing. It was going to come because God would strengthen.
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”***
That’s what God said to Ezekiel. That’s what God told Ezekiel to tell the people who were driven out from their homes, away from their land, and freedoms (either because they didn’t listen, or because their neighbors didn’t–the injustice!).
That’s what God said and wanted them to hear and to look forward to: healing from the inside out.
I don’t know if there is any real logic in trying to understand tragedy or what seems to be the injustice of it all. I mean, how come someone like Maya Angelou was betrayed by her own mother, when someone like me was raised by a mother who has, in many ways, given her whole life for me? How come someone like my brother is hit by a boat and saved, when someone else is hit by a boat and killed? And how come some people aren’t ever hit by boats at all, but they lose a best friend, or get their heart broken, or feel like they’re just not cut out for this world, like they just don’t have what it takes to gut through it?
I don’t know. But I don’t believe in a God who hurts us, although I think sometimes He lets us hurt so we can learn how to grow new, brighter hearts. After we hurt ourselves or each other, I believe in a God who can heal us, whether or not we know His name****, whether or not we know His hand. I believe in a God who can teach us how to make our hearts of stone into hearts as soft as flesh. I believe in a God who can teach us to want hearts of flesh–hearts that are open and listening and forgiving, ready to learn and love and receive His love again.
*Perhaps further proof that we are forever friends.
**Perhaps further proof that we are forever friends.
****”I always knew there was a God, I just didn’t know His name.”- Helen Keller