I trudged through the piling snow on the Ohio sidewalk, inwardly cursing myself for not wearing two pairs of socks. Luckily I was almost to the local coffee shop where I was to meet one of my long-time friends. It was our tradition to hole-up in the cozy atmosphere and catch one another up on life until there was nothing but cold dregs left in the bottom of ceramic cups.
“How are you?” I asked Christy, as I unwound the scarf from around my neck.
She sighed, the breath of air momentarily puffing the strands of strawberry blonde hair away from her face.
“No, I AM. I am fine. It’s just- I dunno, this whole thing- that isn’t a thing- with Jack.”
“Have you two been talking much?” I asked, taking a sip of the mocha from my cup. Jack was a guy that Christy knew from church and had been interested in for a couple of months.
“Well we went out a couple of times, but… nothing seems to be progressing,” she sighed. “I keep telling myself I don’t care, because it doesn’t really seem like he does. Or well, sometimes it seems he really likes me… and then nothing.”
Christy absent-mindedly clicked her phone and hopelessly looked at the blank screen devoid of messages. She deliberately placed it down and folded her hands, looking up at me with careful blue eyes, “I think…I am done.”
I looked at my friend and understood that in that moment what she was really saying was, “Caring is too hard. I can’t do it anymore. It’s too scary. I’m safer if I just hide behind this wall I have now decided to build.”
About a half an hour later, Christy’s phone lit up. I watched as she picked up the phone, looked at the message and then intentionally placed her phone in her purse.
“Was that Jack?” I asked, my curiosity peaked.
“Yep,” Christy stated, devoid of emotion.
“Well, aren’t you going to respond?”
“No,” Christy said with fervor. “I don’t care. He can see how it feels to be ignored for once.”
I bit my lip as Christy changed the subject. We didn’t revisit the topic of Jack for the rest of our coffee date; but as I was walking back to my car, snow softly fluttering around me, I began to sort through some of the conversation’s implications.
I began to wonder, not for the first time, why in our culture it seems that whoever cares less holds all the power. Why is it that the ultimate personification of “cool” seems to be a formula of aloof indifference combined with emotional distance?
It hurt my heart as I realized that we have traded in compassion and honesty for an image. An image that subtly exudes “caring is beneath me”. We have leveraged consideration and vulnerability for crafted nonchalance.
My hand flew to my chest as I realized that I was just as guilty of this as Christy and Jack. How many times had I deliberately waited to answer a text message? How many times had I hid behind dry sarcasm to avoid letting my feelings be known? How many times had I turned off my true sentiments like a leaky tap? Or hid behind an emotional wall, safely hurling my own thoughts out like bombs, but staying safely out of reach?
To be honest, I have asked myself this for roughly the past year and still do not have a crystal clear answer. I know it has to do with wanting to be safe and protected. I also know that it is wise to guard and protect your heart. However, one might ask if the motivation for “guarding” ourselves is wisdom… or if it is fear?
Is the reason we hide behind fabricated indifference because we are being wise? Or is it because we are afraid to put ourselves out there, lest someone wound us? Why is pretending not to care, when we actually do, the goal? Why have we made it our lives’ work to convince others that we are deliciously and meticulously blasé, impervious to feeling?
Because then we have all the power to wound and no perceived weakness in which someone could reciprocate.
But this is not real power. It is merely a cheap illusion that comes from playing a role. This, at the very heart and definition, is cowardice.
Cowards flee from battle, hiding behind walls. Heroes leverage everything they are to show compassion, to condescend themselves for the benefit of others. Heroes run into the heart of the battle with a plan, knowing full well that it may not work and they may be wounded. But they know that there is something worth fighting for, worth more than their own safety. That is true power…the power to make people feel and believe again.
Compassion is the goal. Never indifference. No good friendship, no epic story, nothing worth anything was ever built on indifference. Not even your image. Because to put it quite plainly, no one likes that image, it makes people feel two inches tall. Making people believe that they are unworthy of your attention is not, and will never be, cool. That image sucks.
Yes, some of us are recovering from real heartache and that is why we have chosen indifference. Do not let the scars of the past create a wall around you. It is the bravest and most powerful thing of all to risk, to refuse to allow old hurts and betrayals to dictate our futures.
We were created for community and love. To share. I wonder what might happen if we began living in a way that screamed of our interest in others more than our interest in self-preservation and appearing self-sufficient.
Convincing ourselves that we don’t care doesn’t keep us from getting hurt. It keeps us in isolation, all the while wishing someone would break down our own walls. But the question is, are we brave enough to step out first? Are we brave enough to take a chance on allowing compassion to drive us to action?
Be a hero. Be willing to care first. Tear down the walls.