The people I know best and with whom I would say I’m the closest all have something in common. I know of their wounds. I know of their losses. It’s the same with people who know me and are close to me. They know the stories behind my psychic, emotional and even physical scars. There is no faster way to know someone but to ask, “Tell me about your life’s greatest loss.”
At the heart of what binds our most treasured, timeless relationships is the knowledge of loss and suffering. Trauma. Injustice. Moral failure. When someone shares these things with us, then and only then can we begin to say we know this person. Then and only then can we say we have a true intimacy.
There is, yet, another echelon of closeness. I refer to people we love, and still love, and with whom we remain close, who have hurt us. And/or we have hurt them. Though, somehow, in this case, the injuries did not extinguish the relationship. This person is still here. Still loving us.
I think of two people in my own life. I see their faces. They love me. Really they do. But, in the history of these relationships, I have behaved badly. In one I abused my power as a bully. In the other I betrayed a trust. And both of these people are still here. Still part of my life. If I think about it too often, it becomes quickly overwhelming.
I think of Thomas. That would be Thomas the disciple of Jesus in the Christian Gospel. It’s Sunday, and, two days ago, Jesus died like a dog. But Thomas’ friends say they have seen Jesus. That he is alive. Thomas scoffed: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
For this line, Thomas went down in history with the moniker “Doubting Thomas,” but I’ve always thought that was unfair. More like “Realistic Thomas.” Jesus doesn’t chastise Thomas for doubting. Instead, Jesus calls his bluff. Jesus shows up again, extends his wounded hands and says, essentially, “You’re on, cowboy. Reach out, see and feel these wounds. Those would be the holes left over from nails.”
“My Lord and my God,” Thomas exclaims.
For my purposes here, my point is not a “religious” one. It’s an existential one. Thomas recognizes Jesus as he knows Jesus’ wounds. The wounds are the ultimate credential of identity. The wounds of which Thomas is not innocent.
I think of my friends who, on their 20th anniversary ask me to preside at their renewal of vows. They gather their children, their family and friends. They stand in their living room and reaffirm the promises of marriage, hope and love. But, see, I know something of the history of this marriage. I know of its joys and celebrations. I know of its wounds. I know of injuries and betrayals. How he has hurt her. How she has hurt him.
Yet, here they stand, telling each other and their Maker of their love, constancy and fidelity. Their hope. Their steadfast willingness to walk the beloved to the grave. And it occurs to me, again, that at the end of 40 to 50 years of healthy marriage, a foundational part of what binds an old man and old woman together is … scar tissue. From which pours not resentment but treasure and blessings. A breathtaking intimacy. A profound knowing. We say: “You see that jagged psychic scar on my beloved’s heart? I did that.”
I presided at the renewal. Then I got out my guitar and sang them the song “Purple Heart”:
Once upon a time you stood before an altar
And you promised not to leave
You held each other’s hand and dreamed a sweet forever
Love drove angels to their knees
Oh, the days they do fly by
Count the tears that you have cried
Count the laughter and the lies
Count your love and times love died
And here you stand together, battle-scarred and torn
The locks of fairy tales have fallen, long since shorn
Love has chosen you, blessed you, crucified you
See what you’ve become
Love’s Purple Heart is won
Once upon a time
You promised to believe
That wounded hearts though painful so
Are the only hearts that grow
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays.
Contact him at 227-4165
or skalas@ reviewjournal.com.