This happened long ago and far away. Or maybe just yesterday. It’s a story worth telling.
We’ll call her Laila.
It was circle time. The irony of something Laila said, struck me and I responded with what I thought was a lighthearted comment. I anticipated laughter in response. Instead, my words hit a nerve. Laila wrote a note after the call and told me so. I was genuinely glad she did. And I instantly understood why I might’ve hurt her.
I said, I apologize for hurting you. I also invited Laila to explore during the upcoming circle why my remark caused so much pain. In the Fertile Heart world, pain is a clue that something in us is calling to push through the birth canal. People who hurt us are often the “angelic midwives” assisting at the birth of the next not-yet-born aspect of our nature.
So after apologizing, I asked, “Would you like to work on it?” Meaning: Let’s go to the Orphan playground and hear what the howling in our hearts is about.
“No,” she said.
Instead she walked away. Our relationship wasn’t strong enough to weather the assault of that remark. Those few words, undoubtedly colored by an ever present abandoned little kid in my own heart, erased months of a caring connection between us.
Yep, the little kid in me and also the adult who genuinely liked and cared about Laila, was hurt. But I also knew that walking away is what Laila needed to do. Walking away is often a wonderful test that helps us discover what the relationship is made off.
My job was to step across the threshold of my inner orphanage to better understand my own response and behavior. I soon realized that, of course, Laila was helping me take another small step in my own birthing journey. The journey in which I get to meet the Julia who can claim not only the value of her work but her value as a human being. A journey in which I get to claim the value of being a human teacher with a risky task of keeping her heart open to thousands of strangers. My job was to forgive myself for being no more and no less than an all too human teacher, fallible but honest and brave enough to engage with her own Orphans first. Then do what it takes to create a safe space for whatever Orphans show up on our various Fertile Heart playgrounds.
Walking away might sometimes be the most sensible action. It’s how we leave and to what extent we understand why we leave or stay, that makes all the difference in how our departure affects the other person, and all our future relationships.
A safe space is not a space in which we don’t get hurt. The human game is a contact sport and if we want to play it for all it’s worth, injury is pretty much inevitable. A safe space is one in which we can hurt each other and then make room for the Orphans to speak their peace and the Ultimate Mom to arrive on the scene in full splendor.
That, to me, is the only way to create a truly safe and fertile space. And parenting is all about providing such a space for the tender vulnerable creatures that beam down to be our next, most venerable teachers. We will hurt them no matter how hard we try not to. They will do whatever it takes to attempt to hurt us back. But walking away is not going to be a viable option for either of us.
How do you respond when someone hurts you? Who shows up first? The O, the V, or the UM? And who has the final say?