Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Finding water

On Christmas Eve, one of my relatives had a re-commitment ceremony. She and her boyfriend had gotten legally married last year, but none of their family was present, and they wanted to have a ceremony with us.

We all gathered in the living room, sat silently for a while, and then the couple exchanged vows. (A Quaker wedding has no clergy; the couple give their pledge to each other without a third person mediating.) The two of them stumbled through the old-fashioned vows, but afterwards they began to speak freely about why they were together.

The bride has always been a black sheep in the family. Since childhood, she's had some serious psychiatric and behavioral problems. She spoke about meeting her husband when they were both in a PTSD treatment center. At the time she met him, she had been wearing pajamas for a month and wasn't brushing her teeth. They both had insomnia and would meet at 3 am to drink coffee and talk for hours. She knew that if he loved her when she was at her worst, he was a keeper.

Her husband spoke simply about meeting and loving someone else who understood pain.

It moved me more than some of the carefully-orchestrated weddings I've been to. These are two people who have suffered greatly. I work with many more people like them, people with trauma histories, people to whom life has not been kind. I thought about all the broken people out there, and I was so glad that two of them found each other.

Tonight, I asked the bride's father for some cuttings from his plant collection. He showed me his cacti and succulents, desert plants that grow thorns and tough hides to protect themselves. Inside, they trap precious moisture.

“I took a cutting of this one and left it in an empty pot for a few months,” he told me, holding up a plump green stem. “No water. After three months it was hardly shriveled at all. It was starting to put out roots, getting ready to grab on as soon as it touched soil.” It seemed miraculous that a plant could survive that long on only the moisture from the air.

And I thought of his daughter, thought of my clients at the jail and all the other people who live in a harsh and deadly environment. About the thorns and tough skins they grow to save themselves from the desert.

Recently a client told me his mind was “like a tape recorder,” remembering every kind word he heard from me and other staff so he could play them back to himself. In the scorching environment of jail, he was saving up those droplets of kindness to stay sane.

Even the toughest, the most scarred, the most bitter of people are hiding a thirsty heart. Sometimes their tendrils are reaching out for it, searching for a hospitable place where they can latch on and get some of what they need so much.

Here's to the couple whose improvised wedding moved me so much yesterday. It's hard to form a healthy relationship when you hurt a lot, and I don't know how successful they'll be. But they've found some sweetness and nourishment in each other, and I hope together they can drink their fill.

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