It is a risk to love.
I think of this as I sit next to my cousin on the broken down porch of our Grandfather’s home. He’s wearing a gun. I can see it, hooked to his belt. Heavy and black.
We sit cross-legged in the sun on a windy day.
His words are soft, gentle. Mine are loud, sharp and frustrated. We are talking about our family and I am pushing against. Listing all of the ways I think so-and-so is failing, could be doing better. Not stepping up.
He listens. Nods his head. Waits until all of the hurt spills out. When he finally speaks his words are generous. Full of grace. Kind.
My heart breaks.
Another day my head rests on the chest of a different family member after a heated argument. He pushes buttons. Pokes and prods at everything I believe or don’t believe in. Says things to get a rise and it works. Makes me so angry I want to throw things.
He says, “I love you,” and wraps me in a hug.
I don’t want to believe it. Don’t want to think this person who is so antithetical to everything I think is just, fair, and true about the world could do anything but cause me harm. I breathe and cry and let him hold me.
I choose to believe.
Everywhere I turn I bump up against my own prejudice. It is hard, like an elbow jutting out from all sides. It defends and protects. Confines and imprisons.
Last week, I did something without realizing exactly what I was doing. I stepped through a metal gate into a wide, open pasture and locked the latch behind me. The prairie, soft and pale spread out on all sides.
I wanted to be alone. To get out of my own head space. To be small in a place where everything else was big.
The sky was infinite and I spent hours walking under its brilliant blue. Up and down the hills glinting with flint. Smiling at the lumps of brown grazing in the distance.
But on the way back, something happened.
The herd of dark chestnut buffalo so far in the distance came nearer. Closed the gap between us in minutes. I could hear their nostrils flaring and their hooves stomping. Could see them out of the corner of my eye behind me to my right.
And then they started running. Charging, really. And I saw their big, sharp horns and all the ways they could harm me. Throw me into the air and stomp on me. Noticed their purposeful gaze as they ran right at me.
And the prairie was still wide. And I was unarmed. And locked inside.
No way to push against. Nowhere to run. Too late to hide. Too many to fight.
And so I stood there. Heart racing. Muscles shaking.
More scared than I have ever been in my life.
Moments passed. By some miracle every time one of them charged, it stopped and turned, feet away from my body. By some miracle, I was able to walk away. Slowly, steadily. One careful step at a time.
And they were okay. And I was okay. Alive and free in the world together.
It doesn’t always turn out that way.
That’s the risk.
To stand still in an open field surrounded by what can harm or even kill us. To enter a church or a mosque and know it might cost your life. To love someone you’re not supposed to love. To let what hurts you draw near so you can learn why it hurts.
I think this is the only way we can survive the cost of hatred. The only way we can heal the violence, the barbed wire wounds of keeping out and in. Isn’t it time?
All I know how to do is to practice. To love. To embody the risk and to keep taking it. To let my heart break over and open.
To be as unguarded as the prairie beyond the gate.