Sunday, September 29, 2019

On Boundaries and the Necessary Magic of the Word, 'No!'



no
is a necessary magic

no
draws a circle around you
with chalk
and says
i have given enough

- boundaries

(anonymous)

//

I was walking down to the garden the other morning, when a line from Maurice Sendak’s, Where the Wild Things Are ran through my mind. A friend had texted, asking if I might bring flowers in to work. I had paused before replying – I didn’t know if we had flowers left in the garden or not.  More importantly, though, I didn’t know if I had it in me to bring flowers or not.

I texted back, “Lemme see . . .”

After the boys got on the bus, I did a quick internal scan. Did I have it in me to bring in flowers? Yes, I did. Plus, the act of walking through the early morning dew, scanning stems for suitable blossoms, and arranging them in a vase would be good for me.

//

I am someone who grows and cuts flowers to bring into the office. I am someone who spreads poetry in the world, who writes, who tells jokes, and listens, and gives, and gives, and gives.

Most of the time, people like this about me. “We appreciate you,” they say. “You bring something we need.”

Most of the time, I like being liked.

Maybe you do too?

//

Liking being liked can be a problem.

Needing to be liked can be a more serious problem still.

It can lead to a giving that depletes so completely that the giver is left with an empty shell of self.

//

“. . . we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

This the line I recalled from Sendak’s book. It’s what the wild things say to Max when he’s feeling lonely and longing for “someone who loves him best of all.”

I thought of that line and recognized something in it about the way church work can be; about the way parenting or teaching or any other form of service that involves deep self-giving and sacrifice can be. Caring for young children, tending a sick loved one, feeding a hungry church – all of these have the potential to eat us up, especially if we're looking to them to replace "someone who loves us best of all."

//

I went back and re-read Where the Wild Things Are a few days later.  I read how it’s Max’s realization of his loneliness and need for love that causes him to give up his position as “king” of where the wild things are. Aware of his own needs, Max prepares to leave. This is when the wild things cry, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

Then, a wonderful, magical thing happens in the story: Max says, ‘No!’

Of course, the wild things don’t like this one bit. In response, they “roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

But Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye . . .”

//

I hope you know the power of the word ‘no.’

I hope you see how every ‘no’ is also a ‘yes’ and that choosing self care is sometimes the best gift you can give to the wild things who love you so.

I hope you don’t give in to the “terrible roars” and “gnashing teeth” and “terrible claws;” I hope you have the wisdom to see they love you so and they're just afraid you won’t return.

Go ahead, step into your boat and sail away, “in and out of weeks and through a day” and find yourself home, again, in “your own room” where Someone who loves you best can care for you for a while.

Don’t worry. We know you’ll be back. We know you’ll bring flowers and, probably, a poem or two. We know. Because that’s who you are. 

But that's only part of why we love you so. We love you also for your ability to say, and to help us to learn to say, that magic word, 'no.' 



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