“A giver’s hands are born open and so is their heart.” Frances Burnett
Tears are funny things. We shed them when we’re happy and when we’re sad; when we reach milestones and when we fall short of them; when a child is born and when they die; when we are basking in our victories and when we’re wallowing in our defeats; when we’re on the receiving end of a real and much needed hug and when we’re not; when we find true love and when we lose it; when we’re overcome with the fullness of our lives and when we feel empty and alone; when we’re struck by the beauty life has to offer and when we’re stricken by its seeming unfairness; when we greet an old friend and when we say goodbye to them. Often the source of our tears is that obvious, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes tears appear out of nowhere and at the most inopportune or inappropriate times (i.e., at work, in a crowded movie theater, at a school function or sporting event, in a restaurant, etc.). I know because I’ve shed and dried more than my share of them through the years. But, obvious or not, the fact is every teardrop contains a story – a story worth telling and, as importantly, worth listening to.
I suppose I’ve always known that, but, several months ago, I was twice reminded of it by two remarkable women at a medical conference I very nearly didn’t attend. In fact, had a friend not insisted I go those tears likely never would’ve fallen at all, let alone onto a heart that desperately needed to hear the story each had to tell. I was with that friend when the first one fell. It was shortly after lunch on the first day of the conference. I was eager to introduce my friend to the keynote speaker for the afternoon session, a woman who is a giant in the field of eating disorders treatment and recovery and who I’m privileged to call a friend. My eagerness stemmed from my desire to enable my friend to share a ground-breaking online support program that she and a colleague had created coupled with my belief that the speaker could help my friend take her idea to the next level. When the moment finally arrived, I was encouraged by the smile that crept across the face of the speaker as she graciously listened to and warmly embraced my friend’s enthusiastic introduction to her program.
But, what happened next caught my friend and me by complete surprise. As my friend reached out to hand the speaker a booklet that further explained her idea, a tear slipped silently, almost imperceptibly from the corner of the speaker’s eye. “I think it best that you give that to a member of my staff,” she said softly, almost apologetically. “If you give it to me, I’m not certain it will receive the attention it deserves right now – in fact, I know it won’t.” Unsure what to do with the silence that followed or the awkwardness of the moment, my friend and I thanked the speaker for her time and hurriedly exited the still empty auditorium. At day’s end, we met up at a local Cantina to compare notes over a few too many baskets of chips. Not surprisingly, our lunchtime encounter in the auditorium was at the forefront of both of our minds. “I wonder what the story is behind that tear,” my friend began, thinking that maybe I knew. “It seemed strangely out of character for a woman, who, on the outside, always seems so strong, so in control – so successful.”
I paused for a moment, surprised by the well-spring of emotion that accompanied my response. “She has a giver’s heart,” I said, knowingly. “A heart that fears it’s on the verge of giving all it has to give; a heart that, even when exhausted, wants to give more and regrets that it can’t; a heart that wonders if its giving is making a difference and if it’s giving enough; a heart that’s borne more than its own share of suffering through the years, but longs only to protect others from pain; a heart that’s expert in showering those in need with love and compassion, but inexplicably ill-equipped to accept it in return and, thus, is never fully replenished; a heart that doesn’t really know the meaning of rest, that can’t lay itself bare too often, especially if it means offering hope to a soul in despair.” “Is that how you feel too?” my friend asked. “Do you wonder sometimes if what you’re doing is making a difference, if you’re doing enough?” I suppose my silence said it all. “You are doing enough,” she kindly, but insistently responded. “Even if you don’t see it, even if you can’t see it – you’re doing enough. Trust me.”
Looking back, it’s almost as if she knew what the following day held in store . . .