More than once I’ve seen Wilder walk away with an all too familiar look. I don’t know the word for it. But, I feel it. And that’s the problem with people like us. We feel all the feelings.
When I see that sad little walk and the defeated little shoulder slump, I sigh and I breathe a prayer “don’t be like me don’t be like me don’t be like me.”
One of my favorite writers perhaps best described us as canaries. The birds sent into the mine who would sense the suffocating pollution long before the miners. I am a canary. I fear sometimes Wilder is, too.
I hate it for him.
I don’t recall the first time someone said “you’re sensitive!” But, I know it wasn’t a good thing. It was an insult. And over the years I heard it again and again. I quickly learned to be sensitive is to be weak. I learned to be sensitive is not cool. It’s not the goal. Being sensitive was something to be avoided at all cost.
And then life happened. And I handled it. (Or rather God gave me the tools to handle it.) Either way — this sensitive, feels all the things girl survived .I did more than survive. I did more than JUST survive.
Maybe, just maybe, canaries aren’t so weak …
Perhaps being able to feel so much and still function is its own kind of strength.
And so, I am learning day by day (and sometimes minute by minute) that our greatest strengths can be our greatest weakness. And that which we’ve loathed as a fault just may be one of the most beautiful things about ourselves.
This is what I know now that I wish I knew years ago and these are the things I will tell Wilder if he faces the canary struggle (he’s only 4, there’s hope yet he’ll be a tough little bird):
1 — Strength and tender hearts can live together. Not only can they live together, one without the other can be an unsavory combo. Heartless warriors.
2 — We are not weak. We are just aware. Canaries didn’t die in the mines because they were weak. They died because they absorb more of what’s in the air when they inhale than a human. For every breath they inhale, a canary takes in twice the amount of air and therefore twice the amount of poison. We feel all the feelings. We see the things not everyone sees and then … we feel them.
3 — It’s an exhausting things sometimes, being a canary, but it can be just this way about us that makes us able to reach other people. We notice the things other people don’t notice. We aren’t forgetful about the feelings. We see other people’s pain and it hurts. And this is not a wrong thing or a bad thing.
4 — The world needs us. Canaries were kept in cages in mines to alert workers of dangerous carbon monoxide levels. Dead birds meant danger. Us canaries are the warning system — we feel and see the bad thing before it comes.
When canaries are let out of their cages, when we are raised to thrive, we can be fierce little creatures. The kind that feel the feelings and then try to make this world a better place.
The world would be a dangerous place with only canaries. I’m thankful each day for so many people in my life that aren’t this way. That love me anyway. Some that even love me because of my canary ways and not in spite of them.
This world needs all of us birds. The canaries and the hawks and the eagles and the pelicans and most certainly the flamingos.
This world can feel a dangerous place for canaries and for this I am sorry, Wilder. But, as a 36-year-old I have enough wisdom to know this world would be a more dangerous place without us. In the quest for self-improvement, let us never try to erase the bent with which the good Lord made us — even if it’s inconvenient and even if it hurts.
The good news — canaries have wings. And when we’re free to fly, we can soar with the best of them.