By MARIA SERMERSHEIM
In mid-October, trees around campus were trimmed and removed. In most instances, I didn’t realize a change had been made until after the fact. I did not witness the trimming, the stump removal or the sod replacement; and I was left to wonder: there used to be a tree there, right?
As I walked to the dining hall and noticed yet another trimmed limb, I wondered if we ever notice the dead or diseased limbs until they’re gone. I wondered if we ever notice others’ hidden pain until after we hurt them.
It reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend. She and I were discussing a predicament with another friend who is dear to us, who is often left out in social settings because he is a little awkward. He is invited to big group activities, but he does not have a close circle of friends for himself. As he once said to me, everyone has their close group of friends; but he is not in any of them. And when we spoke about that, I realized the manifold occasions on which I have unthinkingly and unnecessarily excluded him. My friend was compelled by the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
My friend looked at me, and she said, “Maria, I am just so convinced that we must love until it hurts.”
In a case like this, it is not even a great pain; it is only a minimal inconvenience to think of the other and to be willing to help guide the conversation a little more. We are simply unthinking, but we need to think of others. With this friend, we don’t notice the wounds we inflict until after the fact because they are wounds of omission or unthinking exclusion. Just like the trees, we don’t witness the change, but we sense a difference.
I spoke to this same friend this morning about the trees. I asked about the tree on South Quad that I first saw as a stump and then saw the area covered with grass; no stump in sight, no mark of a tree except in our memories. He reminded me matter-of-factly of the storm a few nights ago, citing it as the cause for all the fallen trees and trimmed limbs. Of course, he was right.
He paid attention and made the connection. If only I did so better in our friendship.
I write this article to indict myself and to invite you to seriously examine yourselves along with me. Who are the people we unwittingly injure? We are called to love until it hurts, but there are so many intermediate steps we have yet to take. Could it be that, at this moment, we just need to love until we are uncomfortable or inconvenienced? Who are the people in our lives who need a friend, whose friend we can be, not in pity but in true charity?
I believe I have not loved until it hurts. But I resolve to start down that path.