This picture shows a piece of art that a client gave to me as a thank you when we wrapped up our time together. It sits on my desk as a reminder of my desire to become fluent in "moon language." Let me tell you what I mean.
A few years ago, I binge-watched the Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why” for a presentation I was giving at a Safe Church conference. This show is about a high school student, Hannah Baker, who completes suicide. Before her death, she records 13 audio tapes, each one addressed to a different friend or classmate who was a reason why she ended her life.
The main protagonist is Clay, Hannah’s friend and romantic interest. Clay is a sweet, shy and awkward guy who was timid in his interactions with Hannah, often refraining from sharing his feelings with her. One of the 13 tapes is addressed to Clay, and as he listens to Hannah describe her experience, he struggles with guilt and tries to understand his role in Hannah’s suicide.
In the last episode, Clay is talking with the school guidance counsellor about this struggle. The counsellor tells Clay that we can’t know what others are thinking, and that we are human and love imperfectly. “You can’t love someone back to life”, he tells Clay. Clay doesn’t want to accept this. “You can try”, he asserts. “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her.”
This line really hit me hard as I watched. Maybe because I could see that Clay did love her, and he was just afraid to show it, or trust it, or let it grow. And now he couldn't go back.
And so I asked myself…. Who am I afraid to love?
As a new therapist at the time, my thoughts went to clients. When I first started this profession, I thought I should guard myself against loving my clients. I wanted to be careful. I assumed I was supposed to be impartial and have perspective and be objective about my clients. I didn’t want to get involved and carry their burdens home with me. I didn’t want to be “unprofessional” and show emotions with clients.
Over time, with Clay’s statement echoing through my head, I wonder: Am I afraid to love my clients? But more importantly: could that fear be costing my clients their life?
This sounds dramatic. What I mean is – could I be limiting my clients' healing process toward a full life by being afraid to love them? Could with-holding the rising tide of compassion within me actually be causing harm? Harm to the client by denying them (maybe yet again) the balm of human compassion? Harm to me by training myself to deny what I’m feeling?
I do feel love and compassion for my clients. My fear was in letting it be there. As if I better hold back. As if I could love someone too much. Now I wonder if that's possible. Can you really love someone too much? Can you feel too much compassion for someone? Anyone?
I’m reminded of my favourite line in Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese. She says:
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
That is so tender. Permission granted. Let the love be there. Allow it.
And, I urge myself: "Do not stop there!" Express it. Demonstrate it with a smile, eye contact, a kind word. Can you love someone back to life? Could showing compassion revive the darkest soul? Maybe we'll never know, but I think Clay is right, “You can try”. Why not become the one who says what everyone is dying to hear? Why not become fluent in moon language?
With That Moon Language - Hafiz
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud; Otherwise, Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, This great pull in us To connect.
Why not become the one Who lives with a full moon in each eye That is always saying,
With that sweet moon Language,
What every other eye in this world Is dying to Hear.