I was recently reading an article about the Great Wall of China. Considered one of the greatest wonders of our world, the Great Wall is the only man-made structure visible from space with the naked eye. It amazingly winds up and down over deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching some 5,000-plus miles. Originally built as a series of separate walls, designed to protect and fortify warring states, the Wall was eventually joined together to fend off invasions from Northern enemies. It stands today as perhaps the most remarkable and remembered part of Chinese history.
Fascinated by what I read about in China, I Googled “great walls.” List upon list popped up in my browser. Included were walls like the Wall of Troy in Turkey that was built to protect the legendary city of Troy and Hadrian’s Wall in England, the longest wall in Europe that stretches 73 miles all across the land from shore to shore.
Mankind has a strong history of building walls.
Maybe it is the writer in me, or maybe because I just can’t help but look for the metaphorical, my Google search on great walls got me thinking about the emotional walls mankind is also good at building. These walls serve as a defense mechanism designed to protect the person from emotional harm. Sadly, though, the walls constructed to keep out the “bad guys” often also prevent the “good guys” from getting in as well. The very thing which rises up to defend is the very thing which prevents wounds from ever healing. Instead, the greatest wall builders live isolated lives, often wondering why they are, in fact, so lonely.
I do not begin to underestimate the fears and experiences that cause people to build emotional walls. I also recognize that being open to others involves a certain level of risk. It makes us vulnerable to judgment. But it also opens us to love. I’ve often thought that maybe my life would be a little less complicated if I were a better wall builder; if I could be a more private, protected person locked within a fortress of mystery and introversion, maybe my heart would be better served. I’m sure I’d be disappointed less often. But my kingdom has few walls. Any that you encounter are ones easily scaled by acts of kindness and genuine interest in the person I am. Some would argue that I leave myself vulnerable to attack; I choose to believe that I am open to possibilities. Every person I meet has the potential to bring something special to my life; some gifts are just wrapped with more tape than others.
Certainly, every person has a chapter of their life they don’t read out loud to others. Even my extroverted personality has secrets. But I would argue that the benefit of any wall is soon diminished if we take a good look around and find ourselves alone in a fortress of solitude. People won’t stand like the fairy tale wolf to huff and puff for long at walls that just won’t fall down. Unless they can see the warmth of a fire at least kindling through a window every now and again, they will be knocking on the door of a much more welcoming house in no time.
I’ve been pondering this blog for several days now. I’ve been carrying it around with me and thinking about the people in my life … specifically, one or two of them who continue to build emotional walls that challenge our relationship. Every so often, just when I think we are getting close to establishing a new level of intimacy, a wall rises up to block that connection. And so why do I continue in these relationships? The fact that I just don’t give up on anything easily – even when it frustrates me or causes me sadness – just didn’t seem like a good enough answer. But a better answer came last night. I sat in a parking lot waiting eagerly for a fireworks show to start. The night sky was dark black, barren of stars … a seeming wall between the world we know and the one that exists beyond our atmosphere. I waited, firm in my conviction that what would come would reward my patience. And reward it did. Flashes of color, one brighter than the next, filed the sky with beauty, tearing open the imposing, black wall. I realized that explosions of color are possible, even in the darkest night. And when something that has been so reserved finally learns to sparkle, it is an experience not to be missed.