A Cold, Dead Heart and a Cold-Blooded Icon

May 5, 2022 | Blog, Essays

I am not an emotional person.  In fact, I think I am best described as having a cold, dead heart.  A heart of stone would also be apt.  I have always been this way.  I can’t remember a time when it was not difficult for me to conjure up emotion.  

I was never bothered by my lack of emotion, in that I lacked the emotional capabilities to feel emotional about my lack of emotion.  But I could tell it bothered others.  I used to dread Christmas because I knew I could not have the kind of response to the presents that the givers wanted me to have.  I would sincerely say, “Thank you.  I will be able to use this.”  Which, to me, is the highest form of compliment for a gift.  Not so with other people who would look at me as if I’d just lit the gift on fire.  That look would always cause me internal panic.  The internal panic would steer me to quickly improvise an attempt at a more “normal” show of thanks – an animated, excited reaction, that always came off as stilted and fake and made the entire situation worse.  The failed improvised attempt at a more “normal” show of thanks would lead me to believe that the whole situation would have gone better if I had, indeed, set the gift on fire. Try as I might, I could not help disappointing the giver.

Worse than Christmas is accidentally finding myself within “you should offer some comfort” distance of someone crying.  I don’t know what to say and I don’t know what to do yet, as a human being, I feel as though I should have some clue as to either of those.  This situation is so utterly uncomfortable for me that I used to dream of taking tap dancing lessons so that I would have an alternative to saying the right thing or hugging.  I could do a little tap dance which, I’ve observed in movies, always cheers everyone up without any superfluous conversation (though there may be some jaunty singing involved) and without anybody having to go into anyone else’s personal space.

This unemotional temperament of mine has been particularly worrisome for me when it comes to my spiritual life.  Most people seem to be very emotional when it comes to Jesus.  This precise fact is one of the reasons why I am more drawn to the Catholic church than to Protestant churches.  Protestants seem to be very, very emotional when it comes to Jesus as is often seen in their worship services in which people weep and stand up with arms raised and run up and down aisles and yell out answers to the preacher.  That is no place for the unfeelinged.  

The dignity of the Mass usually keeps things more subdued in Catholic churches which keeps things a little more comfortable for those of us with cold, dead hearts of stone.  However, even amongst my Catholic brethren, there is no shortage of impassioned displays for Our Lord and his mother.  I have waited in line for confession many times and been unsettled by the sounds of wailing or sobbing coming from within the little box, despite all the sound-proofing, the white noise machine and the large distance between the confessional and the start of the confession line.  When the ugly-cryer comes out, the others in line look upon them lovingly and make “I’ll pray for you” hand gestures while I try not to make eye contact and pretend as though the whole incident never happened.

Now, mind you, I am no saint.  I am a sinner like everyone else, hence, I was in that confession line.  In fact, I’ve had some pretty big mess-ups.  So big that if the church belonged to anyone else besides Jesus, I would have been thrown out long ago.  Despite this litany of facts, I have never turned into a blubbery mess while on my knees asking Christ for forgiveness through the priest on the other side of the screen.  Not that I haven’t wanted to.  I would love to be able to emote my contrition, but I’m not built that way.  The sad fact remains, I have never ugly-cried in the confessional.

I have never cried at church.  I have never cried at retreats (if you’ve ever been on a retreat, you know how amazing those words are that I just typed and you also know why I no longer go on retreats).  I didn’t even cry at my wedding.  I did tear up when I saw The Passion of the Christ but you’d have to be Satan to not cry while watching that movie.  And one could argue it probably made Satan cry, too, in that he had to watch himself get trounced by God all over again in film form.

To add to my troubled heart of stone, I’ve heard a couple of priests and various Catholics in Catholic media state that you can’t only approach the faith from the head.  The heart has to be involved as well.  How am I supposed to do that?  Cerebral is all I have to offer.  I’ve got strong faith, but it is born of intellectual argument and rational thinking, not of feeling.

I have learned, from my experience with other humans, that the cold-hearted and unfeelinged are not easy to love.  People prefer warmer people.  They prefer people they can connect with emotionally.  They prefer people who say “I love you” and “you’re the best in the whole world” all the time.  They want people who will hug them and cry with them and get all excited over gifts.  People do not want people with cold dead hearts.

This has given me great anxiety over what God must think of me.  I worry that because I cannot demonstrably show my love and gratitude for all that God has done for me, that even for Him, I might not be so easy to love.  Perhaps He prefers the company of warmer people.  Maybe He wants someone who can cry and who will run up and down the aisle during the church service and who can react with unbridled enthusiasm when He sends a gift.  Maybe He needs more than tap dancing. 

Sometimes God communicates to me through little icons.  Sometimes he sends something along that illustrates a truth he is trying to explain to me.  This particular icon came in the form of a small Gargoyle Gecko named Mabel.

Mabel doesn’t ask for a lot.  She has unintrusive habitation needs.  She takes up little space.  She asks for a few things to climb on in that she lives in trees in her natural habitat in the wild.  She does not have any extra heat demands; she lives at room temperature with me.  She asks that I mist her cage once or twice a day if it’s not too much of a bother.  Her food is a simple powder that I mix with water.  She will even tolerate being held, if it’s on her terms and if there is no crying involved.  She does not cry.  She does not tell me how she feels.  She does not get demonstrably excited about the gifts that I give her.

I was breath taken by how much we had in common!  

And yet, despite her inability to show any kind of emotion or feelings towards me, I can’t help but love the little gal.  So much so that I have gone to great lengths to furnish her habitat with things that she will appreciate.  I know she appreciates them not by her jumping up and down and excitedly screaming about how much she appreciates them.  I know she appreciates them by how she waits until I am no longer expectantly staring at her and then she quietly climbs into her new gift to use it.  She shows me her gratitude by using my gifts which is how I understand gratitude.  Mabel and I speak the same language.

It was while I was looking down at Mabel, one day, in the little habitat I had curated for her that I realized, despite her colder nature, I was still very fond of her.  I was as fond of her as I was of my affectionate, warm-blooded pets.  I understood that she was made a certain way and, despite her different emotional needs, she was still very lovable.

From that discovery came my spiritual epiphany.  As a human caretaker can love the cold-blooded, so can God love the cold-hearted.  I am made a certain way and despite my different needs from my more emotional brethren, I am still very loveable.  Or, at least, lovable in my own way.  God knows I am grateful for His gifts not by my outpourings of emotion but by the great intentionality with which I use and take care of the gifts.  He knows I am grateful for all that His incredible sacrifice did for me not by my weeping, but by my attempts to live as He would have me live, despite my inclination to live as I want to live.  God does not need more than what I am capable of giving.  For God, tap dancing is enough.

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