I can’t remember where I was recently, but I was passing one of those over-priced homeware stores selling those shabby-chic country-style furnishings and decor. One of the signs in the window (I think you’re supposed to hang them on your wall) made some psuedo-profound comment about the people who move through your life, and how friends are the only ones who leave footprints on your heart.
I’m in a pretty crappy mood at the moment so my default is to be cynical, and I have to admit that the cutesey little sign annoyed me, even without the poor metaphor and slightly disturbing imagery. We all, I reflected, have the capacity to leave footprints on the hearts of those whose lives we touch, even if that touch is only fleeting. We all have the capacity to do damage, to tread on the hopes and joys and reactivities and nobilities of the people we come into contact with, and usually it’s not deliberate: it’s insensitivity, or absent-mindedness, or grumpy-mood snappiness, or simply not noticing the shared humanity of the person selling us coffee, or passing us in the street.
What struck me, though, is that friends are the ones who don’t leave their muddy footprints all over your heart (does anyone else find this image disturbing, or is it just me?). Friends are the ones who treat lightly, who leave things better than they found them. Friends are the ones who are careful, and patient, and who are mindful of their touch and the impact that it has. Friends are the ones who know, without asking, those bruised points of tenderness, and who handle them gently. Friends know what pains they can ask about and what pains it’s best to leave alone.
I’m lucky to have friends – utterly blessed, I know that. I have far too much evidence of friendship in my life to doubt it, but I cannot take for granted the fact that my friends are there: a text message away, or in a shared glance across the choir, or at the end of an email. A Sunday afternoon spent in peace over coffee or ice cream. A stupid joke which makes me laugh aloud, adolescent giggles when we should be serious. A greater blessing than I deserve, or that I can comprehend.
My heart is marked not so much with footprints as with kick-marks, scuffs and scars. My friends don’t add to those with footprints – its my friends who are teaching me to heal, and who are patient and loving and hopeful and fun while I do it.
My heart is safe in the hands of my friends. But I really, really need a new metaphor.