We were strolling down a colorful street in New Orleans: Mom, Annette, and I. The wind whipped our hair and the humidity clung to us like saran wrap sweaters.
Each house had a story. Each was a vivid shade of purple or yellow or teal or green. The exteriors were weathered after countless storms in the last hundred years.
One house we passed captured my attention. It had a five feet tall, bright orange wall in front of the house protecting it from the rest of the world.
A glint caught my eye, so I paused to take a closer look. It took me a moment to realize that the sparkle was coming from the top of the orange wall. Poking out angrily from the wall were shards of glass.
I couldn’t help but do a double-take.
The picture was so ironic to me because the glass shards protruding from the wall were beautiful. They were multicolored: They were iridescent violet and evergreen and blood-red, all arranged in a perfect garden. And yet, to get anywhere near that glass would be to risk a deep gash.
No one would be hopping over that wall, let alone approaching it.
I tugged on Annette’s hand to slow her from leaving the wall behind. She had lived here for almost a year, and, as an avid learner already knew so much about her new home city.
“Annette, that wall, with the glass on it? What does it do?”
She smiled, but didn’t stop.
She shook her head. “The people of New Orleans have a way of making the ugly things pretty.”
What amazed me was how casual these words were said. It was as though she expected everyone to notice the beauty she saw.
Her words echoed in my head over and over.
I couldn’t stop staring at this orange wall with its deadly but delightful decorations.
And I know it sounds absolutely absurd, but that wall reminded me of myself.
Except that I do that. I dress myself as brightly as possible, and pray that people will dare to come close. That people might risk getting to know me. That humans might risk intimacy with me.
But emotional, human, relational, friendship intimacy; is scary. It’s downright frightening. If intimacy was a movie, it would be a horror film that parents would forbid their kids from seeing.
But as humans, we need it. Desperately. It’s what every story is about, what each great friendship is forged on, and what we try to build our lives on. The more intimacy we build, the richer our lives are. Intimacy allows us freedom to be ugly and honest. To fail. To trust. To grow. To know in the depths of our soul that we are not alone.
We are all reflections of that orange wall, the bold one with the beautiful glass, simultaneously beckoning and protecting.
We are wearing our bright best, hoping others will notice our beauty and individuality enough to take a chance on scaling our walls to get to know us: the real us. The untouched, unfiltered reality of who we are at our most vulnerable and our most vivid.
But here’s where it gets complicated.
If you’ve made it past the age of ten, most likely, someone has betrayed you. Someone has broadcast a secret they promised they would never share, or broken your heart, or left you behind.
And because we’ve encountered betrayal, intimacy is terrifying. And much, much more difficult to reach, because each time we’re let down, we collect another shard of glass to embed on top of our orange walls.
Can you blame us? We’re just trying to protect ourselves. But, still, we make sure that protective glass looks beautiful: like a garden, because, secretly, we are daring others to climb our orange fortresses and create lasting, deep, intimate friendships with us anyway.
Isn’t that what we want? Someone to prove that they want to be in a relationship (any kind!) with us, and that our orange walls are worth climbing?
So, here, I leave two challenges.
One: I invite you to take a look at your wall: your own orange (or, heck! Go crazy! Choose your own color!), bright, unique wall. Is it keeping out the bad with the good?
Maybe together, we can examine our glass gardens, and weed out the glass that’s grown too deep, become too thorny, that’s become too expansive. After all, roses must be cut back to continue to grow.
Intimacy is worth it, friends. We mustn’t be caught up admiring the beauty of our protective walls and forget that they are guarding the most precious thing we might ever give or receive.
Two: Who is that friend you care deeply for, but can’t be fully honest with yet? Who is that incredible person in your life whose full story you don’t yet know? Who is the person longing to be seen, but too timid to ask for attention? See that person’s face?
Grab a grappling hook and go climb his or her orange wall. Right now. Call him. Text her. Make plans. Don’t settle for always having to communicate with a beautiful, but dangerous, glass garden between you.