Trust is a fascinating thing.
I think each of us is taught how, when, and to what extent we should trust in remarkably unique ways throughout our lives. Every parent, sibling, friend, and relative brings a different perspective to this important topic. If, for instance, you have been hurt by a particular type of person or in a specific situation in the past, you will likely offer advice to those close to you based on those interactions and observations, often without even realizing it. Those encounters condition your response.
I remember being ten years old and going house to house with my 1983 Detroit Tigers fanny pack, collecting money from the recipients of my stellar paper delivery services. “Good afternoon. My name is Ian from the Dearborn Press & Guide” I would say timidly. “I am here to collect $2.75 for the month of January”. “Oh but I already paid you for January” they would often reply. They’d quickly scurry to their desk, digging through stacks of paper, and eagerly return with a receipt in hand as if they’d just stumbled upon the treasure of Monte Cristo.
“But ma’am, it’s 1993” I would say with every ounce of gumption I could muster. “That receipt is for January, 1990.” They would usually act surprised and slightly embarrassed at their “oversight”, apologize, and then write a check for $2.75 – maybe even $3.00 if the stars aligned just right. That shimmering fortune of twenty-five cents was often accompanied with a heartfelt “Go and buy your family some ice cream” followed by a wink that only those over seventy seem to know how to do.
Interactions like that always stunned me a bit. I can remember specifically thinking during these frigid treks through the neighborhood on my bright turquoise rollerblades “What adult finds it appropriate to try and scam a ten year-old kid out of $2.75? Who does that?” I couldn’t wrap my tiny pre-pubescent mind around it, and began to slowly distrust certain customers more and more. Some with good reason, but others simply because they reminded me of a previous customer that repeatedly tried to rip me off. History is a powerful thing to shake sometimes. I can recognize now that some of these interactions really affected how I viewed people during some of my formative years of development. I deeply wanted to trust everyone around me at all times, and yet part of my conscience was drawing me back and reminding me that people will lie to ten year olds with fanny packs to save three dollars.
Perhaps the reason they were trying to con me was because they saw my mom letting us drag (or “skitch”, as it was known) behind our beloved brown Club Wagon while delivering papers, and they passionately disagreed with our methods. Maybe it was because they saw that there was an army of us Simkins children in said van and they were part of a secret population control agency in Southeastern Michigan. Perchance it was simply my ridiculous haircut that had my part start just above my ear and then swooping over the other 95% of my enormous head. I will never know the true source of their contention.
We’ve all been there in one way or another. Everyone has had that one friend at some point in their lives. You know who I’m talking about. That one friend who always made up preposterous stories, usually in an effort to try and one-up the stories of everyone else in the group. You know what it’s like to have to internally question every utterance out of a person’s mouth to determine if it was real, fabricated, or somewhere comfortably in between. I suppose that’s maybe what being a judge is like. I don’t think I envy anyone with that job at all.
And it’s not that we haven’t all been “that friend” at some point in our lives. It’s like my dear grandmother always says “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Exaggeration, avoidance, and embellishment is a natural human reaction.
I heard a segment on the radio a few weeks ago about a little five-year-old girl named Isobel. Isobel has a rare disease known as William’s Disease that affects the limbic-system portion of her brain that controls trust. Little Isobel would literally trust and rely on anyone and everyone at all times, even complete strangers in public places. She would give heartfelt hugs to everyone she met and tell them how deeply she loved them, regardless of who they were or how they looked.
Her parents were constantly faced with the unique task of having to teach their beautiful daughter how not to trust. They would literally run drills where a parent or relative would pretend to be a stranger in the mall, and she would have to memorize the appropriate ways to respond and interact with people she didn’t know. Although everything in her biologically want to hug and laugh with every person she met, she had to instructed to never follow those instincts, to follow the learned data rather than what she felt so deeply. Her mother said that “We literally had to teach her that the world is not worthy of trust.”
That sentence broke my heart when I heard it, because the world is worthy of trust. Sure, there are scams, ploys, and tricks at every turn, but there are also beautifully selfless, giving, genuine, and honest folk all around us, secretly loving people where they are and asking nothing in return. There are individuals who serve countless hours without requesting or even desiring recognition of any kind. If you look closely, you can see sacrificial love on every city block, in every community. You can observe the radical creativity of people dissatisfied with the notion of “he who dies with the most toys wins”, giving freely of who they are and what they have. If you quiet yourself long enough, you can hear the whisper of grace in your neighborhoods, and sense the calming breeze of restorative justice all around you. It is there if only we would open our eyes to it.
But the problem is that so many of us want to be scammed. Not that we actually enjoy being cheated or mistreated, but more so the attention that follows. We crave it. The ability to complain about a vehicle in disrepair when 85% of the planet isn’t wealthy enough to own one. To wage war on ourselves by dwelling on each and every obstacle and difficulty we face so that in our misery we can feel satisfied with our condition. As fallen and broken creatures, sometimes we downright crave the drama.
Now this is not to say that distortion, perversion, and swindling of all kinds does not take place. To believe that would be ignorance. I know numerous people who, even know, are facing some incredibly difficult circumstances, and I will do all that I can to enter in to that pain with them. I know that I cannot fix it, and perhaps they don’t even want me to. So I sit with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and let them punch me in the face to relieve the stress. I am honored to be that for those in my life, whether or I know them well or not. We mustn’t ignore the tragedies in our lives.
Trust will be broken in our lives. We will certainly experience the sting of betrayal, and the pain of rejection, but is this cause for us to surrender the fight of love? I would argue that perhaps even the opposite is true. That in the face and presence of dishonesty and parody, should we then not sing all the louder of the freedom found in forgiveness? Should not the melody of restoration be our daily practice, and the example of mercy our sacrament? Can we look into the eyes of the arrogant giant that opposes us and revisit the tune of victory our forefathers sang?
A quote I always held to when I was younger is:
“Unless it’s mad, passionate, extraordinary love, it’s a waste of your time. There are too many mediocre things in life; love should not be one of them”
As often as we tend to wade in the shallow pool of our annoyance, shouldn’t we be celebrating the sanctity of life and the glorious honor we have in being a part of that? Must we wait for a holiday to celebrate, or a birthday to hand-write a letter of our gratitude? There is so much wonder and illumination to fill our lungs with, I hope and pray we have the courage to breathe deeply. Let us live impossibly through the God of the possible.
This short interview with Isobel and her mother ends with an audio clip of Isobel eagerly greeting her mother as she walks into the doors. Little five year-old Isobel throws her arms around her dear mother and asks
“Will you dance with me, my sweetie?”
That really is the question.