“I Will Carry You.”
How do we reaction when those we love are suffering? Do we give them advice? Do we tell them the perfunctory, “Everything is going to be okay?” Or, do we say nothing, and instead, listen?
Pain is just one part of being human. While suffering can be a great teacher, it doesn’t feel as such during the suffering. I also feel that few people will want to share the suffering of a loved one. Instead, people pretty much try to distance themselves from it. I feel that to survive the suffering, one must lean into it, and perhaps even embrace it. That sounds counter-intuitive, but it allows one to exorcise the suffering by “riding it out.” This is the suffering that comes to us, not the suffering that we make. That kind of suffering is discussed later.
Since Christmas is coming up, I could use a Biblical reference, and I probably will. But first, I want to make a personal note.
Someone I love is going through a tremendous amount of pain right now. I must confess that, though I’ve experienced something similar myself, I wasn’t sure at first what to tell her. I started with words of encouragement, and love. I then realized that what she needed in this moment for someone to listen. She also needed for someone to offer practical, as well as emotional, support. So, I thought of some questions to ask her, and switched into what I call “therapy mode.” I trust that my efforts will assist her in finding some relief. At least, I hope they do.
There’s a sense of powerlessness that I feel in this situation. I wish I could take her suffering away. I sincerely wish that I could simply hold her, and somehow heal her. While faith healing doesn’t really work, emotional healing does. In this case a “laying on of hands,” is more like an embrace of arms. To feel the warmth of someone you love next to you, and to feel their arms around you, is a tool of healing. It’s one that we often overlook.
We also often overlook the concept of grace.
Grace, in this sense, means to, “Honor one by their presence.” That’s the definition that I used with Julie (longtime readers will know of her. She was my second therapist. Our work concluded in April of 2016). We honored one another by simply being present. People often forget how important that form of grace really is in our lives. We’d do well to remember, and perhaps, relearn it.
The powerlessness also comes from a sense of, “Is there enough that I can do to help her?”
The answer is, “I will never do enough.” Crusader types like me will always try to do more. Enough is never enough, and my kind will always strive to do more. Sometimes I go overboard with love and care. I’ll admit that being a romantic often involves being sappier than a maple tree in autumn—and twice as sweet as the syrup. I’m this odd mix of thinker, knight, and Eros. That makes for intense feelings of love, devotion, and longing. It also means that I sometimes overthink things, even the best of things in life, like love.
But that’s another topic, for another time.
But is it?
If we look at the word, passion, in a dictionary, it means, “To suffer for love.” Therefore, medieval plays about the crucifixion of Christ were referred to as “passion plays.” I’m sure you’ll recall Mel Gibson’s controversial (and brutal film) The Passion of The Christ, so named because it dealt with that very subject. The death of Christ was a love sacrifice for the redemption of the world. At least that’s the Christian view of it.
One could also take a Jungian view, and still be compatible with Christian concepts.
Christ is the archetype of one who is wise, and yet suffers. Just as Prometheus stole fire from the gods, and Eve partook of the fruit of the tree, both suffered. Yet, Christ is an innocent who suffers. He took it upon himself to take the pain of the world, and release it through his suffering. That’s no mean feat, regardless of one’s beliefs.
Then, of course, we can make martyrs of ourselves. We sometimes make ourselves suffer because we think we need to suffer. We are taught, in a warped way, that suffering builds character. We are taught that one must endure suffering, so that we may have entry into a better world beyond. Well, I find that sort of thinking self-defeating. Even for someone like myself that does believe in an afterlife. We don’t have to suffer to find favor with God, or ourselves.
As Mary Oliver once put it,
You don’t not have to walk
On your knees for
A hundred miles
through the desert, repenting.
She’s right. At yet many of us take up a self-made cross, and try our best to hammer in the last nail. What if we didn’t need any nails? What if, as Douglas Adams put it, “No one needed to be nailed to anything?”
So, I urge you all to lead a nail-free existence, even if you believe in Christ. I think he’d appreciate that.
I also encourage this person I love to lead a nail-free existence herself. Someone already took up his cross for you. There’s no need to repeat his sacrifice. As is often said of Christ, “The debt is already paid.”
Those that we love don’t need us to solve their problems for them. So, it’s just as well that I can’t heal her. What she needs in this situation is for me to support her, so that she can find the strength to heal herself. She has that strength in her, I’ve seen it. She may not know she has it, but it’s there. She will find both strength, and courage, and she will overcome her suffering. Even if she feels a partial slide back into suffering, she will rise out of it. All she must do is believe.
In the words of Joss Whedon, “When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't crawl--when you can't do that...You find someone to carry you.”
I pledged to her that I will carry her. Not because she can’t stand up, she can stand up. I will carry her because right now that is what she needs—support. I will carry her as far as she needs. When I set her feet down, it will be in soft grass…and then…she will fly.
Text copyright Riley Joyce 2016
Oliver, Mary. Wild Geese. From the book, Dream Work. 1986.
(My favorite poem. It deserves a full blog post at some date).
A brief quotation from Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (people who know me know my love for his work).
Quotation from the Firefly Episode The Message. 2002.(This quote has taken on a life of its own in the years since Firefly was cancelled, and then rediscovered.)
Image: The Bedroom Mirror--Weisz