Only 10 steps away…from suffering.

2017 January 25

Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are only steps away from suffering.  In our own room.  Down the hall.  Across from our cubicle.  Next door.  Someone, only 10 steps away, is in the grip of loss, ruptured expectations, failed hopes, and insurmountable feelings of disconsolation, as everything they once knew no longer makes any sense.  Only steps away and yet, everyday, we conduct our lives as if suffering is strange, unusual, unexpected, and far from us.  It’s not that we are uncaring or unmoved by others, but it’s too easy to live in our own private sanctuaries, detached from the nearness of suffering in our everyday lives because we . . .

Wait For the ‘Right’ Moment.  Busyness is a reality of our everyday life, but it also serves as our own private shield that seemingly frees us from having to participate in the lives of those nearest to us.  Other people’s suffering invites us beyond the well-worn path of busyness.  Suffering can be delayed because it isn’t accounted for in our weekly calendars.  It’s never scheduled and it doesn’t necessarily have a clear ending point.  It’s easy to tell ourselves that, in a few days, we’ll reach out.

“When things slow down, I’ll visit.”

 “Later. It’s too fresh. It must be too raw for them.”

 “I will. When the moment is right.”    

We like to talk about living in the moment and taking advantage of every opportunity.  But not all moments are seemingly equal. Stepping into moments that ask us to step out of our habits and into others’ suffering, stops most of us in our tracks.

Suffering destroys time, not simply for the person experiencing loss, but also for those nearby.  When we know of someone who is suffering, we fear living in their moment because it means we can no longer control what might happen or what we want to happen.  It means relinquishing ourselves to another—beyond our illusions of control and into connection that may remake us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.

Fear Saying and Doing the Wrong Thing.  We want to help.  We want to visit.  We want to find out how someone is doing in the midst of a crisis. But too often, we don’t.  The thought of knocking on a neighbor’s door and not knowing what we will say or what we should say keeps us away from others.

 “What will I say? What can I say?”

 “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”

“Should I lean in for a hug? Or wait for them to give me a hug? This is going to be so awkward.”

 “What if they don’t say anything?”

Suffering is unlike most other experiences—what we say or do will rarely solve anything.  When we can’t make someone’s suffering go away, we tend to stay away. And so we don’t ring the doorbell. We don’t break our routine and walk over to them.  We see them.  We know they need something and someone, but we convince ourselves we don’t know how—or what—we could provide.  And so our deepest uncertainties of something going wrong means the certainty of connection disappears.

Convince Ourselves it’s Not Our Business.  Others’ good fortune is always our business.  Why is it that others’ suffering is seemingly off limits?  We never fear asking others about the grand accomplishments and joys of life, but when it comes to suffering and loss, we mentally create distance between ourselves and others through an endless array of rationalizations that protect us from having to break through the mysteries of what might happen if we entered into their zones of suffering.

 “It’s too soon—I don’t even know them that well.”

 “I found out about their loss second-hand, on Facebook. I mean, what if they didn’t want anyone else to know?”

 “If they want others to know—they’ll tell me themselves. I want to respect their privacy.”

Approaching someone we know when they are in the midst of suffering means we risk social awkwardness.  Strange greetings.  Awkward pauses.  Uncomfortable laughter.  The possibility of intense immediacy and connection without the protection of formality and decorum. Yes, these are the risks.  This is why other people’s tears usually clear a room within a matter of seconds.  Scary and overwhelming, making others’ suffering our business is unlike any other business we’ll conduct that day because doing so doesn’t allow us to be mere spectators.

Each and every day, we have the opportunity to realize that we are only steps away from someone who is suffering.  We are all victims of our own reasons for not recognizing that no matter where we live or where we are, we are enveloped in a community of people in the midst of suffering.  Today can be a different day than yesterday.  This day, as part of The Unprepared Caregiver community, we are grateful for those who rearrange the reasons for avoidance and delay, and reach into someone’s life when they are most vulnerable.  It is scary.  And strange.  And awkward.

Yes, we are grateful for those who remind us that connection is always available when the authenticity of care meets the universality of need.  Only by risking connection, might we feel as close to others as suffering is to us.

One Response leave one →
  1. Teresa H permalink
    January 28, 2017

    So true. I think it is also just as hard and awkward for those needing the care but for obviously different reasons.

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