Isn’t it funny how certain emotions are viewed as weaknesses? Funny maybe isn’t the word. Perhaps odd fits this scene better. Or even tragic. And before you resist my thoughts here, think about it a minute.
Another person’s pain mirrors our own. Not as an exact replica, per se. But as an unspoken acknowledgement only with one person feeling profoundly more than the other. The one feeling less standing in a form of emotional recognition called compassion or in its lesser cousin called empathy. Or posing in opposition to compassion as avoidance or dissociation. If called compassion or empathy, the one feeling less takes on the responsibility of pain’s witness. Holding the world accountable for another’s suffering. But if avoiding or dissociating, the witness asks the sufferer to take on the witness’s discomfort, adding weight to an already heavy heart.
We all know pain. We all know some form of broken-heartedness. We all know the ravages of grief, distress, and suffering upon our souls, in our hearts, and running rapid throughout our minds in the silence of night. We know because we are human. And even if our pain and grief remain small in comparison to another’s, we recognize how deep this pain called grief can go. Our imaginations take us there in quiet moments when no one is looking. When the future may seem full of unexpected traps. Life presenting once more as out of our control.
And we don’t always want to go there, to these dark places within us. To past traumas, both resolved and unresolved, or the possibility of future ones. The mirror of another’s grief unmasking the vulnerability we carefully protect with layers of busyness both actual and manufactured and other forms of protectant donned as costume, masquerade, or illusion.
I remember a man in Bermuda shorts standing next to me on the beach at Peck’s Landing as we waited for the dive team to find Tony. An older man, heavy set with a voice betraying his allergies. His voice an impetus to my aversion during my months of shock of certain voices in a certain timbre. “There’s really no hope, you know,” he said.
I turned quickly away from him searching out my point person on the first responder team. Someone who’s name I no longer remember. My mounting emotions mingling with anger. “Who is that man?”
“He used to have my job. He just retired.”
“Get rid of him or I will implode.”
My vulnerability became my voice on the day I met grief. And while it has taken months for me to say vulnerability no longer poses certain risk factors to my well-being and that of my sons, I still claim it as the beginnings of a new kind of inner courage. One born out of the moment when all the unnecessary layers of life vanished. Washed away beneath a dangerously unmarked treacherous river as I shook from within. Falling into a fragility which kept me company for months.
I say, there is an incredible strength in grief and beauty worn in mourning. The kind of strength called courage. Mourning which can only be called love. To apply weakness to this time and to these feelings is to shame the throbbing tenderness of life itself.
Another first responder, someone who tried so very hard to bring life back into Tony’s beautiful body, said goodbye to me with tears in his eyes on that day which changed everything. And then he hugged me with a fierceness I will never forget. Showing me the other side of courage. Giving me his vulnerability in his eyes and in his arms. Sharing a moment of unmasked emotion as I recognized in him what would become my truth.
*Art courtesy of Pixabay