Right now, there are people in your life who have been hurt in ways that would make you sick inside to hear of it. I mean real people, not news stories (which are about real people, several degrees removed, and not breathing right next to you).
You know people, this very day, who ache as if a limb has been severed, and part of themselves ripped apart from the rest, as in a barbaric amputation. And it’s not glamorized by a modern take on warewolves or vampires.
Presently, there are people you interact with, who without even your slightest awareness passed the smile they offer you, are fading away every moment, as if being bled to stop the poison from reaching their heart, only they can’t keep up with the pace of the demolition, and no doctor or municipality can help.
Right now you know many who never say a word about the suffering they endure, because they have learned the hard way about how people judge without meaning to. They’ve learned how uttering a fragment of their own memory can change the way someone sees them, forever. They don’t want to be beholden to the past in your eyes, any more than they asked for the damage they incurred. And so they keep to themselves the things that might otherwise give us insight about what is beyond the superficial.
Did you know that suffering people are teachers? How someone deals with pain, and how one overcomes, can teach us a lot about living life. Even someone who is dealing with a struggle, and is right in the middle of it, has something to offer us.
For example, I once had a transient woman come to my house, and sit on my front steps. She asked for permission to use my hose to clean herself. I brought her food, water, clothing, and shoes. She reveled in being allowed to sit in the sun, on my lawn, and use clean, cold water on a summer day. The shoes given her spared her feet from blisters from the scalding pavement. I will never forget her humility, gratitude, and her joy in what I’ve taken for granted often. She had a band on her wrist because she’d recently been released from the hospital after having been assaulted by her ex-husband. I think of her now, every time I see a hose, and it reminds me to be thankful for the little things.
We as a culture are feeding an obsession with darkness with the content of our media forms. Meanwhile, there are some people you know right this minute who have deeply personal experience with just how destructive other human beings can be, and the evil that truly exists. Their lives have been touched by it in ways that contend with the stuff of nightmares.
Today we are taught to be private, and keep secrets about the taboos. We’ve made a culture out of stigma, and marked each other. We point fingers, categorize, and judge to create distance so we can have the illusion of thinking it could never be us.
We are taught not to burden each other, and we have learned not to tell our stories if they are hard for others to hear. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Even now, I write this without personal examples, because I don’t want to ruin your day.
And on the flip side, people flame each other on the internet, have road rage, addictions, eating problems, weight problems, health problems, miserable relationships, and we all wonder why. We all wonder what is wrong with the world. I believe there are a few things, and that can be a complex answer. But one thing is for sure:
Something’s got to give, because a structure built on a weak foundation will crumble under the weight of truth, which surpasses its integrity.
We have to stop protecting one another from reality.
The way we live, in America, gives us the deception that things are better than they are. Our ghettos are separate from middle class suburbs, and we have our cliques and our self-segregations. We cling, as if entitled to our privileges, and rarely look at what it might be like for someone who wasn’t afforded that privilege. We have gotten better about talking about things like child-abuse, severe and terminal illness, and a few other “biggies”. But still, the stigmas we place on each other from an incomplete perception are damaging, and many times we don’t even know we are doing it.
I have traveled outside the United States a few times, and seen that places like the Amazon, and the hodgepodge of certain regions in India, do not have the luxury of separating poverty, or worse, from affluence.
I could be sitting at a cafe in the biggest jungle city in Peru, where all the “gringos” (as the locals call people who look like me) go, and on the corner is a girl of 15 who is pregnant with the 3rd baby in a row she will sell to a local family who needs a worker. If female, she will be a house slave, never knowing what family feels like. If male, he will be a yard and construction slave, the same.
Riding a bus through the streets of central India on my way to Mudras, I could see the string of women in their beautiful silken saris, crossing a road filled with countless people, quite literally with their heads in cardboard boxes, and covered – half in tattered clothes, and half dirt.
I haven’t traveled in a while. And I have the privilege of not frequenting ghettos. I can’t remember the last time I saw a starving person who wasn’t begging me for money on a street corner near a strip mall. Depending on my own finances, I live with the threat of going hungry sometimes. However, I sometimes have yet another immense privilege called a support system, and so I don’t have to realize that hunger very often. But many Americans do. How many of us knew that?
For the sake of illustration: In the United States, 49.1 million people lived with hunger in 2013. Households with children had a notably higher rate of hunger – 20% compared to 12%, especially amongst single moms (34%). Also with higher rates of hunger than the national average were single dads (23%), and minority households (24-26%). Hunger exists in every state in America. (Statistics from feedingamerica.org, U.S. Census Bureau, and USDA ERS.)
Hunger is something, ironically, we call can stomach thinking about, and doesn’t often come with a stigma unless one is unemployed or homeless. I won’t go down that rabbit hole for the sake of this post.
However, what about trauma? I won’t bother with statistics here. I have lost count of the amount of men and women in the U.S. whose accounts of abuse I have heard. Part of that comes from having spent the last 5 years as a trauma and illness specialist, helping people overcome things that were, in many cases, considered untreatable. But part of it also comes from having lived through things many do not get the opportunity to come back from. And part of it comes from caring about the wellbeing of my fellow human, and that my fellow human can sense it.
There was once a time when I felt burdened by others’ pain. However, the more I dealt with my own issues, and cleared them, the more space in me I had to love other people without it costing me. If you are really affected by someone’s suffering, and it is hampering your well-being, you may want to ask yourself why? What is it in you that you have not dealt with yet?
If you feel for people and you are affected in a way that shakes you up a bit inside and inspires you to change the way you do things, or to be a better person, or to become skillful at offering emotional safety to others, then congratulations on your emotional maturity! Thank you for being awake and aware! Thank you for embracing the good along with the bad, and doing your part, instead of creating distance to give yourself the illusion of safety.
There is safety in numbers, and every ‘divide and conquer’ strategist knows it! It’s an outdated technique. How about uniting in our human condition!? If we uplift each other, we add more to our ranks! As my grandmother always said, “Half of us are here to see the other half through.” And I say we take turns! Some day, it may be you. Do unto others, carry each others burdens, many hands make light work, etc… There is a reason for old adages!
We owe it to ourselves and each other, if we want a more enriched life, to become skillful listeners. We can become able to care, and share one another’s struggles without being toppled by them! It takes practice in balance. The intention alone initiates the process.
We can heal our own material by not hiding, and learning how to go towards the safety. We can gain the capacity to witness each other, no matter how challenging the material is. If it is costing you, what are you needing in your life that you are not getting? What have you been afraid to ask for? What can you give yourself so that you can be more available to give to others?
Here is a short exercise. Imagine: If it’s hard for you to hear, what must it have been like for that person to live through?
Now you’ve just given birth to empathy! Sometimes that is the best healing a living soul can give to another, so good on you for doing that for someone, and thank you!
Let us help each other know we are not walking alone. How can we know how very common the human experience is, if we do not share our stories?
We must tell our stories. We never know what is there to bless another. Let us not be afraid anymore. Let us become skilled and artful at receiving one another without judgement, and with an open heart, so that all our burdens are just a little lighter, at the very least.
We must come to know the status quo is a lie. Aren’t you amazed when you find out that person you thought had it so easy went through hell to get where they are? We must come to know how each other loves, and how each other hurts, and overcomes. We must make ourselves aware that life is a spectrum. And we must accept the spectrum living itself out in one another.
The hard things gain power when they are hidden. Let us demystify the truth and let the poison out! Let us allow the cleansing of the wounds with the water of living love.
Let us each make a point to do what is needed to be a safe harbor for the truth. If we all do it, the few who are currently carrying the bulk of that responsibility get a modicum of relief, and the rest of us become more connected to what’s really happening, and therefore, gain more permission to be who we really are.
Everything impacts everything. Let’s do it on purpose!
Photo by Marji “Mike” Kruger.