It is the rare individual who sails through life without traumatic experiences. Each of us has had to endure tragedies, losses, illnesses that make it difficult to keep moving forward with a sunny outlook on life. As a society we tend to prefer those among us who somehow appear to manage the low points of their biographies with unbounded optimism and faith. We congratulate the souls who never publicly complain about their woes. At the same time we cringe a bit when someone displays their anger, cynicism or sorrow. We expect the people around us to grieve for a time when thing so awry and then “get over”whatever is bothering them.
Surely deep in our hearts we know that it is not possible to be happy and uplifting all of the time. Things make us angry. Events bring us sorrow and pain. Our darker emotions are just as much a part of who we are as the brighter ones and yet somehow we tend to believe that we should hide our negative feelings lest we be judged as selfish or weak. Like ticking time bombs we all too often stifle the hurt and anxieties that plague our minds, all in the name of appearing to be the person others want us to be rather than honestly working to heal ourselves.
I suppose that I was the queen of stoicism at one time. I walked through each day hiding the real thoughts that tortured me as I went about my days. I channeled my sadness into hard work, cheerful smiles, kindness. There was nothing innately wrong about doing that, but inside I knew that I had never been honest about how broken I felt from losing my father as a very young child and then losing my mother to recurring mental illness as a young woman. I felt resentful that I had to endure so much. My prayers to God were more like conversations in which I questioned why I had been chosen to bear so much pain while my friends appeared to be enjoying the normal milestones of life. I held an internal pity party for myself even as I appeared to be one of the happiest women on the planet in my social interactions. I only shared the full extent of my grief with my husband, my best friend.
It was not until an annual checkup with a new doctor that my internal struggles spilled into the open. He was supposed to provide me with a ten minute overview of his findings regarding my health as part of the wellness visit. Because he had found nothing but good news from all of my tests he asked if there was anything more that I wanted to share. For some reason I chose that moment to open my heart to him. As I recited the story of my life and my continuing concerns for my mother I began to cry and allow every feeling I had to spill forth. He gently listened until I seemed as though he had somehow lanced an invisible boil inside my heart. The years of carrying burdensome feelings drained out and I sat in front of him feeling free from all pain.
Our ten minute interview turned into a one hour therapy session as the good doctor told me that all of the emotions that I had shrouded from view were natural and normal and just as good as the happy ones that I presented to the world. He encouraged me to embrace those feelings as a part of who I am. He told me to write about them, talk about them, be real about them. He insisted that I had a story to share that would help people even more than pretending to be a perfectly put together person. He and I cried together as he insisted that I never again feel shame in being human.
I set forth from that visit feeling as though I had been set free from chains that had been dragging me down. I began to slowly tell my story, not so much to acquire pity, but to help others to understand that our struggles do not define us and that we don’t have to be happy about them all of the time. I now longer believe that that there is some spiritual reason for our human suffering. I simply think it is just a part of living. My relationship with God is one of comfort and refuge when things go awry and my soul is on the verge of breaking. I have also learned who my most loving friends are, the people who will just sit with me when I cry or complain. It’s okay if I remove my rose colored glasses now again. I won’t be abandoned for falling prey to negativity. I will just be understood and loved.
My relationships with the people around me are deeper now than they once were. I have learned that when I am honest it encourages my friends and family members to also be open and truthful. We engage in a mutual pact of love and respect. I am able to be a refuge for those seeking help from their worries and concerns. I become like that wonderful doctor who cured me. I am able to simply listen to the anxieties of my friends and to allow them to be the beautiful individuals that they are without fear of being judged. Sometimes I just embrace my own suffering and theirs. Other times I encourage or even give advice when they ask for it. Mostly I am just present in their lives.
As I gaze across the globe I see so much trouble and I know that much of it comes from broken hearts, damaged spirits. If only we might all take the the time to sit for an hour with those who confound us we might learn why their ideas diverge so dramatically from ours. Instead we are too often quick to judge or to squelch their feelings with platitudes or punishing remarks. Next time we encounter such a situation we might try something else.
I was recently attacked on Twitter by an angry person whose philosophies appeared to differ from mine. He attacked me with the vilest possible words. Instead of frighting back I told him that I heard conviction in his words. I reminded him that he did not really know me and thus should not draw conclusions about the entirety of my life any more than I should do so with him. After a few more back and forth replies we were wishing each other well, even as we went our ways with differing points of view. We understood that each was only attempting to navigate through life in the ways that felt most comfortable.
During this new year we would do well to begin by being honest about ourselves and then opening our minds to the real feelings of others without prejudice. Peace on earth begins in our own hearts and goodwill flows out only when we face the truths of our feelings and then hear those from others. That is how we can help to heal the world.