Monday, April 16, 2012

Reaching Out

It is dark now, but the birds are singing outside my window.  It is 5:30 AM.  I woke up at 2 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. You know those days when your brain wakes up and won't shut off?  It thinks it's time to go to work, and you keep telling it to go back to sleep but it refuses.  So I did the usual thing. I lay there for over two hours just letting ramble on and on.  It's amazing the kinds of weird or downright genius stuff you think about when there is nothing else to do.  But I won't go into that here. That's for another day, another blog entry.

Today I want to write about reaching out.  And by that, I mean extending a hand to someone who needs it.  Or offering a shoulder or a tissue or a smile.  I'm learning to do that more and more as I get older.  I guess I'm growing up.  I notice when other people aren't feeling their best, and I respond with compassion.  Amazing how that works.

Anyway, lately I've become hyper-aware of the pain others are suffering, especially emotional pain.  I think it may have something to do with my own current sorrows, worries and recent losses.  I think once you're tuned into a deep level of misery, you recognize it more quickly in others.  

So what I've noticed is there's an awful lot of people out there suffering.  And it makes me sad. But it also makes me mad.  Life seems so unfair.

Why are there so many reasons for so many people to be sad?  I look around, and it's astonishing how many burdens the people around me are shouldering.  They, themselves, or their closest friends and family members are suffering terrible illnesses with physical or emotional pain or being hurt by someone or something.  

Just in the span of one morning, yesterday, I had several encounters with others suffering through the worst kind of ordeals...

A young girl, only 15, was molested by her teacher.  The teacher received a slap on the wrist and lost his job.  The girl received little help or counseling.  Soon after, the teacher committed suicide.  Not long after that, the girl, still unable to cope, also ended her own life.  The man who told this story was a dear friend of the girl's grandfather.  He is angry and sad.  Why did this happen?

A woman's best friend has been battling Cancer for two years, and just had to undergo surgery to remove most of her tongue.  She's in horrific pain, lost half her body weight through chemo/radiation, and now has to spend the remainder of her life unable to speak.  And she's only in her late 40's.  Why did this happen?

A man, in his seventies, had Alzheimer's.  It was worsening by the month.  Then he had a bad stroke and cannot move.  His brain is going, and now his body is immobile.  But still he lives in that bed like a vegetable, almost lifeless but not lifeless, unable to converse or care for himself or reach other to others.  Why did this happen?

A man with vascular dementia, who is 6'3" tall and only weighs 130 pounds, is slowly starving to death.  He has forgotten to eat, lost his bowel and bladder control, lost his dignity and with it, his zest for life, wants to sleep all day because life is hopeless.  He develops severe pulmonary disease, and with it, shallow breathing, weakness, low energy.  And then he falls and cut huge gashes in his face, one so bad it needs plastic surgery to repair.  Why did this happen?

It's hard to accept this kind of pain as just a "part of life."  Well, if that's the explanation, then life sucks.  Some say, "It's in the hands of God, and we have to trust that there is a good reason for such misery." Again, I think God must be smoking crack if he's the one pulling the strings, which I doubt.  There is simply no justification for the loads of pain that get piled onto people or for the levels of evil we see every day.  Why does it happen?

I guess there is no answer to that question.  I may have to accept pain as a part of life, but I don't have to like it.

But there is one thing about pain and misery that is very true.  It does bring people together.  Does that justify it?  I don't think so.  It shouldn't take horrible ordeals to make people unite and love each other.  However, it is true, and it is perhaps the light around the pain that might make it easier to deal with it.  

When you're going through something terrible, I think it's helpful to see outside yourself, even for a moment.  And the second you do that, you'll see you are not alone.  There are legions of others out there feeling just as bad or worse than you are.  And then when you notice it, something miraculous happens to your heart.  It expands and opens invisible arms, arms that embrace someone else.

In that moment of noticing someone else's pain, you wake up.  You see, there's only a faint border between your pain and their pain.  And if you let it, your pain and their pain will suddenly feel like "our" pain, a shared pain.  That brings people together for sure.  When you comfort someone, you empathize with them, truly feel sadness for their sadness, and that, magically, lessens your own pain a little, removes your focus from yourself to them and what they're dealing with.  And when someone comforts you, it makes you feel less alone, stronger, more able to deal with, given permission to cry or talk about it.

Reaching out feels good. It's a lot better than shutting yourself  up in a dark room, crying over something.  If you open your eyes and look at almost anyone, you'll see their burdens too.  And then, a hand or a shoulder or a tissue or a smile, given to them, will be given back to you a thousand fold.

Amazing how that works.