Glennon Doyle has this great piece where she writes about how sometimes we treat pain like a game of Hot Potato–wanting to get rid of it as quickly as possible, sometimes so much that we, intentionally or not, and generally through both words and behavior, toss it to someone else.
Let me make like Oprah here for a sec and tell you that there is very little in this world about which I am willing to say, “I know that for sure.” But I will tell you for very sure that there is absolutely no way to shortcut pain without it wreaking more havoc than it already has–on your own life or someone else’s.
Unmet pain will only beget more pain. And it will do so over and over until someone is brave enough to sit with the pain, no matter how much it hurts, face it, and let it do its awful and mighty work. This is the only way to the other side of it. The only way into something new.
I really, really value efficiency. This is not always something to be proud of. For example, when I was told a couple of months back that I have lymphoma, and that I was going to need multiple rounds of chemotherapy and immuno-therapy over the next few months to combat it, well…the struggle was real.
Can’t you give me just like one big dose and I’ll feel really awful for a couple of weeks and then it’ll be over? Do you really have to wait 28 days between each dose? Isn’t there a quicker way? A more…efficient…way?
Because the thought of several months of two days of treatment, and then another two days 28 days later…sweet baby Jesus and all the saints, that felt (feels) unending. But there is quite literally no other way through it. No other way to give my body the very best chance it has to tell lymphoma, “Nope. Not today. I have a life to live and I am not even close to done yet.”
And so I take it day by day, infusion by infusion, appointment by appointment, sitting (literally and figuratively) with this particular and painful leg of the journey I am on, and, because there is no other way through it, I do my damnedest to be open to what the blessings might be.
And this is how it is with pain. Whether mental or emotional or physical. Especially the sort that brings you to your knees. Leaves you crying on the kitchen floor in utter agony. Knifes into the very gut of your being so hard that you can’t catch your breath. It cannot be numbed (at least not for very long). It cannot be silenced (it will, in one way or another, makes itself heard). It cannot be ignored (it will wreck you, if you try).
And this is maybe, why, so often, sometimes in ways we simply cannot understand, people who have been hurt, especially those who have been hurt repeatedly, wind up hurting other people.
I have come to believe that a great deal of what is broken in our lives…in our country…in our world, could find at least the beginning of a path towards healing if we only had the strength, when we encounter the pain of another, to stop, look deeply in their eyes, and ask, “Please. Tell me what has hurt you.” And then shut our damn mouths and listened.
Really, really listened.
Not–not ever–, “What’s wrong with you?” No. Simply, “What has hurt you?”
Because in that moment the pain is met. The hurt is acknowledged. Even if we don’t fully get it, in that moment, the cycle is interrupted, and that tiny pause, if we’re very lucky and listen very well, makes enough room for even the smallest bit of hope to take root and begin its powerful and merciful and healing work.
It’s popular these days to tweet or post, “I feel so SEEN!” about a bit of news, or an on-point meme, or a song or a movie or some such that speaks to us in a deep or meaningful way. There’s generally an element of fun to it, but often, I suspect, it comes from a place of longing to be truly understood, of the need we all have to belong.
I’m not sure that these primal needs of ours can ever be fully met unless we are willing to first see each other’s pain–without turning away, without dismissing it, without offering some quick fix or card-worthy sentiment. Just see it.
And then, if it’s one of those days when hope seems like a real thing and grace a true thing…sit with each other in it. Fully present. No hot potato. Owning and honoring the pieces in all of us that ache for understanding and healing.
May it somehow, some day, be so.