A Great Disturbance in the Force: The Sequel

{Please see the first part of this post here.}

*****

Why does it sadden me that we cannot be always and intensely aware of the suffering in our world? I suppose it’s because it seems to me that, apart from a public tragedy such as the Boston Marathon bombing or numerous others of which we are all aware, many shy away from those who are hurting, or at the very least the wounded become the forgotten ~ not necessarily on purpose, but simply as a matter of course. (I am guilty of this myself. Most definitely.) I know what it’s like to be on the other side, to be the one who wants someone to bear witness to my suffering, even as others may think I should be ‘over it by now’, or are simply unaware of my struggle.

A great disturbance in the Force deserves a great deal of attention.

I believe we are created for connection, and sometimes connecting to someone means feeling their pain. Just as we rejoice with those who rejoice, we need to weep with those who weep. We need to celebrate with one another when there is cause, and we also need to mourn together when necessary. This isn’t easy. It isn’t pleasant. But it’s right and necessary if we are to fully embrace the entirety of who we were made to be.

We cannot all fly to Boston, or Iran or Pakistan, to comfort those in need or pain. Thankfully we will not all experience the trauma of being present at some type of public disaster so that we can step in to offer aid in the midst of violence or loss. But we can all be aware of those around us, if we so choose.

We can seek out the hurting; we can step in without judgment or verdict. We can set aside our own opinion of what we think those in crisis must do, and simply be. Be with someone whose heart is breaking. Hold their hand. Enter into grief with another, refusing to be scared away by the fact that you do not (and cannot) have all the answers. Sit together in silence. Or ask a question about their loss. You may be surprised to learn that they really want to talk about it. Allow them the necessary depth and length of their grief. You would want no less were you in their situation.

I am not here to debate the Why of any tragedy. Whatever your belief or lack thereof may be, the fact remains that sorrow, loss, and heartache surround us. We live in a world where violence, death, and grief are not new, but are certainly more quickly able to be made known than at any other time in history. We may choose to rail against the injustice of suffering, but that makes us no less culpable in relieving what distress we are able.

We have seen an outpouring of goodness in response to an act of destructive aggression. Individuals, groups, even cities have stepped in to show support and solidarity to those reeling and recovering from the attack. And then there were those Bostonians who opened  their businesses, homes, and hearts in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. They had no answers for those who were suffering. They were simply willing to do the best they could with what they had. They took a risk and chose to enter in. May we be bold enough to daily do the same in our own relationships and communities.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

A Great Disturbance in the Force

Like so many in our country, I am saddened by the recent Boston Marathon bombing. The literal loss of life and limb, plus the trauma experienced by so many, is difficult for us to process.

With the clarification that I am not a Star Wars geek, there is one line from Star Wars: A New Hope that has always stuck with me. As the planet Alderaan is destroyed, Obi Wan claims, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” (Please don’t ask me to quote anything else from Star Wars. Besides some poorly executed Yoda grammar-mashing, the only other line I know by heart is, “Luke, I am your father.” I even had to Google Obi Wan’s exact words in regards to Alderaan’s explosive ending.)

So what does Obi Wan Kenobi have to do with how I am trying to sort out this difficult situation in my own mind? For so long it has seemed to me that when large scale tragedies occur, we should all be able to sense it, to know that a menacing or malicious act has taken place, that fellow human beings are suffering, hurting, and dying. It seems so wrong, that we aren’t aware, that we don’t immediately feel “a great disturbance in the Force” when tragedy and turmoil strike. Short of living in George Lucas’ invented universe, we won’t. And I’m sure that’s a good thing because the constant, uninterrupted anguish and heartache would surely be our undoing.

These types of events occur regularly throughout the world, so we would constantly be quoting Obi Wan, weary with the exhaustion of grief, fear, and every emotion that haunts us when there is such a catastrophe, either man-made or naturally occurring. Consider for instance the earthquake on the Iran/Pakistan border, which occurred only hours after the Boston Marathon attack, or the one that struck just a week earlier in the same region. And then of course there are those areas of the world where bombings and attacks are a way of life, where children grow up knowing to expect chaos and turmoil every day. Even though my daughters were at the Aurora Theater shooting nine months ago, we still live in relative peace and calm compared to so many others sharing our damaged and hurting world.

Still, I am struck by the fact that such dreadful things can happen, and we only find out about them on the television news, via our Twitter feeds, or by scrolling through our Facebook pages. Shouldn’t we all feel the piercing pain and angst of our fellow mortals, wherever they may be? Why is it that I should be shopping or chatting with a friend while others are losing homes, limbs, livelihoods, and lives?

Beyond the calamities that are newsworthy on an international scale, there are millions of misfortunes happening daily on a much more personal level. How is it that I can be taking a nap or curled up with a good book when someone is burying a beloved parent, or watching their child battle for her life? Why should we be gathered around the dinner table while another family has just been killed by a hit-and-run driver? What about my fellow widows, one of whom was jarred awake early one morning by a phone call informing her of her husband’s death, or another whose husband’s unknown illness took his life one Thanksgiving Day a few years ago?

How do we continue about our lives without feeling a great cosmic disturbance from these tragedies?

It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? Something along the lines of a severe mercy. Were we all to be constantly and acutely aware of the suffering surrounding us, life as we know it would not exist.

I’m certain that on the Friday night I made the decision to turn off my husband’s life support, there were lots of happy people celebrating the end of a long week. I know that as I signed the admission papers for my daughter at the adolescent psychiatric unit, it was the middle of the night and most of the people in our state (and country, probably) were tucked safely in bed. As my daughters heard the first shots ring out in the theater next to theirs, I was actually falling asleep myself. We can’t know and sense all these things. We can’t.

And I am thankful, even as I am slightly saddened.

*****

{Please see the conclusion to this post here.}

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

To Walk in Another’s Shoes

Warning: This is a rant of sorts. I admit it. I rarely do this (beyond anywhere but in my own head). And perhaps I am guilty of doing what I am saying others should not do. I get the irony. I do. But here goes …

I am one to believe that no matter what difference of opinion may exist, people ought to set aside judgment and simply walk alongside those in grief. It’s naïve of me, I know, and perhaps it is born of my own experiences, the times when I have felt so alone and abandoned, and subsequently shocked by the insensitivity and abrasiveness of people I may or may not know. My belief system leads me to surmise that, apart from sheer ignorance, people who hurt others the most are the people who themselves are hurting the deepest. Maybe their pain displays as arrogance, bitterness, indifference, or outright assault either verbally, emotionally, or physically. It is heartbreaking to me to see this type of reaction by people who more often than not think they know a situation in its entirety, even though they’ve only caught glimpses of the most peripheral details. From there, right-and-wrong and black-and-white judgments and declarations abound, and the lack of gray (and grace) leaves little to no room for compassion or mercy.

The recent suicide of Matthew Warren, adult son of California pastor and author Rick Warren, is a sad example of this situation to me. I have never read any of Rick Warren’s books, but out of curiosity, I went on a few websites to read comments in response to articles about the Warren family and Matthew’s death. Knowing that mental health issues play into this, I was very interested to see what I would find. Setting aside the fact that this could easily be my family – or yours – I am dismayed at those who are using this grievous situation to speculate, to mock, and even to gloat. Some may blame this on our celebrity-worshipping culture, and the fact that many feel justified in drawing their own conclusions because they read an article or heard what someone said about some hot-button issue, so they feel warranted in making their ill-informed proclamations. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of the equation.

Admittedly, I didn’t stick around to read all of the comments; there were just too many. There were those who expressed sadness and support, but it seemed they were greatly outnumbered by those who blamed the parents, blamed their faith, blamed reasons that were admittedly speculative at best. I won’t go into the details because they really are mere speculation. But I will say that I was most taken aback by those who mocked the family, as well as those who felt they had a right to demand more information (as if this family’s grief is any of their business), and those who intimated that Matthew’s struggles with depression were just an excuse for him to be selfish enough to take his own life. Really? To make such blanket statements, to presume that you know the details of, or what is best for, anyone else’s life is sheer arrogance at best. Truth be told, most of us are having one heck of a time just trying to keep our own lives in order. How dare such pronouncements be made upon a grieving family simply because they happen to be more well-known than our own.

As a parent who has walked the path of mental health issues (both my own and that of my children), I find this appalling and offensive. Living with mental illness (however brief or extended the experience may be) can be a living nightmare. To simply wake up and fight to put one foot in front of the other, to dread the thought of going to bed because it leads only to waking up and wondering if your daughter will be dead or alive in the morning, driving your desperate teen to the Emergency Room for psychiatric care, or being forced to call 911 because the child you bore is suicidal and raging … I have lived these things and more. No amount of denigration or finger wagging from those who demand to know details, or think they have it all figured out, does anything to help anyone. Ever. These things are added violence to the already swirling mayhem that for some is daily life.

It takes courage to walk alongside those we love in the best of times. When depression or other mental issues are present, we must gather together more courage than one person alone can possess. We must ask for and accept the courage and hope of those willing to loan them to us, of those willing to bear us up when we are barely able to crawl. Shame on those who think they can render a verdict about a situation in which they are not intimately involved. And at the same time, my heart breaks for you who behave that way; I am sorry you are so wounded that upon seeing another human soul or family in pain, you cannot muster enough kindness to offer a word of sympathy. Or at least keep your mouth shut out of respect. I suspect this is the very thing you want and feel you have not received, either from the ones you harass or from someone significant in your life. And this makes me sad for you.

Some people are still so stuck in the dark ages about mental illness. Why are they so reluctant to admit that there are some things that are beyond our (and their) control? Why the reticence to simply say, “Sometimes things are awful and scary and hard, and we just do our best to love each other through them”? Perhaps because acknowledging that it can happen to others means acknowledging that it can happen to you, too. Knowing that some things are so grievous and difficult that they can actually cause death … this is a terrifying concept, but it is real. Sometimes treatment works, and sometimes it does not. And whether you want to believe it or not, many people wrestle with that truth every day. We are sorry if it scares those of you who have never experienced it, but we ask that you not condemn those of us who have simply because you may not fully comprehend it.

Instead of judgment, a good and courageous start in response to the struggle of another – whether stranger or friend – is compassion, which can be defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune”. Compassion is simply imagining what it would be like to walk in another’s shoes, then responding with empathy. I believe we all long for this most basic of human connections, but our woundedness and fear can make us reluctant to give it.

Compassion is a powerful weapon, one that we must use to fight against the stigma of mental illness as well as many other societal ills. It is one weapon that is, ironically, inherently devoid of violence.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013