‘When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.’
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey
The very nature of how I’ve chosen to live my life means that I regularly meet new people. I touched on this briefly last week with my reference to reason/season/lifetime. Many people might find it hard to believe that I’m an introvert. Yes, I do the stage thing. Yes, I can party with the best. Yes, I can engage, entertain, and perform. And enjoy it, at the time. But being around people constantly takes its toll. Human interaction drains me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. So many people simply don’t know how to sit comfortably in silence. I’ve gotten better at keeping my distance, at not immersing myself in the lives of others. I’ve gotten better at protecting my soul from those who want from me all that I can give… and more besides. I’m much more discriminating about with whom I choose to spend my time and what I say ‘yes’ to.
There was a stage when I resented the fact that I did so much for others and got so very little in return. And then I realised that the fault lay, not with others, but with me. My motivation was wrong. My compulsion to help was skewed towards some weird form of self-validation. You ask. I help. And in doing so, my life is somewhat justified. I felt that I had to ‘do’ to be appreciated, that I had to give, to be accepted, that I had to play to the gallery to earn my place. And I was wrong.
I learned my lesson many years ago, in Valdez, Alaska, when I broke my back in a snow machine accident. The town of 4000+ people rallied round and people I’d never met before showed up at my door with casseroles and cups of coffee. Some are still good friends today. They came to my bedside with grandchildren and conversation. They came to do my nails, to read to me, to keep me from thinking the worst of what might be. It was a truly humbling experience.
I came across the Nouwen quotation recently, not long after a conversation with a yet another new entrant to my world, one who is teaching me a lot about myself and what I want from life. A friend of theirs is ill. Very ill. I find myself regularly asking for updates, genuinely interested in their progress. My friend Lori’s anniversary is just around the corner and perhaps that has something to do with it. I feel their pain and I know that what’s ahead won’t be easy. So it is natural for me to ask and to be concerned, not least because what concerns my friend, what upsets them, what distracts them, also has an effect on me.
So, when, after one solicited update, they thanked me for my interest, I was a little taken aback. I must have looked a little surprised because they went on to explain that this wasn’t something they came across regularly. Yes, a casual ask about the health of a loved one, that was to be expected. But a genuine interest? A willingness to listen? That, albeit much appreciated, was unusual in their world.
Curious, now, about the power of empathy, I did a little more reading and found the answer to my surprise, and to theirs.
‘Our bodies have five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing. But not to be overlooked are the senses of our souls: intuition, peace, foresight, trust, empathy. The differences between people lie in their use of these senses; most people don’t know anything about the inner senses while a few people rely on them just as they rely on their physical senses, and in fact probably even more.’
― C. JoyBell C.
I rely heavily on these inner senses. They are very much part of who I am. I am the product of a happy childhood, supportive parents, understanding friends, and a calm and sure certainty that what will be will be. I trust in my God implicitly and from that comes a security that allows me to indulge these senses, no matter what the advice the world might give to the contrary.
This week, as I wait patiently to have my stitches removed and somewhat impatiently for the GOTG final on Thursday, I am truly grateful for the God-sent, those who cross my path to remind me of how truly blessed I am.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52