In my experience with personal pain, the two things I found least helpful were this …
- When people said “There are no words.”
- When people asked me, “How can I help?”
I’ve sat and watched, while taking sipping breaths, my country erupt with all kinds of emotions this weekend and with each repeat of a horrific video, at each angry response or defensive, violent reaction, or attempt at peaceful protest and I’ve wondered.
How do we continue to hold space for the pain each of us carry?
I don’t know what to say, or how to help, but I also know my lack of trying adds force to the complex dominos falling around us.
I’m a writer. I coach people to put words to their experiences and have found healing in putting words to my own. I am tongue-tied and paralyzed and my fear of saying the wrong thing does nothing for marginalized communities and people of color.
When I feel stuck or others stumble, I remind them to just start with one.
Start with one word.
See what flows from there.
Unjust. Angry. Desire. Frustration. Ally. Sick. Tired. Sad. Rage. Friend. Understandable.
We live in a complicated world with painful histories designed by humans to hurt some and benefit others. I benefit. I hurt. So do you.
When fires are set and people seek to be seen or heard or simply touched, I wonder and whisper, ‘How can we be better?’
If you feel the same and choose to yell, please, yes, use your voice.
I use my words to say, “I’m sorry for what brought you here. I’ll never fully understand. I can only listen and seek and carve space for your pain to be seen. Searching for good and holy and beautiful things may help. But what the hell do I know?”
How can we care for our friends, the strangers, the people whose lives and whose pain never has to impact mine?
I don’t have an answer. I know I may never know your experience just as you won’t fully know mine.
But we have the beautiful opportunity to try.
I’m using my words to grapple, to wonder, to sit and to hold space, to ponder, to ask, to try to see.
I’m also reminded when the words need to stop. Sometimes words needs to be replaced with listening. Creating collaborative solutions requires us to listen to stories not our own.
I strongly believe healing can be found in the pursuit of beautiful things. The match I light in the darkness is the choice to hold the good and the bad in cupped palms. An offering to the broken in all of us, in our country, in our world. The chance to say yes to the hurt and pain and marvel at the tears and spark the choice we have to hope and turn towards the good.
Horrific things are happening. Behavior must be changed.
And still, people are using their voices, holding hands, and taking a stand. They are staring down cops and holding hands with armed guards, hurting people are encouraging outsiders to walk together in the streets, allies and leaders and neighbors are kneeling for justice and taking action.
We’re using our words and fumbling to try to make sense of what’s next and what’s right and what individual roles can be in this moment.
For every person reading, wondering, seeking, searching, and opening their eyes – there will be that many unique ways of moving forward.
Stop waiting for people to answer your cry of “How can I help?”
How do you want to help? Do that.
Use your words. Start with one.
And see what flows from there.