My mom taught us to never look away from people's pain. The lesson was simple:
Don't look away.
Don't look down.
Don't pretend not to see hurt.
Look people in the eye.
Even when their pain is overwhelming.
And, when you are in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye. We need to know we're not alone -- especially when we're hurting.
I would like to say that perspective flips on a dime when I am handed another life altering medical diagnosis, but it is not that simple. Conjuring a well spring of gratitude on borrowed time while feeling like shit is, shall we say, a challenge.
In its stead, I am steeped in boiling angst. I cheated this fate once before and used that rare slice of luck to hustle and suffer. Just when I thought I had found a new and better path, the ground erupts under my feet. Detoured into the prospect of being really sick, or on the precipice, for the rest of my life. Conceivably abbreviated life. All over again.
It is fiercely painful.
I can now recognize the landmarks on this road I traveled once before. Landmarks I had mistaken for self-generating obstacles. The isolation being the most searing.
The first day of middle school, ready to leave the sick kid persona back in elementary, I excitedly plopped myself down at the lunch table with all of my friends, only to discover that the winds had shifted. I no longer belonged there. Here. There was space, a distance, a chill. The eleven-year-old assumes the shift must be her fault, but I sense it again at nearly 40.
Because when a world violently erupts, the blast, it is too hot. Too bright. We instinctively turn away, shielding our eyes from a reflection too intense to continue to unknow what we know. Powerlessness, change, pain, fragility, death. We lean back, turn away, drink, scroll, eat, toke, hustle, avoid.
Or we thrash. Franticly attempting to grab ahold to the illusion of control slipping through our fingers. We strut and fret and dictate, explaining the myriad of ways such a disaster should be and could be avoided. Regardless, we separate ourselves from the refugees as if their fate is contagious. As if we can live a life unmarried by tragedy, illness, disability, and death if only we kept our eyes closed.
But my reality already died. I am in grieving and your resistance, your repulsion, your fear has left me alone in exile.
I know it was not your intention. I know. That reflection, it demands an unraveling none of us are too keen to dive into. A discovery beneath the incessant microaggressions we commit against our higher selves, that not a lick of our cunning will save us from the untethered experience that reality as we know it is going to die and I have no ability to save it. No control. This is going to hurt. And I don’t want to.
I know because I am human and nonimmune to the condition. I too beg the universe for a fate more easeful than yours. I too want to cut short the suffering I feel when I see you suffering. Cut short the fear of losing what I know of you. What I know of me. The acceptance of death, my death, feels insane. The only difference between me and most is that I am partnered with a viciously corrective body. A body that does not have the patience nor tolerance for dissonance.
We all can anesthetize ourselves for a while, but inevitably the flames of dissonance lick at our iced over hearts. The question becomes, do we dig in and start back filling ice like sandbags on the dike or do we surrender to the melt? Do we ponder the possibility of accepting that pain and death are inescapable? Not just some time far, far away but right around the next corner. And then what?
People often express fear of sharing their experience of pain with me, stuck in the misconstruction of comparative suffering. Their pain could not possibly compare to mine, or so they hope. But I am one of the few that stares straight into the sun. I walk with resolve into the fire and emerge from the other side, again and again. This is a space I know, can hold, can navigate. Yet again, another trick to lean away, to other, to separate.
The instinct to protect ourselves from inevitability only serves to rob each of us of the full human experience. It robs us of the exfoliation prescriptive fires offer, making way for regeneration, growth, integrity. The embodied knowledge of what it took to risk, to imperfectly create something new and vulnerable and beautiful. The ability to look straight into another’s eyes and witness their excruciatingly expansive beauty, and not break. To witness, to hold and be in awe.
Our connection, the connection between you and me and the name splashed across the scrolled headline, is nestled in the crosshairs of struggle. The experience we all share, the common thread. The place we care, we shed, we grow, we stretch, we transcend. Pain and death are inevitable, necessary, clarifying. And frozen or not, it’s coming for you too.
Surrender allows us to fall through the membrane of pain, peaking through hell and releasing into the warm breast of the heavens. It snaps our dirty blurred frames into a kaleidoscope of intricate otherworldly shapes, colors, and light.
The lethal effort we throw into saving ourselves from injury and mortality denies us access to the sensation of the unimaginable. While acceptance, gushes us forth in a river of ease. The constructive endeavor is in expanding our capacity for fear and pain. To bath our raw open hearts in light and heat, allowing our structure to be rearranged and our complex flavors to bloom across our palettes.
To snatch that from ourselves and from others, is a desecration of the soul. And we all do it. Blocking each other from the unknown at each and every turn, wondering why no one can find enough care to change. It’s not the apathy to pain and death and fear that is killing us, it is the isolation. And that is the agony available to regenerative alleviation.
So, what if we dared to stare straight into the sun? What if we submerged ourselves into our souls’ steady chants, riding the pulse through our veins, grabbing ahold of the hand outstretched in longing…
I trust you
It is real.
I believe you
I see it too.
I love you
I am here.
I see the sweat drip down
I see the pain squint
I see the wear threaten
Terrified, yet not turned timid.
Allow me to be of service,
My hand, firm on your shoulder
My love, breath in your soul
You at the helm,
diving off the
edge of the world
into universes unknown
Electrified in exhilaration
by the divinity
you are destined
to shatter across