Carolina nights are always beautiful. Even in winter, the night hums, sweetly musical. That particular evening must have been late spring, and the cacophony of crickets and birds, strangely peaceful, was the soundtrack to the emotional conversation I was having over the phone with mom. The catalyst? It was sophomore year of college. As it was…a roller coaster of an experience, I have a few ideas; however, I can’t say for certain. It doesn’t matter now, I guess, but whatever it was had left me a very public wreck, sobbing outside my dorm.
I wouldn’t have been out there unless I had to be. The spot by the pillars was the only place I got service, and I needed to talk to mom. I was alone at that point, and rather discreet, anyway, so embarrassment- or even fear- of being spotted was the last thing on my mind.
She barely made a sound, so I was surprised to realize that suddenly there was a woman’s hand on my arm. I turned around and recognized her as a classmate from my freshman writing course. We had spoken very little since then as we ran in different circles, but I knew that she had recently returned to school after a season of deep grief and suffering.
Without a word, she kept her hand on my wrist, turning around from my shaking frame, preserving my dignity as I snotted and sobbed. She didn’t say it, but I could almost hear the words unfolding in my head: “I see your grief and I feel for you.” In an instant, she was gone.
She didn’t try to fix me. She didn’t throw pleasant platitudes at me. She knew how it felt to hurt, and that the pain subsides when we know someone is present, can identify in some small way, and cares. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.
I found myself crying in a church parking lot recently. It was awkward. I wasn’t, you know, haha Hallmark movie crying; it was full on ugly tears, like, “get a room, Court!” kind of weeping. (Hey- give me a break. I made it to my car!)
What made it slightly worse is that I was parked next to a woman who was preparing to leave. I didn’t look at her, but I knew she was there. I was hoping that if she glanced over at me, she would just see a kiddo fiddling with her phone, not one that was in the middle of a rather powerful cry.
She pulled out, much to my relief, and it was getting hot and I had somewhere to be. I was checking to see the state of my eyes-reddish, but not bad, little eyeliner damage; a miracle!- when suddenly a car pulled up beside me, and the woman whom I thought had left was suddenly at my door.
“Are you alright?” She asked. “I couldn’t leave. I just saw you and…I felt your pain.” And then, she hugged me deeply, and she cried with me, and told me she would pray for me. No words, no game plans. She was there, this lovely stranger who saw grief and addressed it. I will never forget her kindness.
I don’t know what the point of today’s post is. Maybe I’m trying to say that we need to be willing to be uncomfortable in the face of sadness, that getting our hands dirty with those we love or those we are commanded to love, even if we don’t know them, can bring healing to both the sufferer and the comforter. I’m learning that one can read about pain and then one can experience it, and when you do, the last thing you want is a corny greeting card line or a Sunday School standby verse that you know to throw out in times of trial because you found it in the concordance. I don’t want to imply that the Word doesn’t have power, or a timely letter isn’t impactful- please don’t get me wrong! But you’re not reading an essay that includes anecdotes of people patting me on the back while spouting Psalm 23 and then rushing off to the next thing. Just saying. (And so does James!: “Faith without works is dead.” -2:14)
I guess I feel sort of silly sitting here in the dark writing about pain, especially since I am in a season where I have chosen, for better or worse (currently, it really feels a lot like worse), the loss I experience, and I feel a bit- guilty- to be wrecked, totally and utterly. But the fact of the matter is- we’re a hurting people, all of us. Let us be like Jesus and be willing to “get in the boat,” even in little ways- with those riding through a storm.[“Letters in Red: Why Are You So Afraid?”]