To believe in Christ’s rising from the grave is to accept it as a sign of our own rising from our graves. If for each of us it was our destiny to be obliterated, and for all of us together it was our destiny to fade away without a trace, then not Christ’s rising but my dear son’s early dying would be the logo of our fate. - Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament For A Son"You can't know how I feel!" If ever a phrase should be banished from our lexicon, it is this. Well, OK, maybe not the phrase; rather, a defense of the attitude that creates conditions in which the phrase becomes some kind of meaningful defense of selfishness. We've all heard it before, of course. The declaration from someone who insists that others cannot speak to their current emotional state because they inhabit some space above their interlocutors. "Do you know what it's like to have lost a job/a spouse/a child/a parent/a lover? If not, then don't try to talk to me because you can't know what it's like." It is often physically painful for me to restrain the urge to dope-slap people who wield this phrase, insulating themselves both from very real consolations from others as well as from participation in the normal run of human life.
We who inhabit a particularly small, very privileged subset of humanity for some reason believe with all the passion once reserved for things like the pearly gates or The White Man's Burden that our status protects us from the simple human reality of suffering. Whether it is the personal loss of a loved one who dies out of time, the communal loss of a sense of security due to economic disaster or natural disaster, or perhaps that not-so-rare event that impacts whole nations such as a violent attack or even civil war, most human beings who have lived go through one or more - and perhaps all! - during the course of their lives. That suffering is a shock and a surprise is as much a result of our insular, individualistic ideology as it is a consequence of our abundant means of protection and (mostly false) security. Far too many of us really and truly believe we are safe.
Not only is suffering a reality for most people most of the time in most places. Joy and love and family and, most of all, the support of communities of extended family and friends are also part and parcel of human life. Indeed, these realities exist side-by-side with the pain and loss precisely because they, rather than any material security we possess in which we invest far too much effort and hope, are what prevent us from the worst pits of despair in the midst of grief.
This is not to say that I would say or do something so crass to those whose wounds are fresh. On the contrary, it is important to remember that this impulse only arises when some refuse to allow these wounds to become old. Notice I do not say "heal". We never really recover from the loss of those we love. Those spaces are always empty now. The difficult thing, in the midst of our grief and pain, is to keep living; the beautiful thing down the road is that we've kept living. And we keep living, immediately, because there are others around us who hold us up even if we are too blinded by pain to realize it.
I recently contacted an old friend who rendered such aid to me a long time ago. I let him know how much his friendship meant to me precisely because, in the long years since, it was his simple kindness, his offer of friendship at a time when I felt friendless and alone, that I remember far more than any pain in which I was then wallowing. The years since have deadened the pain. I have carried on, loved and lived and rediscovered joy and the simple pleasures of life precisely because someone took the time to be there for me.
Which is where I return to those who insist, for some odd reason, that the pain in which they live is somehow unique. It is not. It is a human reality, this grief and sorrow, this emptiness that eats away at us, wanting to tear our hearts out of our chests and feed on our aching, self-centered blood. This is how monster death thrives: by whispering in our ears that our pain is ours alone, not to be shared, and most definitely not to be understood by those who have not lived our loss. From there, our grief sweetens the meal, rendering our lives open to devouring.
We are, all of us, walking wounded. Even the most buoyant among us has sat alone in the dark, our eyes sore and red from weeping, wondering if it will ever be possible to live as we once did. The fact is no, we will not. We will, should we open ourselves to the friendship and kindness of others, learn to live in new ways, live on with our loss with us but no longer defining us. This is our challenge and our hope.