Photo: Tanner Wolfe
The sense of an entailed disadvantage — the deformed foot doubtfully hidden by the shoe, makes a restlessly active spiritual yeast, and easily turns a self-centered, unloving nature into an Ishmaelite. But in the rarer sort, who presently see their own frustrated claim as one among a myriad, the inexorable sorrow takes the form of fellowship and makes the imagination tender.
Each experience I have had of suffering has been an education.
This time around, escaping our burning home; watching the fire consume it; losing all our possessions; dealing with insurance; building a new home whilst raising three kids, all of us dealing with trauma, I have noticed how often people respond to our situation with, “I can’t imagine.”
It was usually said with great compassion. I didn’t offend me but it got my attention.
I say it myself. Since the fire I have caught myself saying it after all the devastation in Japan and following the tornadoes in the south, any time I have heard hards news of another’s suffering. I can’t imagine.
But what if I could?
Eight years ago when my dad was dying in a hospital on the other side of the state, the poverty of our imaginations became apparent to me and my sister. In the beginning both of us were pregnant, then I had Eden. Paul and I were driving to Ann Arbor at least once a week, some times with all three children, but always with newborn Eden, some times spending the night at hotels, other times making the drive back at night.
Torey was pregnant the entire time and driving up from the middle of Illinois, a seven hour trip. She came as often as she could until the very end when she was laid off and then she moved in with us for the final weeks of Dad’s life.
We both realized, if this had been happening to someone else, that we might not have tuned in to the details. You know how it is when you hear about some terrible experience that someone is enduring and your heart goes out to her, but you don’t really absorb what it all means in a practical way. If some little pregnant lady told me that her father was dying in another state, I would not have leapt to the realities of what that meant.
Of course I could grasp: dying Dad = sadness, but I would have probably missed the logistics, that Dying Dad + long drive + cost of hotel stays + pregnancy = heartbreaking sorrow, stress, and financial difficulties.
I couldn’t have put that all together. Or even if I could have, I wouldn’t have known what do, how to ameliorate the suffering. I have been one to get tangled up in my feelings about a situation and have held back out of fear of saying the wrong thing or getting in the way.
But I have learned, when a person is going through the unimaginable, she needs others to lean in and help in any way they can.