Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Old Testament Question

I've been thinking about adversity lately, because my newest niece was born with some last week. Her problems, thankfully, are not life threatening, but at the same time they are not insignificant.

As Spangles put it, it's stuff like this that makes you wonder, if there is a God, is he asleep at the wheel or what?

The only upshot I've been able to find when pain and suffering strikes is that, as I've witnessed first-hand, when your luck runs out, your tribe runs in. You find out who your friends are, you find out how much you are loved, and you find out that you are stronger than you realized.

My cousin Ekkie and family were there for me more times than I can count. My impulse is to want to do everything I can for them, but what I can do seems like so little. What can you do for a loved one who is facing painful circumstances and unknown outcomes?

You show up with food and words of comfort. You just show up. You can watch the kids and fold the laundry. You can do research, offer to drive. You try to make the day-to-day stuff go as smoothly as possible. It would be foolish to do nothing just because you can't do more.

And in some ways, a person who is facing suffering has to face it alone. You can offer support and encouragement, remind them of their own strength, but they are the ones who have to walk through whatever it is they're walking through. Sometimes all you can give them is understanding and space. Especially for us "helper" types, the urge is always to run in and start trying to fix things and reassure people. It's so hard to stand by while someone you love is in pain. But sometimes you have no choice but to let people face the full force of all of it, trust them to withstand it and come out on the other side.

I think in life some people are thrust up against moments of being completely unconsoled and unconsolable, and I think what happens in those moments is important. You have to stare the ugly side of life right in the eye, the part of it that is brutish, nasty, and short, and at that time you have make some hard choices. There is no relief, no burning bush, no choir of angels or beam of sunlight pointing the way. You just decide quietly to yourself, whether you will (to quote the Shawshank Redemption) get busy livin', or get busy dyin'. In the face of all the many and varied kinds of suffering humankind can encounter, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?

At times of adversity in particular I wonder if there is or is not something bigger than us, an omniscient air traffic controller looking down and nudging things in ways that we can't understand. For example, it was a horrible flood that led Baby E's family to resettle here in this area which happens to be an international center of study for her condition, and where family is nearby and willing and able to offer support. It was a miserable job and health condition that led me to reduce my working hours, making my schedule flexible and allowing me not just the desire but the time to help out. My parents, too, are experiencing a lull in their hectic work schedule at this welcome time. I think about how Spangles came into my life just before the Year of Bad Things Happening started happening.

It makes you wonder if there's a higher logic, someone moving the puzzle pieces around, sending in solace at times of great suffering. If there is or isn't, as Sara Crewe put it in The Little Princess, "a Magic that will never let the worst things quite happen."


Ann said...

I am with Spangles!

Ekkie said...

Gah, I just started looking at your blog (after meaning to do so for AGES) and I am already about to burst into tears. This does not bode well for my ability to catch up on the last six months in one afternoon...