I’m a big history buff…especially American history. I’m a real nerd about it. Greg dreads traveling to historic cities with me because he knows that I will stop to read every single historic sign along the way. My brain has an enormous and uncanny capacity for historic facts; not so much dates or battle names or whatever, but the stories that make up our history. It is because of this mental feat of strength that I can tell you that as the British redcoats marched back to their ships after a well deserved butt whooping at the Battle of Yorktown their fife and drum corps played a song called “The World Turned Upside Down”. Its fitting, right? Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine they would lose the colonies. And so I imagine that that long march was one where they were all forcing their heads to comprehend the madness that had just occurred.
I find myself doing that a lot lately. Obviously with the news of another attack or shooting or bombing seemingly occurring every day in our broken world, my mind has to take a step back to try to gain some footing. But yesterday, it seemed that the news in my own little life, about the people that I love dearly and do this thing called life with, seemed to be delivering punch after punch and the result left me feeling off kilter and a little like the world had been turned upside down.
A few weeks ago, I read this article that popped up on my news feed. If you are too lazy to read it, I’ll recap it. A woman in Oregon had just lost her husband the night before. We don’t know the circumstances around it, but we know her husband was young and the loss was unexpected and great. She went through the drive thru of of her local coffee shop, probably trying to get some caffeine to deal with her world being turned upside down, and in the process of ordering did what anyone who is dealing with such fresh, unforeseen, searing loss did…she lost her ever loving mind and had a little break down right there in the drive thru. The coffee shop employees stopped everything they were doing and crowded around in the little window and prayed for her.
Now, this is a nice little story and definitely brings a tear to my eye, but what stopped me dead in my tracks when I first read this story was a quote given by one of the employees who had huddled around the window and stuck his arm out with all the other employees:
“Dunn’s co-worker, Evan Freeman, said he’s not religious but that his own beliefs were secondary in that moment to the customer’s needs.
“She could have said she wanted an apple, and I would have gone and planted a tree and grown her an apple. It just happened to be religion that she wanted,” the 21-year-old said.”
Did you catch that? One of those arms, sticking out the window, and reaching out to this woman in distress isn’t even exactly sure he thinks God exists but he recognized that this woman did and she needed everyone in that moment to believe it for her…and so he did. He laid down his own belief system, which I am sure is well deserved and contemplated if he makes it a point to mention it in an interview, and he gave a woman at the lowest moment of her life exactly what she needed to realize that she was not alone. I love his quote that he would have planted her an apple tree if she had asked for an apple. He recognized that when we as human beings are hurting we don’t desire what those around us think we need. We desire what we think we need.
I’ve spent a year or so talking with my counselor, Jules, about this very idea. Because, my friends, my name is Reagan and I am an addicted fixer. I fix. Its what I do. And its how God created me. When there is a problem that seems unfixable, people call on me. When my friends feel overwhelmed by a very cut and dry dilemma that they don’t know how to fix, they call me. But, I noticed a few years ago, when they were just hurting, when life got a little too real and not at all black and white, they didn’t call me. Because I was not good at simply giving them what they needed in that moment; someone to hurt with them.
Hurt was my enemy. I didn’t know what to do with it, mine or someone else’s. I didn’t know to sit with it. I didn’t know how to be friends with it. And that’s why I fixed. My fixes looked harmless enough: a little encouraging note here, an “Atta, girl!” there but even in my own ignorance of my fixing, the people that were hurting could sense that I wasn’t hurting with them. I was fixing them. I didn’t want to sacrifice my own ideals and emotional baggage. I wanted to give them a doctor, when they asked for an apple.
And so over the past year, I have worked really hard at not fixing. I have worked really hard at learning to sit in the silence of sorrow and the wailing of anguish…both my own and others’. And it has been so hard and so rewarding. But can I tell you the rub that I didn’t understand was present in learning to hurt with someone? Its a dumb realization and I should have seen it coming but perhaps my can do attitude of wanting to learn a new skill blinded me to the consequences. The fact is when you choose to enter someone’s hurt with them, you hurt.
My day was so off kilter yesterday because I was choosing to enter in to other people’s pain and so I was feeling pain. I’m still feeling the pain. And the pain is hard and it makes me want to fix just so that I can stop feeling it. But if I fix, if I offer a doctor rather than an apple, not only do I miss out on a deeper level of kinship with the ones I love who are hurting, I miss out on an opportunity to be a healthier version of myself. I take a huge step back emotionally when I set hurt and pain in the corner of my heart for a time out. I lose the ability to live my life as whole heartedly as possible.
So the world seems to have turned upside down…and it doesn’t need me to fix it right now.