I hope that you’ve been reading my serial, Swords and Sigils. One of the recent comments on SaS made me smile and then sigh. I was working up a response to that comment, and it became rather longer than I thought was appropriate for a comment thread, and thus we have a blog post. The reader mentioned that he would like to be able to comfort the character who is currently hurting, who has been hurting for so long that she finally broke under the strain of her internal wounds.
My first reaction was, “Yay! I have created a believable character with whom my audience identifies and about whom they care!”
My second reaction was to think about the people In Real Life who don’t get that kind of care.
I’ve personally known two suicides in my life. Both were young men on the cusp of greatness. They were talented, popular, and bright stars in the world. And both of them had some wound that they felt they couldn’t share with anyone, that they thought could never be healed. They chose to end their lives because they couldn’t share those things with anyone.
Now, both of those young men had loving families and friends. Why would they throw all that away? No one was beating them, using them, or oppressing them. They had resources readily available to them for counseling, encouragement, relaxation, talking, all that. But somehow, everyone missed the fact that each of these brilliant young men was hurting.
I know about trying to be strong enough, to be tough enough to take care of myself. I know about presenting that perfect mask to the world so that no one ever sees the mess I really am. And if I had not had friends who cared enough to brave my defenses and I had not made the choice to trust them, bad things would have happened.
Do people in your life know that you can be trusted? Do your family members know that they can come to you and unload their deepest wounds without censure? Do your friends think that they can be real around you? Are you willing to let someone fall on you for a little while?
It’s true that only the person experiencing the wound can deal with it; we all have to face our hurts and seek healing. We can’t expect someone else to make our bodies or souls regenerate. But for a time, we all need someone to help us. For a season or a moment, we need to let go of our strength and rest in someone else’s.
It’s scary when someone we’ve always respected as strong shows a weakness. We poor creatures of habit tend to settle on our expectations that things should not change. A strong person suddenly becoming not-strong tweaks our simple notions rather painfully. Yet I would argue that allowing ourselves to be weak upon occasion makes us stronger in the long run.
As with any vulnerable creature, we humans need a safe place to rest while we express that weakness.
Will you be a safe place for someone else? I spent much of my life refusing to “enable” the weeping-willows I met in life, mostly because I was upset that they wouldn’t do the same for me. Why should I let them soak my shoulders with their shallow woes when they would run the moment I tried to talk about my legitimate concerns? You can probably determine who was being shallow in this scenario.
To get, you must give. You must sow in order to reap. If you want to have trusted friends, you must be a trusted friend. This does not mean that you become a garbage dump for everyone and anyone to trash. You have to be wise and particularly seek out relationships. Some of the people you become close to might surprise you. I’m a middle-class, “white bread” yuppie; what am I doing being best friends with ex-gang members, drug dealers, and cons? Yet these have become some of my dearest friends, along with a few who are much more like me.
Seek out relationships and be willing to give without getting. But also, don’t overlook the random, one-off moments when you can give comfort to someone in need. Maybe you’re in a public place, and you see someone crying in the corner. Don’t ignore them. Maybe they will tell you to go away, that they don’t want to talk to you, but let them know that someone noticed and that someone cared enough to stop and say something. Even if you don’t think it amounts to anything, that moment could be definitive for that person.
I recall a friend from college who started the same year I did but took off the second year. I hardly heard from him at all, though I sent emails at least once a month. I ended most of my messages with “Keep in touch,” primarily to urge my friend to be nice and reply to me, because wasn’t it rude of him to be ignoring me like that? When he came back to the university, he told me that he had been hospitalized for severe depression. And my emails, with that simple (if selfish) closing entreaty for contact, had helped him through some of his darkest moments.
Never underestimate the impact that you can have in someone’s life. Take an extra moment to look someone in the eye. Be brave enough to let someone weep in your arms. Be wise enough to keep your mouth shut while they work through it. Take a chance and love someone through your actions.
Maybe you won’t prevent a suicide. After all, the person has to choose to accept what you offer. But if no one offers comfort, what then? If no one, even out of poor motives, reaches out to them, what then?
We’re all human and all in at least occasional need of someone to turn to. Be the person that others can turn to, and you will find people to whom you can turn. I would urge you to seek out someone of your own gender to build the deepest relationships with; there are some things best shared between women or between men. I can’t really understand what it’s like for a man to struggle with X, Y, or Z, and he will always have difficulty understanding my concerns. That is not to say that cross-gender friendships can’t be life-savers; they can. You should have both in your life.
To wrap this up, if you can care about a fictitious character, you can care about a real person. You can make a difference in someone’s life. You could be the difference. So please, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you know is hurting.