A few years ago Aaron R. wrote one of the great everlasting gems of the Bloggernacle, “We come over, and sit.” The post discusses how difficult it is knowing what to do and say when someone is experiencing a devastating loss, or the agonizing fire of a spiritual trial. He quotes a scene from Lars and the Real Girl, when after the fatal diagnosis of Lars’ fake plastic girlfriend some of the women in the movie come over and just sit with Lars, “because that is what we do in hard times.” Aaron realized that often this is precisely what is needed, just to sit and listen, to be a silent I’m-not-going-anywhere presence when everything else seems to be falling apart.
I think about this post fairly often, and was forcefully reminded of it after watching an episode of BBC’s adaptation of Wallander. Wallander (a despondent Swedish police detective) has always had an antagonistic relationship with his father, Povel, who also is suffering from the onset of dementia. His wife died a number of years ago, and Povel gets remarried a woman who by all accounts has an infinite amount of patience with his dementia-induced bouts of rage and near lunacy. Povel is often aware of his condition and laments that he can no longer paint, his one life-long passion. After a stint in the hospital, Povel goes home, ostensibly to do–nothing. He can’t do anything anymore, and he’s in the final stages of conscious awareness of his own fatal decline. No one knows at this point that he will very soon be dead. But Povel carries a fairly firm resolution about him, nonetheless, revealed in the last words he ever says to Wallander:
You don’t look, do you? You don’t look at the world, you just drive straight through it. Stop, and look…Find someone to sit with you. You’re not strong enough to do it on your own. Nobody is. Find someone to sit with you.
We’re not strong enough to do it on our own. No one is. Of course, for some of us, finding those who truly desire to sit with us is the most difficult of trials, but for others, the problem is that we don’t want anyone to sit with us, either because we think we can do everything on our own or because we don’t think we’re people worth sitting with. I mention this because that’s often been me; on both counts. I’m usually eager and determined to sit with others in their pain, but the pendulum, unfortunately, has not always swung equally the other way. I don’t entirely know why this is the case. I suspect it’s because the vulnerability that I am required to show to let others into my imperfect, messy, and sometimes dark world–a world that doesn’t usually harmonize with the other, seemingly more orderly and logical worlds I bump into regularly–feels overwhelming and shameful. Vulnerability can be painful, but it can also be dangerous; by its very nature we can be taken advantage of and hurt when our guard is down in that way. But ironically, that very vulnerability is required to really inhabit the space of one who is hurting, to make sitting-with more than just the simple physical act of bending into a resting position. When someone is really hurting, their worlds, too, have lost that orderly logic where everything was in its place, all sparrows and lilies numbered and accounted for. Real comfort requires mutual exposure, or at least the willingness to be as open to the other as you hope she is willing to be open to you. And a shared understanding that it’s ok that your world doesn’t make any sense right now. I know what that feels like, too.