Being Someone to Sit With

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.

Comments

  1. KerBearRN says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow. Straight up–wow. Thank you.

  2. Lovely.

  3. Guess what!?! Lars and the Real Girls is now on Netflix streaming. Totally worth many watches.

  4. KerBearRN says:

    I’m also put in mind of the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva.

  5. melodynew says:

    Yes. Yes. Beautiful. . .Thank you. And if we truly let someone in at those times when we most need it. And they sit and say “It’s okay to be where you are and I’ll just stay here with you for a while” then we would sob and sob and sob. And then it really would be okay, because someone was willing to actually mourn with us. And we were willing to mourn. What a blessing we all are to each other when we let go.

  6. wonderdog says:

    Several months after my son died, a sister in the ward’s husband died. I was asked in Priesthood what we could do for her (I was and am not her HT). I told them that they could talk with her, say “Hi” to her when she came to church, they could tell her that they love her, and that I was going to hug her when she came to church. I told them that after my son died, people in the ward avoided me. The would not say hi to me in the hall. My HT told me outright that he did not want to come visit until we were “over it” (the death of my son).

  7. Wow! I take my baptismal covenants to mourn with those that mourn quite seriously. It wasn’t until just now that I realized that closing myself off, building up my walls of shame to protect against vulnerability is robbing others–my brothers and sisters–of proper comfort. I don’t know what to do with this information, because I am extremely guarded (The Relief Society directory does not even list my first name). I have to really think on this, so thank you again Jacob fir blowing my mind and rousting me out of my comfort zone.

  8. In the final weeks before my father died, we were visiting and I attended priesthood meeting in the ward that contains my childhood home. It was asked what could be done for my parents (not asked of me, but the HPs). A brother sais, “pray for her”. I commented that maybe his friends could sit with him at the hospice, or sisters could sit with my mother. Prayers are nice, contact is better.

  9. Loved this. And We Come and We Sit is one of my favorite posts as well.

  10. Beautiful, Jacob. So often we try to fill voids with inadequate words, being there in the silence is so much more powerful. I have a lot to learn about being vulnerable enough to let others likewise serve me.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear that, Wonderdog. But kudos for teaching that brother how to be more Christlike.

  12. Kate and I have been loving Wallander, and I agree, that scene is magnificent and stark. As is Kurt’s terror when he realizes his dad is gone.

  13. Haven’t seen Wallander. Haven’t seen Lars & the Real Girl. However, I did read a great article in the Reader’s Digest about a year ago about what it’s like to be a chaplain in Afghanistan. The chaplain said you have to be comfortable “sitting in the ashes”, similar to what Job’s friends did with him.

    Sitting in the ashes with my sister who lost her teenage son seemed natural because there are no words for some things that happen to us. They sound hollow. Thank you for teaching me that I need to be open enough to allow someone to sit in my ashes. I worry they’ll get dirty too but that seems to be the point.

  14. “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.”

    Isn’t that the truth? I love this post, Jacob, and thanks also for the reminder about Aaron’s wonderful post.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Aaron’s post is one that remains with me. I appreciate this post as well. Thanks Jacob.

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