July 24, 2022

I had three great aunts on my mother’s side. Only one did not have children, and I was told—as my mother was told—it was because she didn’t want to “ruin her figure.” But I’m hard-pressed to believe that, not because I don’t think anyone could be so vain, but because it sounds so much like the kind of story we tell to abracadabra our way out of telling the truth. “It needs courage to reveal oneself as one truly is,” Kierkegaard writes, and I agree, but how hard it is to reveal oneself as one truly is. How we trip and stumble over ourselves and each other, each of us carrying a weight possibly no one else knows exists. To look across a room and be the only one in a sea of people who knows how much he hurt you. The breath-catch of feeling a life you’d been preparing to welcome get snatched away without warning. To have learned how to hide physical illness in plain sight. A memory that haunts me still: my boss’s father had died unexpectedly. I knew what had happened, but as I walked into his office, I froze. I said what I always said, then went about my work. I was twenty years old, and though I’d had my struggles, nothing truly terrible had ever happened to me. When my own father unexpectedly died eight years later, I was on the receiving end of that rabbit-in-the-headlights look many times. Though I was not the only one unmoored by his death, still, I felt utterly alone in it. And sometimes, it was just easier to lie: “How’s your summer going?” “Okay, how’s yours?” Easier to pretend than to watch someone watch me in silence or stumble over all the wrong words. My pastor said today that we have the privilege to hear each other’s stories, not the right, and I think that is incredibly true. And I think of something else Kierkegaard writes: “For God sees in secret and knows the distress and counts the tears and forgets nothing.” Some truths, only God will ever know, but I’ve also learned that God can mold the grief in such a way that you go from being struck dumb by others’ pain to becoming the kind of person who sees them in it—a hand, a help, a quiet light in the room—even and perhaps especially when their story is larger than words can hold.

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