October 27, 2021

The Worst thing to Say to People who are going through Hell.


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Vastness and an uninterrupted view can often change the most tunnel-versioned perspective in a short moment.

Divorce is more than hard, and mine has taken my breath away. It regularly leads me down the well-trodden path, the washing machine of wonder.

What did I do to deserve this?

By the end of a week of legal letters and other chaos, I am a faint smudge of myself.

Then, I have Sunday. This Sunday has a lot to live up to. It has put me back together in enough fighting shape for the week to come.

So, I pick up the paper and read about crime, relational and otherwise, people disrespecting people, people stealing other’s lives, the ocean, and terrible stories.

They all provide me with perspective to keep me afloat for the week ahead.

If I were to prescribe a cure for the ails of a bad divorce it would be ocean, trees, horror stories, and probably a lot of fresh cinnamon donuts.

A neighbour recently stopped me in the street and said, “I heard about how bad your divorce is. Just want to let you know that you only go through one terrible breakup in your life. I promise.”

I nodded and thanked him for the unsolicited advice, biting back tears and embarrassed.

I left his words in a locked box in my mind for 24 hours.

Until Sunday when I was sitting child-free in front of the ocean. Then, I let those words out. I looked at them carefully. How on earth could he know this? How could he be so careless with a promise?

I wasn’t so sure about life anymore. Certainty. Expectations. They confused me.

People regularly told me things were bound to get better because, after all, I had had enough bad experiences lately.

Apparently, some are keeping score when things get rough.

Of course, nobody says anything when things are going well.

“You’ve had a lot of great things happen lately. Life is bound to get worse for you soon.”

My dry sense of humour would find that hilarious.

We struggle to entertain the possibility of a situation where things don’t get better.

We confuse this with hopelessness and, instead, trade a potential reality for fantasy.

Fantasy and hope are at odds.

When times are tough, the randomness of life and the lack of certainty become much more agreeable than an argument of fairness or settling scores. Telling someone you know things will get better for them is cruel because you don’t know that. You can’t possibly know that.

It is true that things change, but they don’t necessarily always get better. If you buy into that thinking, then how do you cope, survive, or rationalize when things pile up, when the score isn’t settled, or when you get more than your lot and nobody can stop it?

If you’re standing in a channel of sewage, trying to get your family out of a war-torn country, and things get worse from there, you deserve a break. But that doesn’t guarantee you will get one.

And that is one of the awful facts of life. It doesn’t mean you should stop hoping for the better. You can hold it all without blocking out possibilities. Hope and multiple, potential realities can exist at once.

The best and only thing you can do is to keep moving forward, keep building strength and resilience. Keep trying to learn, be kind, and do your best. This is a beautiful and a more than hopeful endeavour.

Often, we find it difficult to see hardships in other people’s lives. Maybe we are scared they will break. Maybe we are scared we will break. Often, we would rather assume it will all get better soon.

The problem is that no one is immune to hardships. They will turn up at your doorstep, sometimes once, sometimes many times. And no one can tell you why or how many times they will plague you.

I find it necessary now to keep company with people who have experienced the depth of “downs” in life as well as the “ups.”

I don’t have to soothe other people while telling them about my own life when it is hard enough to deal with their unintended insensitivity.

People who have experienced the full spectrum of life are there like rocks, like the ocean. They sit in front of me. They are not looking away. They do no try to smooth things over, make jokes, or promise it will get better. They just be. They hear me. They acknowledge me. They hold my hand. And that is enough. That is all I need.

There is no certainty of better things to come, scores to be settled, or silly tussles with the slippery world of fairness.

There is just company whilst the waves crash and an awareness that regardless of what happens, we keep moving forward.

This is the most hopeful feat of the human race.

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