I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been struggling with this week’s Motivational Monday topic a lot – obviously, because it’s Tuesday.
I’ve been caught in the fog of my dad’s illness this week, watching, yet again, as another deterioration takes hold. He is starting to lose motor function in his dominant hand. I watch and I know what’s happening – switching from his right to his left hand during dinner, struggling to turn the car key in the ignition, taking twenty minutes to clip his toe nails.
I watch and I know, and it scares me.
I think experiencing grief makes a person more privy to the way that others respond to it. In the memoir, Love Warrior, author Glennon Doyle Melton outlines her experience in sharing grief with others by observing the patterned responses people reply with after hearing of her sufferings. She depicts these responses as different “roles.” I won’t get into all of them, but here are just a few:
The “Shovers” – the ones who respond with “everything happens for a reason” because grief is too uncomfortable, and they need to make it comfortable – for them, not for you.
The “Comparers” – those that compare your story with one of their own because that’s how they can relate to your pain. And all pain is (supposedly) similar.
The “Fixers” – those that see your pain, hate your pain, and want to do everything in their power to take away your pain.
And so forth.
Now before you bite my head off, I’m not saying that any of these responses are particularly bad. In fact, I know I’ve stepped into these roles before while facing another’s grief. But these roles shield us from vulnerability; they distinctly separate us from the suffering that’s taking place. They allow us not to get too close to grief because grief is hard and it hurts. It’s uncomfortable and it’s not fun. But grief is also highly subjective to its own person. Your grief isn’t like mine and my grief isn’t like yours. And that’s okay.
I took some time to explain all of this to my boyfriend, Alex, last week. I explained that I knew people were just trying to help by asserting themselves into these roles, but sometimes I just wished they wouldn’t. I explained that sometimes the best help comes from those that don’t try to do anything at all. These are the people that are just there with you – not to dismiss the pain, not to compare the pain, not even to fix the pain – just there with you in the pain.
My boyfriend responded with “yeah, just sitting in the dirt.”
(Now let me preface this by saying that my boyfriend is incredibly smart and has been an ANGEL during this entire process with my dad. He also studied rhetoric in college, currently works at a church in Washington D.C., and is an aspiring theologian).
When I asked him what he meant by “sitting in the dirt,” he told me a story from the Bible’s Book of Job that references Chapter 2 Verses 12-13. In this story, Satan has afflicted Job (a man of faith) with sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet to prove to God that Job’s piety came only from his good fortune & blessings. But the part Alex was speaking of came after Job’s three friends found him in his suffering. The verses read:
When they [Job’s three friends] saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
Alex’s reference to “sitting in the dirt” or “sitting on the ground,” was a comparison to those that “sit” in painful times with others. They don’t compare, they don’t avoid, they don’t fix, they just sit with you in your grief and they are vulnerable – just like Job’s three friends.
American author, scholar and public speaker, Brene Brown (aka my hero), says something about people that “sit in the dirt.” She says that vulnerability is our “most accurate measure of courage.” It’s easy to avoid hard emotions, in others or ourselves. But to sit with someone in all life’s shittiness and listen to them, and know that there’s nothing you can do to make it better – that is courage. That is sitting in the dirt.
My friends, I don’t have any motivation for you this week other than to try and sit in the dirt with someone if you see them suffering.
We thank you.