My dad has a catheter. We're hoping it's a temporary thing but, in the meantime, he carts around a bag of urine wherever he goes. And though some people in his community know he was in the hospital, know he's home but is still dealing with a catheter, they're...busy. Though they might have found time to visit him a few months ago, these days, they tell me, they'd prefer to wait until he's "better".
My mother-in-law wouldn't visit friends in the hospital. Hospitals, she said, made her uncomfortable. They reminded her of her husband's long illness.
Many of us know those types of people, don't we? The ones who don't want to get too close to suffering or broken-ness. The ones who turn away from pain.
The ones who don't see strength but frailty.
It hurts to be marginalized, especially when we already feel isolated by infidelity.
Maybe you discovered your husband's affair, confided in a close friend, only to have her seem less available to you. Already vulnerable, you lack the energy or the strength to pursue her and ask for answers. Already wounded, you retreat.
Suffering makes people uncomfortable.
But we, in our sadness, take their distance as further evidence that we are unwanted. Unworthy. Unlovable.
I recently read a Twitter thread on suffering. When we come across suffering, this Tweeter said, our response mustn't be to lament the abstract evil in the world ("men are cads!"), it must be to first reach out a hand. "How can I help?" must be the immediate response.
Instead, going as far back as the days of the biblical Job, our response is frequently to ask what this person did to invite suffering. After all, we're absolved from helping the sufferer if he/she somehow deserved it. And so the betrayed wife gets cast as "frigid" or "nagging". She let herself get old. She let herself get fat. She let herself be human. How dare she? And how are we to protect ourselves from such suffering? Well...for plenty, it's by avoiding it in others.
It's by waiting until the catheter is gone before visiting. It's by averting our eyes when someone confides their pain. It's by refusing to sit with someone in their vulnerability. It's by lamenting an abstract evil rather than reaching for another's hand and asking "How can I help you?"
My own experience in the days and weeks following D-Day reminded me, again, that those who can sit with us in our pain are rare and as valuable as gems. Surprisingly, it wasn't the friend who'd been betrayed herself who could be with me in my pain. Rather it was the friend who hadn't. The friend who I didn't even know that well but who had suspected something going on at my husband's work and who refused to turn a blind eye.
The friend who did nothing more than tell me she had my back. Whose own eyes welled up when I told her what had happened in my marriage. Who sat with me as I cried and who, because of that, has the pleasure of my friendship now that I'm laughing again.
Suffering frightens people. But don't let it frighten you. Feel your own suffering. Don't back away from it. You're strong enough to bear it. And you're strong enough to sit with others as they bear their own.
It happens every day on this site. Someone brings their pain to our shores and you gather around her. You tell her your own story. You make room for her to share her own. You help her realize her own strength. You do not avert your eyes.