Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not knowing, not curing, not healing.

*warning - philosophical/introspective post follows below*

I think about the following quote a lot:

"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."
Henri NouwenOut of Solitude
I don't think that this sentiment is always true, but increasingly I think that there are situations where it really does hold.  Sometimes friends really do want advice, comfort, and healing.  Other times, there's nothing I can do, and pretending or acting otherwise makes light of their predicaments and makes things worse than they would be if I had simply acknowledged what they are going through, and made my presence known but simply abided with them.

By and large, I feel much more competent at providing advice than at abiding in silence.  Feeling powerless sucks, let's face it.  My default response, as a scientist, and mathematician, and person, is to try to fix/solve any and every problem that comes my way.  This makes me pretty terrible I think at "not knowing, not curing, not healing", a lesson I never seem to be able to learn.  I don't know how to tell with approach would be best in many cases, so I switch into default "solve the math problem" mode.

The other, more selfish, aspect of all of this is how someone else's challenges affect you.  The way I work through stress/sadness/bad times is usually, well, by working - moving forward, pushing on, getting the hell out of dodge, etc.  I'm not good at living with such challenges for any length of time without doing anything.  Sometimes I wonder if this too makes it more difficult for me to simply abide with someone else in their troubles; out of empathy I at least partially experience what they feel, but because such feelings are second hand, there's no way for me to work through them.  Makes me feel stuck, and useless, and sad.  How do you deal with such things, without being able to do anything, and without running away from your friend and their challenges?

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