Tuesday, January 21, 2014

976. Presence

Thanks to a link in this op-ed by David Brooks, "The Art of Presence," I found this interesting piece about how to respond and react when someone you know experiences a trauma:

A New Normal: Ten Things I've Learned About Trauma

The author, Catherine Woodiwiss, is recovering from a serious accident. She writes, among other wise words:

2.  Presence is always better than distance.
There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis people “need space.” I don’t know where this assumption originated, but in my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up, or covering all the bases.
It is a much lighter burden to say, “Thanks for your love, but please go away,” than to say, “I was hurting and no one cared for me.” If someone says they need space, respect that. Otherwise, err on the side of presence.

I've learned this past year that some people seem to prefer the "unbearable," suffering alone, to its alternative: allowing others in at a time when you're most vulnerable. Allowing them to see you at your worse and weakest, and trusting that they'll love you no matter what. But if you don't love yourself, then it's very hard to accept that others do. Pushing them away becomes a survival tactic to help maintain the status quo—but  ignores the fact that in times of trauma, the old status quo generally flies out the window.

I don't know what Judaism says about this, but I keep coming back to Pirkei Avot: "Find yourself a teacher." In my experience, when I've been at my weakest it's helped immeasurably to imagine everyone around me, from the guy who sells me coffee in the morning, to my clients, to my friends and rabbis, as a teacher, and remember that at my emptiest I can't possibly have any idea of what they might offer to fill that space. So I try to let them in.

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