There have been so many, strangers even, who have entered into the blackness with a meal, with a check, with a coffee, with a knitted blanket, with an offer to babysit, with a show up on your doorstep unannounced kind of care.
They could have, when they heard the story at church, or read it on social media, or overheard a friend's conversation, thought something like, "I want to help, but I don't know how. Giving someone a Target gift card when their house just burned down/their mother just died/ they just got a life-changing diagnosis is going to seem like I'm making light of their pain. Like I'm slapping them in the face with my stupid gift card.
Daunted by the hugeness of the world, and by all of the suffering happening all of the time, and by how maybe they haven't lost that particular loss yet, which would only add insult to injury, they might have walked away. And if they did, if they let it all get the better of them, then what?
What happens to us when, in the face of the pain, we let fear of making the wrong choice keep us from making any choice?
Maybe we are afraid our offering will feel like pity, and maybe that is something to fear. Because pity says, "Poor you." Pity stands outside of the situation looking in, believing the lie that there's an us, the ones who don't suffer, and a them, the ones that do. Pity thinks that just because the ground you stand on is solid right this minute, you are safe, so go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
When really the truth is, it's not your right choices or your positive thinking or your good deeds that have kept your ground solid, that have insulated you from pain.
It's just that for some reason, it's not your turn yet. Which you really can't take credit for.
Nobody can earn a pain-free life.
Maybe the hard thing about jumping into the hole is the leap admits all of this. It's the free fall truth that we are in this together.
That your pain IS my pain, not just because we are connected body, and when one falls, we all stumble, but also because I have no guarantee that I will not someday walk through what you're walking through.
Is that the fear?
Not so much that we're going to do kindness and support the wrong way, but that if we enter in, we are admitting the great and terrible truth of our lives? "That we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little?"
Seeing others suffer reminds us how slippery our grasp on "making it" really is. How little our maps and our spinning wheels get us much of anywhere we expected to go.
It's a scary truth to face, and add to that the sense of impotence in buying someone a coffee when they just lost a loved one. How pathetic, right?
But it's not. It doesn't matter what you offer; it matters that you offer. Offer your scared self. Offer your best lasagna. Offer your tears and your lack of words. Offer your total inability to make anything better.
Because your offering says that you get it.
You get that the world is entirely too huge, and entirely too full of grinding griefs and immeasurable losses.
And you get that it is also entirely full of the kindest of people, the kind of people who do not give darkness a wide berth, who do not stand on the edge of sadness shaking their heads and whispering condolences.
You get that while pain will happen, loneliness doesn't have to.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
-Naomi Shihab Nye