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Monday, October 7, 2013

The Land of Tears

"It is such a secret place, the land of tears," wrote Antoine de St. Exupery.
He's best known, most likely, as the author of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), a small but profound book on the search for a friend.

But he was more than just a book author. He was also a pilot, and he knew firsthand terrifying weather conditions, life-threatening circumstances, and hostile societies too. Though Le Petit Prince has a sweetness and naivete to it, there's also a lot in there of the pain caused by loneliness, being used and abused, having hopes crushed, the constancy and futility of work, and the emptiness of materialism.

It's such a human story. Is it surprising that a man who had such a rugged, adventurous career was also able to write poignantly about love, longing, and even grief? And if it isn't surprising, then why is it such a secret place, this land of tears?

We seem to recognize, universally, that to be human is to know grief. And yet, grief remains one of the most private experiences known to humankind.

Why is something so universally experienced also so uncomfortable being shared?

It is a secret place, the land of tears. And perhaps that's why that place seems to be so permanent. I don't know about you, but I'm finding that, with so very much to grieve, I may need to start picking out curtains for the house of mourning. I never thought I'd be here so long.

We're instructed to rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve. Do you feel another's grief? I think I can tell, when someone really feels it with me. It's a tie that reaches to clasp hands across that secret place. What does that look like?

Once, many years ago, I witnessed what should have been an avoidable car wreck. I was following a friend out of her neighborhood, since I didn't know the way. It was a couple of weeks before her wedding, and I had stopped by in passing through town to help her prepare the birdseed bags. As she was leading me out to the interstate, her car dipped into a valley in front of me. From my higher vantage point, I could see, careening toward her, obviously out of control, another vehicle gliding across the center line. There was no way to stop it. I saw the two cars collide head-on. It was a horror to watch followed by several more moments of horror while I dashed toward her, watching what I thought was smoke billow from her car.

She was OK. Her heart was badly bruised from impact with her own rib cage, and at her wedding, bruises showed front and back through the exposed skin of her neck, torso, and shoulders--anything exposed through the elegant styling and lace of her gown. My job at the scene was to keep her safe from the dazed, bleeding, broken-nosed driver of the other car, who wanted to paw and fawn at her in apology, smearing his unknown and possibly tainted blood all over my likewise dazed and disoriented sweet friend.

After knowing she was safe and with her own family, I drove myself home--another hour and a half drive--running the experience through instant replay after instant replay in my mind. The next day, I told a co-worker what had happened. I told the story journalistically. Matter of fact. But she could tell it had reached into me, shaken me, left me moved. She sank to the floor of my office and put her own face into her hands. I realized that tears were running down her own cheeks.

"You must have been so frightened," she said, "seeing it happen, not being able to stop it, not sure if she was alive or dead. I'm so sorry you went through that."

She was crying for ME. And that opened it up for me too. I could then weep and tremble and let out the pain of just what she was feeling in my place, which I had stuffed down, into that secret place, that lonely place, that land of tears which I had deemed too private to share.

What is this empathy that allows such a connection between two people, and what power might there be in it, if we really did grieve with those who grieve? "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," says the promise. If we do not mourn, then, but keep it secret and hidden, will the comfort come?

I must say that the thought of making that secret land of tears even more public frightens me. Given the pain of this life, in all its many facets, what sort of pump might we be priming? But then I wonder also, would the comfort rise to match the mourning, and truly, would we know what it is to have our sackcloth turned to dancing?


Carolynn Markey said...

I think I'm scared to share my vulnerable side because I'm afraid someone will laugh. Or tell me I'm crazy, and then all my feelings will be not an moment of acceptance and peace, but one of shame. Another reason that I don't like to share is how much as a human I want to control my surroundings, control the things that come in and out of my life, instead of have God be in control. Thats just me, through.

I remember when my husband and I were driving, and we were stopped at a stoplight. I happened to look behind us and I saw a car was not slowing down. I yelled "he's going to hit us" and I think I turned around to look (hard to remember) and the teenager, who had been texting, hit us going around 45mph. It was really terrible, even through we were not hurt that bad--because I have to fight being scared sometimes with the feeling people are going to hit me. I'm always looking behind me now and trying to leave space in front of me so I can "Get out" if someone is being an idiot. Sometimes I am scared of getting in a car now.

I'm so glad your friend is okay! And its never okay for someone to invade her personal space like that after an accident, exp with blood on them!! I'm so glad you were there for your friend.

Donna Cannone said...

Carolynn, it is definitely not 'just you'. I think we (humans) all like to feel that we can control our surroundings.

I also was hit from behind once, and always look in my rear view mirror as well. I think I have been able to get over it for the most part, but then, last year I was hit head on at 45 mph and that has taken a while to get over as well.

But, I, like both of you, know that God is in control, and that He is the healer of all wounds, whether they be physical, psychological or emotional.

--Rebecca said...

Sadly, Carolynn, I think your hesitancy is well-founded. For some reason I hope discussions like this might help to address, grief and vulnerability truly are uncomfortable for us to see in others. We want to make it stop instead of wanting to walk alongside someone else in it. Wanting to make it stop isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be a very compassionate thing, if it is for that person's good that we want it. But grief and pain sometimes makes ME uncomfortable, and if I want another's pain to stop so that *I* can be more comfortable, I am more likely to respond how you described--causing shame or belittlement to the griever.
Somehow so many of these issues keep coming back to me thinking less about myself. It's a dangerous place to put oneself, but I believe it is what we are called to do. And we'll try, and we'll fail, or do it with the finesse of a toddler, but like Donna says, that may just remind us again of who is really in control. He asks us to follow him, and at the very same time that he asks us to follow him, he knows we're going to fail and that ultimately he is the one doing all the good works. We'll minister to one another badly, yes. But he still says, "Do it."
Baby steps. Baby steps in reaching out. Baby steps in opening up. That's freedom to act under his sovereignty to guide and correct and redeem.
And I just fell in love with my God again, through this conversation. The trustworthy one.
Thank you for posting, ladies.