When I was in college, I volunteered for a grand total of one day with an organization that bused UCLA students to an east LA home for abused teenage mothers. I was interested in the organization because I was a psychology major and loved children and thought it would help define what direction I wanted to take my counseling career (Yes. Counseling. The one field I have not worked in as an adult). While on the bus with a bunch of other white, clueless college second-years, I daydreamed about all the good we would do – all the supplies we would sort and people we would meet and lives we would touch.
And then we actually got there. Once off the bus and inside the house, it took me about fifteen seconds to realize that there was nothing in the entire damn world I could teach these girls that they did not already know, aside from, of course, that college kids from the suburbs can occasionally be misguided, self-involved assholes, who show up in their university sweatshirts to help “save the children.” We were there for four hours, wandering halls and seemingly not expected to do much more of anything other than parade our incredible privilege around, and the experience made me so entirely sick that I never went to another campus meeting and stopped answering the club’s phone calls.
That story is important because it shows you that I am fully capable of knowing when I’m out of my depth and that when I know that I cannot possibly say (or do) anything meaningful, I avoid at all costs. Perhaps it is the Puritan stock of my father’s family. I would rather seem like a cold, unfeeling alien monster from another planet than overstep boundaries or shower someone in pain with trite, useless words.
This brings us to the intentionally vague portion of today’s post: someone I know had something terrible happen to them recently. I know about it and have cried actual tears about it at home and yet I have not addressed it except in the broadest of terms with this person, despite the fact that I can’t even think about it without being overwhelmed with grief for them. This terrible thing is something that is foreign to me and hugely personal to them, and to say anything about it makes me feel like a total fraud. So, I’ve said very little.
I am a deeply emotional, sympathetic person, who, for some reason, can show more kindness to spiders I find in the shower than to people I know who are devastated.
Half of me hopes that not forcing people to engage in long conversations about their tragedies spares them having to cry in public, so that they can continue eating the dinner they’ve ordered or work they are doing or whatever blessed momentary distraction is taking their minds off their realities. And then, later, the other half of me is horrified that I might have seemed too cool or removed or emotionless.
Can someone please tell me how normal humans handle loss with other normal humans? Because I am a total failure.