I have written countless posts about figurative storms. Clearly I have a thing for the analogy, this blog is titled Dancing In The Rain! I can recall long ago writing a post about how surreal it was to be living through a storm when the world around you seemed relatively unaffected.
When the boys were in the NICU, I remember walking through the grocery store in a cloudy daze staring at awe at my fellow shoppers with their seemingly normal lives. And then again when my dad was dying. My world was in utter chaos; I was exhausted, juggling work, kids, and life and death. I went through a drive thru and the girl was so carefree I was left speechless. How could her life be so pleasant, so normal, when mine was falling apart? And she had no idea.
Each of these times, and I am sure many other times before and since these moments, I was taught the lesson of the relativity of storms. My storm is not yours. It’s mine. How I handle my storm is unique to me alone. While you may know that I am in the midst of a storm, it is nearly impossible for us to live each other’s pain. And even if we do, we don’t stay there for long. Our own daily lives take precedent, it is human nature.
I started writing this post on my phone, while sitting at my daughter’s soccer game. I’m a bit cold, it’s windy and wet. I’ve had this cold that won’t go away and my Dr. just called to change my meds. We all just finished our first week back to school, our house is a mess and I keep thinking of the long list of things I need to accomplish before we take on week two. I am feeling a bit stressed, and tired. These are my biggest concerns as I can’t help but think about storms.
While I sit on the sidelines of a soccer field my brother and his family are gearing up for a real life storm. No figurative language here. Irma will most likely hit his now boarded up house, where he will be in with his 5 year old son and friends who are like family while his wife will be sequestered at work in a hospital making sure her patients can breathe. Their oldest daughter will be with her father close by. They will all be hunkered down preparing for what may be their worst hurricane they have ever experienced. My brother, his family and friends in Florida are preparing for, and living in, a storm that is setting up to be devastating.
And I’m sitting on the sidelines of a soccer game, worrying about my laundry, my work, my groceries, in my currently “normal” life. I’m sure my brother, would find it hard to remember what it felt like not to be consumed with his storm right now. For he is in his storm. He and those he loves most dear are consumed with the potential danger, the hardships and uncertainty that lies before them.
That’s the thing about storms. Their magnitude, and what they bring with them, are often all consuming. You can prepare for them, you can plan and you can prophesize. But until you are living through it, you cannot know how you’ll handle it or predict how you will come out after it passes. And they will pass, that is a guarantee, storms always pass. They are always temporary. Temporary yet terrifying. And you always come out changed when it’s over. How it changes a person and how they handle it is personal, and individualized. That part can’t be predicted.
So what do we do? Me with my worries of my mundane to do list on the soccer sidelines, you with whatever worries your life currently holds, (perhaps you have none?)… Should we feel guilty that we cannot know the angst and stress that those currently living through the storm of their lives are feeling? Should we feel bad that we are having normal days while others are having anything but?
No. I believe guilt is a useless emotion in this situation. Feeling guilty for your good fortune, while others are not so lucky does nothing to connect us as community. Instead, I believe we need to remember three very simple words.
“I CAN imagine.”
I once heard parents of a Sandy Hook Elementary School victim put these words into context. As they spoke of their lost son, they said the most important thing someone could say to them as they endured their tremendous grief was “I can imagine.” I was taken aback, and then listened as they explained. Often times we say the opposite, we hear of other’s hardships and in an effort to be empathetic we say, with a look of pity on our face, “I can’t imagine…” But when we say these words we are actually distancing ourselves from their troubles. We are in essence saying, “Your pain is so great that I can’t bring myself to start to feel it.”, “What your are living through is too much for me to bare, it is too awful, too troubling for me to imagine it happening to me.” We are in fact saying that you can’t, you won’t, put yourselves in their shoes. And this is exactly the opposite of what we must do when those around us are living through their own storms.
We MUST imagine, we must take a moment to think of what our world’s would be like if we had to endure the storm others can’t see their way out of. We must try, if only for a moment to see into their dark world and feel what they feel, what is consuming their every thought, bringing them such stress, changing who they will be when their storm finally ends. We must imagine. For when we take a moment to imagine, we begin to step out of our own lives, and into others’. When we imagine what it feels like to lose not just any child, but our own child to violence, our own loved ones to cancer, our own home to a hurricane…we can then think of what we would need from those not weathering a storm. When we imagine, we can then be moved to act, to help, to give.
So, from the sidelines of the soccer field I sit and take a second to imagine my brother and his family preparing for their storm. And I will continue to do so, as I stress out over school lunches and laundry, lesson plans and soccer schedules. I will keep those in the midst of a real storm in my mind. And in doing so, I acknowledge the relativity of a storm, recognize that each person is weathering their own storm, either figuratively or literally. And so, I become a better person, more connected to the world around me and most importantly, more equipped to help. I encourage you to do the same.