Monday, December 15, 2008

somewhat disjointed musings

It's been a hard few months in our family. We've moved to a time of life where the stories aren't always mine to tell, though my emotional immersion in the tale has been complete.

Many people I know and love are having hard times. Going through life's inevitable challenges with children, jobs, illness, or poverty of pocketbook and spirit. And I reject the idea of diminishing others' suffering by doing the contrast and compare X is worse off than Y: X's pain is greater than Y's pain. How can Y have the nerve to complain, given all that X is going through?

Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. And, though the doctors have devised a numeric scale to help rank physical pain and suffering to treat it, that scale is by definition subjective. There is no objective way to rank pain and suffering. And, emotionally, there is no way to "treat" it. No magic wands exist. It can't be fixed.

Yes, there is therapy, talk and behavioral. Love. Meds. Grace. Not necessarily in that order. But I don't think that any of those things actually fixes what is broken in us, makes us whole and new. We are, at best, mended. The pain and suffering will ebb, maybe go away. But it forever breaks us.

Through this hard time, I've been watching "Band of Brothers" while flailing away on my elliptical. I confess to having known next to nothing about the battles of WWII. The incongruity of watching often frozen men being blown to bits while playing at physical stress in the comfort of my home has not escaped me. Their battles against physical pain, moral choices, and emotional suffering are far from my world, however challenging it has been and however much I reject ranking suffering.

The movie catalogs the range of their suffering, from times when the soldiers acted as less than the situation demanded and to when they were larger than all the challenges they were up against. As is inherent in war, there were daily opportunities to chose or disdain a courageous response to that suffering. Even in cowardice and fear, there were heroes, day in and day out.

Juxtaposing these men and their reaction to suffering with all the suffering I see around me in my middle-class life might seem, well, a bit over the top. Sometimes there are only certain kinds of pain experienced by certain people that garner respect. But I see heroic acts by many of these people, too.

I know. Some think we are too quick to proclaim people "heroes". Post 9/11 it seemed like everyone who lived through 9/11 was a hero. It seemed to somehow diminish the designation by suggesting that merely living through horror was brave. But does using the word hero with regularity diminish it?

I've always defined courage to my children as being afraid of something and choosing to it anyway. Some might say that our quieter acts of bravery aren't really choices, that we often have no choice but to go on. But that's not really true. We could always choose NOT to go on.

Choose not to get up in the middle of the night and tend to the crying baby while exhausted and crying ourselves.
Choose not to risk being in a relationship where we might be hurt. Choose not to get up and go to employment that rewards little and pays even less. Choose not to get up at all.

Just because you do not view it as a choice doesn't mean you haven't made one. And that very choice to get up, to respond, to do what we ought, to live sometimes seems the most base act of courage exercised.

I am lucky. Lucky to know so many who struggle and yet make the brave choices, large and small. Lucky to see who among us would be heroes. I wish I could do more than see. Wish I could help, fix, stop the brokenness from happening in the first place. But I see you. I name you in the quiet of this moment. And I know you for who you are, even when you cannot see your own courage.