We know letting go of some memories may prove rather difficult. Augusten Burroughs writes about life’s tough spots in This is How, a book that gives readers plain advice on getting through difficult times. And despite all of his advice on various woes, he states plainly that a parent will likely never get over the death of his child. Burrough’s verdict reminds me a little of George Bishop’s narrator in The Night of the Comet. He foreshadows troubles to come when he says, “it’s not true what they say, that you get over it–that with time, whatever happens to you, good or bad, drifts away into the harmless river of the past.” In his mind, “You never get over it. . . The past never leaves you. You carry it around with you for as long as you live, like a pale, stubborn worm lodged there in your gut, keeping you up at night.” I agree. Sometimes we think the worm has left us only to find it lies dormant waiting for something to awaken it. And yet, we expect people to let go of the past. And we expect ourselves to get past the tough stuff.
let it go
get past it
get on with your life
What do we mean when we say these things?
What do we hear when someone says these things?
I’m not enough. Not worthy.
It’s my fault.
You don’t have time for me.
I can’t be fixed.
I’m screwed or broken if I can’t move on.
If you can’t accept my pain, my thoughts are not acceptable. In translation: I must not be acceptable.
Instead of judging someone who has found the struggle to move on daunting, what might happen happen if we simply listened to someone tell of his pain? Really listened. Listened knowing that we didn’t need to agree or be part of the plan to fix it. Listened knowing that we are human and this listening means connecting. No approval necessary. Is it too hard to experience pain that another human is sharing because it feels too immediate, too real, too . . .painful?
Maybe it’s time to take out your own pain, look at it and share it.
The process is a challenge. Listening is hard work. I know because I have a hard time listening to my daughter’s pain. This includes the parts I would prefer not to remember –her indelible scars that scream: what kind of mother lets that happen! The parts I don’t like –the weight, the neediness, the nightmares, all that reminds me of what I don’t like of myself–the quick anger, the introversion, the depressing parts. The parts shellacked in fear–living a life that sometimes feels like we’re all going in circles, round and round on a pretend pony stuck on a pole, without the energy to reach for, let along grab, a single brass ring.
Yet, listening would help my daughter. It would also help me not just to accept her–all of her–but also accept the whole of who I am.
I am still learning (chances are I am not alone), not knowing how to let go of those things that have caused me pain, the ones that I have held on, perhaps, too tightly. The memories I have held onto for fear, for what I thought was love, or for a myriad of reasons I cannot fathom. If I listen and accept another’s pain, might it really help me let go?
In her book The Wisdom to Know the Difference: when to make a change and when to let go, Eileen Flanagan writes that “accepting yourself makes it easier to accept others. Accepting others makes it more likely you will bring out the best in them.” I like this idea. Acceptance is a two way street that we can both travel on.
She reveals a simple idea: If I accept my pain and then it’ll be easier to listen to yours. The cool thing is that I might just bring out something better in both of us.
Flanagan’s idea takes off the pressure. I don’t have to fix your problem. I don’t even have to release these scars that I have. I don’t even have to move on until I’m ready. I can accept the mistakes and hard parts in the moments I remember that the person beside me has them, too.
When someone tells me of something they can’t let go of, I can try to recall how life can be painful. I can say I hear the pain in your voice. And I can even remind myself that if I want someone to move forward, listening might be the best way to smooth that path.