Saturday, October 5, 2013


Platitudes as conversation stopper--as a way to make the ambiguity stop, to put an end to discomfort and fears arising from the sufferer. Reading about this recently made me pause and consider my culpability and experience with it.

The idea here is that someone listening to your grief seems to think some one liner can help. I know I try to relate by telling my own story, and in some cases this may not be appropriate, in another may be the best thing--to forge solidarity, not try to find a solution, or wrap up the messiness as if you were clearing someone’s floor of your child’s detritus.

I think of the ways telling my story has begotten this--first, trying to express my anger and anxiety about Isabella’s feeding and cleft issues, about the insurance debacles, about the stressful scheduling of appointments and negotiating or understanding the feedback we’d receive, the way we personally dealt with it all.

How I just wanted someone to listen. To that mess. To the mess of my current dealings with miscarriage, of trying to find supportive doctors for a simple trial of labor, of not being told to suppress my desire and instinct to mother, to nurture, to just be what God made me to be. Not to feel guilty for any of these things. It’s hard to find just a listening ear, and I have found a need to ask, to request it directly, even with my husband, who sometimes falls into that trap of wanting to solve and in the case he cannot, bouncing his frustration back at me--and once I told him how that made me feel, he made such a giant leap to change his behaviour lovingly and thoughtfully. My communication of the desire coupled with the wish for support, and his willingness to listen, was what did it for me there.

The platitude deliverer--often unfortunately those who do mean so well, or are simply so self-centered they have to see themselves as delivering answers and solutions, and not just stopping everything to dispel the loneliness--stifles.

The platitudes are insincere at heart and soul. They’re things we mouth off without thinking about what the person who grieves before us is asking of us. I am striving to stop this myself now that I have been on the other side. I can feel it in me when I enter a group discussion, or even deal with my class: this desire to think ahead and envision the appropriate answer, instead of just allowing someone's words about pain or confusion wash over me, sharing that moment with that person. That’s what I want for me.

There is a time and a place for solving problems, and I am paid to mitigate everyday discussions about literature and culture (just as people of faith tend to the spirit, and counselors or doctors to the mind and body), but I know, I can see, on the spiritual side of things, a need for stillness. For silence. For solidarity. That silence and stillness is too much for some, not enough for others, and just right in so many situations we cannot explain away, or console, except with time. That ticking away of time, in the moments where the clock seems like torture, when overnight seems an eternity, when healing seems so far away, when the divide between is a chasm--somewhere in those moments is that silence and acceptance, that voice soundlessly calms, reveals itself slowly, sometimes painfully, but reliably. With the reliability, with the certainty of death and taxes, and with the balm these bring: a passage from suffering and assistance when it’s needed by the neediest or the craftiest.

Judgement need not apply.