Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Reaching Out When It Hurts Isn't Always Easy
I felt like someone hit me right smack dab in my heart. It took my breath away in an instant. I stared at the screen and blinked back a tear. Okay, they're simple words, but sometimes simple words are the most effective. Yeah, I know I've said that before. Still true and bears repeating.
I thought about the many times I've seen a pained look on a friend's face or a cheerful smile belied by the pain in someone's eyes, and kept silent. All the times I didn't ask the simple questions "Are you okay?" or "Is something wrong?" or "Is there anything I can do?" just to let the person know I noticed. I thought about all the times I've read between the lines of someone's overly cheerful words sensing he/she was covering something and kept quiet. I thought about the times I've let someone's silence that I sensed meant pain or embarrassment remain silence without proffering even a simple gesture to say that I cared. My heart ached as I remembered moments I could've reached out with kindness and understanding. Even if I was unable to help, at least the gesture would've demonstrated I cared.
Then my thoughts turned to my own reluctance to ask for help when I hurt. I'm getting better at this with a select group of beloved and trusted friends, but I still struggle with it. The idea of appearing vulnerable... The idea of appearing needy... The idea of appearing weak... All of these terrify me. Yet, I understand that in life we all have vulnerable moments, needy moments, and weak moments. I don't think less of others for these moments, but I assume they'll think less of me for them. Yes, yes. I know. I said I'm working on it.
The more I thought about it, the more compelled I felt to reach out to my friends and let them know that I care and that I'm there for them. So I ended up posting the following as my Facebook status:
I mean it. Sometimes we don't reach out when every instinct in our bodies tell us, too. I'm fighting that instinct right now leaving a small hint open for the person that I'm here if the person wishes to talk but not making a move. Sometimes I fear my instincts are wrong. Sometimes I'm just too shy (yeah, really). Sometimes I convince myself the other person knows best whether or not to confide in me. But, no matter what, I never stop caring about those important to me.
Lately, I've been compiling my poetry into three collections for publication. As I weed through those poems, I see my vulnerabilities played out in ink on paper. I see the images of moments when I could've reached out to a friend but poured my heart onto paper instead. It makes for great inspiration, but could reaching out just one of those times have taken my life on a different path - changed some event that might have made a bad thing not happen? Could expressing what I felt to someone rather than about them in a poem have created a deeper, more intimate, more caring relationship? Could expressing my feelings and thoughts have changed not only my life but the outcome of someone else's perhaps many someone elses? Could expressing those doubts out loud to a friend have made me stronger in the long run? I don't know. I ask myself these questions because I'll never know the answer.
And, then there's the other question...
If I had expressed those emotions, doubts, fears, struggles, to someone else, would the poetry I've written even exist? Perhaps it wouldn't because I wouldn't have needed to explore what I couldn't find the words to say out loud. And, so I find myself feeling a dilemma. Certain things in my life could've been different, but my art might not exist...
Is my art worth the price of holding those emotions inside? Is it worth the cost of "what might've been"? Is it worth the pain I've caused others? Is it worth the pain I've brought upon myself? They say artists suffer for their art, and perhaps that is true. But perhaps art just takes a different form when one learns to truly express one's need and love for others... Perhaps it's time for me to use my poetry to tell the world and the people in my life the truth of me. Hence, the upcoming books...
But, let me encourage you to do what most of us find so difficult. The next time you see pain in a friend's eyes, just ask him/her if he/she is okay. Open the door for him/her to express what's on his/her mind. Let him/her know that when he/she is ready, you're there to give him/her whatever she/she needs to ease his/her pain in any way you can or at least to just be present...
Also, the next time you need that support, please find someone you trust and let your guard down. You just might find love, acceptance, and support.
Many thanks to Pari for her inspiring Facebook status post!
To my friends who are always there, who listen when I ask, and back off when I don't but still manage to let me know they care and are there when I'm ready to talk, you already know I think you're fabulous, awesome, wonderful, etc., but let me tell you now I appreciate and love you more than you can possibly know. Thank you!! Should you need me to return the favor, please don't ever hesitate to let me know. I'll help however I possibly can.
T. L. Cooper grew up on a farm in Tollesboro, Kentucky. She earned a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Kentucky University. Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared online, in books, and in magazines. Her published work includes a novel, All She Ever Wanted, five books of poetry, and a book of short stories. When not writing, she enjoys yoga, golf, creating plant-based recipes, and traveling. Currently, she resides in Albany, Oregon.