“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
― Elizabeth Stone
Sitting at our kitchen table, the shiny metal one that looks like it belongs in a vet’s office, my daughter tells me about an incident on the playground with a little girl who was not interested in playing with her. She talks about it very nonchalantly and I can’t tell if it bothers her. She looks at me to gauge my reaction.
I try to be a blank slate, a place for her to try on different feelings without having to deal with mine. But my heart aches a little, maybe even a lot. It aches because I remember what it felt like to be little and left out. And it stings now, because all these years later, I’m still familiar with the feeling.
But I don’t want my past experiences or my current grievances to get in the way of my daughter’s emotions. So I try my hardest to take a deep breath and listen with my heart as well as my ears.
What I want to do, however, is the exact opposite of this. I want to swoop in like a seagull zeroing in on lunch swimming by. I want to give her advice. I want to make it all better. ASAP.
I want the discomfort to go away. Hers and mine. Pain, pain go away come back another day. Like I used to try and sing the rain away when I was five holding my mom’s hand while looking out the window.
I envision grabbing the pain, confusion, and sadness that she may or may not feel today but inevitably will and crumpling it into a tight cellophane ball and tossing it into the trash.
Because it is awful to watch someone you love hurt.
I recently devoured the new book Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton. This beautiful memoir is about many things but what stood out so stunningly for me was her honesty and brave discussion about pain. How she ran from the pain as a child, numbed it with alcohol as a young woman, and how she embraces it now. How she practices “staying on her mat,” a reference to staying put in yoga no matter what arises.
She writes, “You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
She asks, “What if pain – like love – is just a place brave people visit? What if both require presence, staying on your mat, and being still?”
When I read this, I choked up. This is something I try to do but am not very good at. My inclination is to make a joke, do something silly, something to dismiss the pain. But in the moments that feel icky at best and heartbreaking at worst, could I learn to stay present and still even if for a few seconds? Is this something I can in turn pass along to my kids?
Because I want them to know it’s okay to land there for awhile. As much as pain sucks, without it, we would never know joy, gratitude, and grace or experience growth of any kind. We would be stagnant, boring stick people on the back window of someone’s car. We would be lacking a creative, compassionate and empathetic pulse, the very pulse that keeps us in the land of the living.
So I am willing myself when things feel challenging to take a step back, a deep breath, and resist the impulse to hurry myself through the discomfort. Or talk my children out of their tears. Maybe I could even stop trying to make things better all the time. To press the pause button and just be still and listen. Even for a breath or two.
Because so much magic can happen inside of a pause. A pause lets in love and takes out fear. A pause enables us to respond rather than react. And a pause keeps us grounded in our bodies and connected to our most authentic self.
I’m reminded of something I read by Pema Chodron, a beloved and wise Buddhist nun and teacher. She wrote, “If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart and to relate to that wound.”
The thing with healing is that it comes from within not from an external source. No one can truly heal us, they can help us but we heal ourselves.
Teaching our children how to deal with their pain rather than run, numb, or ignore it, helps them learn how to heal their pain.
And maybe they don’t need to be saved or fixed. Because they are not really broken. They are whole even when they are struggling. And so are we.
Understandably, it is our instinct as parents to do everything in our power to protect our children. And this is a beautiful thing. But we can’t protect them from everything.
However, we can help support them in everything. We can be there for them knowing that sometimes there is sitting in discomfort. Knowing that sometimes they feel broken but it doesn’t mean that we are broken. It doesn’t mean that we failed as kids or that we failed as parents.
Pain is an opportunity, one we most likely wouldn’t have chosen, but an opportunity nonetheless. It is an invitation to show up and be present. In this space we not only help heal our own tender hearts, but it is my hope, my prayer, and my belief that we help heal the collective hurting of all tender hearts around the world. One pause at a time.