Sunday, August 25, 2013
You Don’t Know What My Life is Like
On the way to the chapel tonight, I listened to the radio as a soldier told of the horrors of war that he had lived through. He described how some soldiers’ minds shut down in the face of those horrors, and how they ceased to function. “Not insane, and not cowards in the face of battle, they were just shocked. And later some of these same men came back and became decorated heroes.”
Sitting in the quiet of the chapel later, just God and I, I thought how sometimes I felt in a “different” situation than those around me. I was not shocked into inaction like the soldiers described, but still I felt myself in a place of “loneness.” And while I can calmly think on this now, I realized that many of us are, at times, in this unique situation where we feel like no one understands us, and perhaps we may even scream in reaction to it at those around us: “You don’t know what my life is like!” It is so maddening sometimes.
A true statement, screamed in anger, and like many of the statements we make in anger, it’s one we really don’t expect an answer to. “I lost my job. My loved one died.” These might be true statements also for us at one time or another, but what response can anyone give to those words? That they’re false? Or the usual statement of empathy: “I understand,” (but they really don’t)? Or the common response given by many Christians: “I’ll pray for you?” None of those responses satisfy the root cause of our anger and frustration and so we want to say: “You don’t know what my life is like!!” --- and at the same time we can’t bring ourselves to say words of our real feeling: “I feel so alone.”
That is the truth, and there is no adequate response to that truth either. There are many events and situations in life which impact us very personally, and because we are unique beings, by definition no one can know what we feel. I’d like to tell you that when that happens you should not scream in anger at others, but that you should just deal with it. But in this calm quiet of the chapel, I realize that, sometimes, we can’t “just deal with it.”
I heard the story of the soldiers whose minds shut down; their bodies couldn’t deal with a horror beyond their comprehension. Most of us don’t shut down despite the “horrors” that impact us, but to some degree we all DO deal with it. Sometimes we have to. And to some degree our triggering “horrors” (and anger reactions) aren’t always physical events, like death, but often are our reaction to ways of thinking foreign to our own. And we find those hard to “deal with.”
Sometimes we’re shocked by what someone says or does in a situation --- that’s not the way we think. But if we have some degree of wisdom (or have some quiet time in the chapel to think on these things), we may realize that sometimes people look at US also and reflect: “That’s not the way WE think.” And that doesn’t make them --- or us --- “bad” or “wrong,” just thinking differently.
I’ve written recently about some of the unique thinking of Muslims. In the past, I’ve written about the unique thinking I’ve perceived among blacks or among liberals, thinking that in some situations is very different than my own. And certainly I’ve reflected in the past on how differing values, education, and closeness to God impact our marriages, and our relationships with those around us. Whether grouped by religion, by color, by cultural background, or by life situation (like war), we can be different from others in ways sometimes beyond our understanding. And sometimes in our own uniqueness, we are different from everyone else, beyond their understanding. This is life, and we HAVE TO deal with it.
I watched a movie the other day about a woman whose child was kidnapped, and never found. The story followed how “she lost it,” and then gradually “dealt with it,” although her pain never went away. And her husband and other children never really understood her pain. (And, yes, she screamed at one point: “You don’t understand!!”) But the movie made YOU the viewer “think” about the situation, and to some degree you DID understand her pain. Would that we could all see the difficult situations of our lives, or the lives of others, as objectively as shown in that movie.
I went on a charity golf outing this past week. It was a huge event, and the golf play was exceptionally slow, so my partner and I often set the golf cart in a shady spot while we waited for our turn, and we talked. He was a businessman, as I was, with a family, and who went to the same church I often did. We knew many of the same people, and had much in common to talk about. But when I mentioned that I was reading von Hildebrand’s book, The Nature of Love, he joked: “Why would you want to read something that heavy?” He voiced a quick one sentence definition and said: “That’s what love is. There’s nothing else to say.”
My response to him was equally quick, mentioning the value of philosophers from Socrates’ time to today whose words help us consider what is important in life --- and why. At that brief moment of our conversation I quickly realized that this man, this good man, had a certain view of life, formed over many years, which differed markedly from mine. That difference could have been a point of discussion or argument, but it wasn’t. It was neither the time nor the place for such a discussion --- and perhaps it never will be.
Just because someone is different from us in thinking or understanding doesn’t mean we have to “convert” them. My Catholic understanding of life certainly says I am to make a difference in this world, to “evangelize” if you like that term, but I believe I do that more in actions than in words --- although words are necessary in some circumstances, to some degree. I’d like to think I said just enough on the golf course. Now it’s up to him --- and God --- if he would gain value in his life by seeking to understand things more as I do. But, perhaps in God’s wisdom, that is not important for him, for the unique being that he is, in the unique situation that he is in. He and his life are not the same as mine.
I think that it is a wise and loving thing when we can accept that others may be different from us, and we don’t need to make war on them to demand they think as we do. Sometimes we may think that is proper, because we believe that the way we think, and our thoughts, are soooo important. But I think it diminishes our uniqueness, the way God made us to be, to think that we’d want everyone else to be like us. It would be denying the importance God places on us. We each are uniquely His creation.
“You don’t know what my life is like” is sometimes said in frustration to others. We’d like them to change somehow. But, as I pointed out, that statement is a true one; we each are unique. They can’t change to fully understand us, because they are not us. Only we are. And the only persons we can change are ourselves.
The example of the soldier in shock reminded me of my experience with my mom’s dementia. Often in the evenings it got noticeably worse, a syndrome so common it has a name: Sundowner’s Syndrome. And so some nights she got so confused that she didn’t even know me, but then would come bedtime, a night’s rest, and then like the soldier, the next day her mind “re-set,” and she was back to normal.
Wouldn’t that be a great thing if we could all re-set our troubled minds? The thing is, to some degree I think we can, if we want to. Most of the shocks of our lives are not as serious as the soldiers’ or mom’s, nor perhaps as “un-serious” as the conversation on the golf course. But they are usually closer to the golf course situation in that we CAN think about our situation. We don’t have to get angry; we don’t have to vent to our friends and family. We CAN be a thinking being --- and even if we don’t think too well, we can turn to those who do.
It was Jesus who said: “Do not be anxious.” He was a pretty wise man, and he said lots of other equally wise words. Perhaps we should read them more often. There are other wise men too, whose thoughts you can read, and there are experts on certain life situations, like dealing with grief or marital difficulties or depression, whose writings are readily available. And if you are not a reader, there are people who can explain situations from various viewpoints, who are trained to help you see your uniqueness and your unique situation, and how to deal with it.
And yes, there are people who will just listen, if you just can’t bring your mind to try to understand why your life is as it is, a “horror” that no one else understands.
And one of those who would just listen is God.
I am absolutely sure that I don’t know what your life is like, nor do you mine. But we have so much in common.
And to be honest, I’m kind of relieved that no one else is like me. : - )
Do not be anxious. It’s a good thought to start with when we’re feeling overwhelmed or angry.