There, But For the Grace of God Go I A Different View
Editor’s note: this is first in line for my new greeting cards series: “Wow! Your Life Sucks! My Five Year Old Heart Weeps For You!”
So, one of the moms at our school fundraising meeting last night passed me a card and squeezed my hand, whispering (lips compressed with emotion) “this reminded me of you.” I thanked her and read it in the car on the way home. The gist of the card is “Wow, every time I think my life sucks, I remember you and I feel SO much better!” I laughed so hard that I nearly wet myself (so, you can tell that it was a really, really funny card or I forgot to do my Kegels again.)
Our family has some fairly intense health challenges. Not worth addressing because EVERY family has intense challenges of one sort or another. But the whole philosophy of “I get cheered up when I think about how many people have it SO much worse that I do” has always creeped me out. That’s not empathy. That’s just another tiresome round of one-upmanship. Why am I supposed to feel better about my grief and anxiety by knowing that others are suffering more?
When I worked at a radio station in Washington DC, I was asked to host a MS telethon–one of the hosts was a great guy in a wheelchair, obviously battling the disease we were there to defeat. Some random US Senator put a fatherly hand on his shoulder and exhorted viewers to donate by saying “there, but for the Grace of God go I.” This host was charming, a successful human-rights lawyer and married to an insanely hot woman. So that made the comment not only condescending but ludicrous. He looked up at my aghast expression and said “yeah, that one never gets old.”
I like Viktor Frankl’s views better. He wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning” about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps in World War Two. He theorized that when we endure great loss or challenges, we join a human pool of suffering that is meant to expand our love and empathy to others. Not in a “your life is so crappy that I feel better about mine” way but in a “I feel what you feel and share my love and comfort with you.”
Whatever’s going on in your life right now that causes you to pace the floors at night…that makes you cry when you think no one’s looking? I can’t fix it. But please feel my arms around you and know that I share your grief. Maybe sharing will make the burden lighter for us both.