"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer. Those who can sit in silence with their fellowman, not knowing what to say but knowing that they should be there, can bring new life in a dying heart. Those who are not afraid to hold a hand in gratitude, to shed tears in grief and to let a sigh of distress arise straight from the heart can break through paralyzing boundaries and witness the birth of a new fellowship, the fellowship of the broken." ~Henri Nouwen
I recently encountered this quote. I freely admit I have not read it in context. The book that it is reported to be taken from is called The Way of the Heart, and because it is not available for Kindle, I can't get it instantly. Poor me and my first world problems. There it is in my shopping cart, along with a CD by Pink, and I wonder what in the world that says about the state of my mind these days.
I have been thinking about these things lately, so when I read the quote, it resonated deeply. It said what I had already been thinking and feeling deep within myself. It said what I have experienced to be true, on both sides of the suffering fence. Oh no, that is so very wrong, and my language betrays it. There is no suffering fence, and we do not find ourselves on the one side or the other.
And still I want to think of it this way. I want to divide up neatly, those who suffer, and those who comfort. I want clear delineation of where I sit. And of course I would prefer not to be the one suffering. Sign me up as the comforter. I will earn my bread with kind wise words. I will brainstorm possible solutions. I will roll up my sleeves and work for change. And by doing so, I do the very thing I hate. I flee from suffering. I turn my face away from it.
In all my busy, active, relevance I throw away the greatest gift...to "enter into solidarity with those who suffer". Because I hate it. Solidarity with those that suffer is me. It is knowing that suffering is the human condition; that the paralyzing boundaries of pain that cannot be smoothed away, are the lot of every man. There is grief, and distress, and death itself, and it cannot be eradicated by the right word or the right action.
There is absolute terror in the realization that there is no quick cure...that there is no cure at all, and so we flee. I want to learn to sit in silence, and hold hands, and shed tears. And I so deeply crave that someone will come and do that together with me. Because we are not sufferer and comforter, we are the fellowship of the broken.