Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Name Is Jo, But You Can Call Me Job

A few years ago, my children and I were the "last straw" in someone else's life. This friend had endured a series of calamities in her family and we arrived with ours at precisely the wrong moment. Circumstances were such that we had no choice but to depend upon her for help and she bore the imposition with gritted teeth and a sighing, heroic, martyr’s air: a peculiar combination of resignation and accusation. It’s not easy being someone else’s personal cross.

At the time, I was angered by the unfairness: could we help it if we were sick and far from home? We hadn’t planned it this way. I remember feeling hurt and insulted by the obvious implication that we were just another terrible thing happening to her, rather than people suffering a misfortune all our own.

Now I have more sympathy. For the past six months, my family has endured a sea of troubles that seem to have been sent our way on purpose - all neatly wrapped up with bows, ribbons and tags with our names engraved upon them. A stroke, four bouts of pneumonia, a broken foot, a broken back, a broken pelvis, viral fever, two rounds of eye surgery, a seizure disorder, even two deaths (both under heartbreaking circumstances).

I say that my family has endured these trials, but what I really mean is that I have. Each illness, every crisis has felt like one more awful thing happening to me; one more catastrophe for me to wade through, one more test of my ability to face adversity.

Forget that none of these problems has caused me any physical pain. That I have not financed any of the recovery plans. That the major impact on me has only been a sense of sadness, more work and more needing to orchestrate contingency plans. It doesn’t matter. I feel like Job. I sigh deeply and frequently.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there is no such thing as Job, at least not the one we all know or imagine: the lonely servant, the just man who was still punished by God, the stoic saint who suffered grievously and alone.

Because in fact,  we never really suffer alone. All that happened to Job - and his afflictions were many and horrific - happened to others right along with him. If he lost his children, his wife did too. If he lost his fortune, his employees lost their jobs. If he was covered in horrible boils and painful ulcers, someone had to look after him in his agony.

Misery doesn’t actually love company. Misery wants the limelight. Misery wants to be the one and only, the one worthy of pity, the one to be sympathized with and marveled at: How do you do it? we want people to ask. You are amazing, we want them to say. I could never do what you do.

So to not be miserable - I’ve just learned this! I have to share it! - company is crucial. Company is key. We need to share the burden and we need to see that the burden was never ours alone in the first place. “Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” is not pious and poetic instruction - it is the truth.

Being human means sharing in the human condition. It means that what happens to one happens to us all. At some times (as in my house for the last six months) it’s more apparent than at others, but that’s just the way things go.

I believe that the more open we are to others, the more likely it is that we will suffer. But the opposite is just as true: that the more open we are, the more we will make a space for joy to infiltrate our lives and the more others will reach out to us in support and friendship and - sometimes - miraculous rescue.

It happened to me today. A man I love was floundering in despair and anguish. Another man - a gifted and caring psychiatrist - just happened to be in town. I was able to bring the two together. Why else are we here on this earth?


chicu said...

big hugs, jo

Glenbrookemama said...

Jo, first of all, my heart goes out to you... I hope better times lie ahead. Second, I thank you for bundling so much truth, about such difficult mysteries, into something that offers hope and strength...

Entropy said...


No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.


Mamta said...

Wow...and you were so welcoming and encouraging when you were going through a tough time...thank you!
You really put things beautifully into perspective..:)