Why Do I Insist on Suffering?
In the early hours of yesterday evening I found myself in Glasgow city centre having to collect two ridiculously heavy packages. These two bags, which would have been considered ‘ridiculously heavy’ at the best of times, not least after weeks of illness, became a symbol of all that I chose to carry now in life, in illness and in pain.
Despite the fact that I have experienced weeks of late stage cancer induced sickness and pain, that my weight has dropped significantly and that neither my health, stamina nor strength are anywhere near what they were just a few short, although seemingly long, weeks ago, I decided in my albeit stubborn wisdom that this was ‘a good idea’.
When collecting them the man noted the excessive weight and offered for me to drive my car to the door.
“No, no,” I said. “I can manage. It is just a short walk.”
The walk, by the way, on the best of days in full health and without said heavy packages is at least 10-15 minutes long.
As I turned to leave one of the bags broke. “Are you sure you don’t want to bring your car?” he asked again.
“No, no, I’ll be fine,” I said as he helped me move the items to another bag.
As I left, I had walked only a few meters when the new bag broke too. (These bags, by the way, we’re heavy duty fabric bags, not plastic bags…just to give you an idea of the weight…)
I now had two heavy bags, one with a broken handle, and a long walk ahead of me through a dark and stormy city.
Still I persisted, only now I was dragging one of the bags.
People passed. No one noticed. Or, if they did, they didn’t engage. “Avoid the person in struggle,” their darting eyes seemed to say.
A man walked passed with a dog off a lead. I was struck by their connection. This dog wondering through the city listening so obediently to his owner, his owner joyfully going about his evening.
He turned back towards me. “Would you like some help?”
“No, no,” I said. “I’m fine.” Both statements were a lie. I desperately wanted and needed help and I was far from fine. I was breathless, exhausted and suffering. Fortunately this kind stranger knew this better than I did myself.
“No, I realise that if I was struggling like you then I would want some help. Let me help you.”
“Ok, but just carry one of the bags to next corner.”
Why oh why was I so desperate not to be helped? Here was someone willing to help and here was me setting conditions on this help despite my desperate need for it, despite my suffering and despite the fact that it was clearly having a negative impact on my health and wellbeing in every sense of the word. You have lung metastases for fucks sake Fi, let the man help you when you can hardly breath!
Regardless, I only let his help be administered on my terms and only moments later he was dutifully placing the bag he’d carry on the corner I had instructed before disappearing into the night of the city with his dog following behind.
Not two steps later, having turned down a dark and isolated side street, did the other bag break.
Suddenly I found myself stranded, on a side street, away from the crowds and any possibility of help and with not one but two heaving bags now impossible to carry because I had sent my only offer of help away. What was wrong with me? What had I been thinking? Do I not preach kindness? Why had I not just let this dear sweet fellow human help me the whole way? Why had that acceptance of the offer of help been so impossible, so painful, to accept?
I could have cried, I wanted to cry. I felt weak and broken and desperate. But had I not put myself in this situation? Had I not declined the first offer of help, the anticipatory kindness of the first man who knew that this was too heavy a burden for me to carry alone. Had I not then sent the next offer of help away after dictating the terms I was willing to accept his help?
I did not cry, however. Instead I started to laugh, perhaps a little manically, but laughter is what flowed all the same. I placed one of my feet under each bag and I used my feet to half kick, half lift these heavy, handless bags down the street. The pain in my legs and arms was like needles. I felt knives stabbing into my chest. My abdomen felt like it was going to shatter like glass but still I persisted. Still I pushed on. Desperate. Isolated. Broken.
I passed people. Some looked and offered a sympathetic smile but none stopped. My struggle was palpable. Their smiles did not offer the comfort they had anticipated. Instead I felt this deep feeling of being seen in all of my suffering and being left to suffer. Is this not worse than not seeing that someone is suffering at all? Is it not worse to acknowledge someone’s suffering, to say in no uncertain terms, I see you and I see your pain and then to do nothing?
But don’t we do this all the time in life? Haven’t I done this? Don’t I still do this. Don’t I say to friends I see you, I hear you, I know you are struggling and then do nothing to help carry the load of their pain because I am struggling to carry my own? Do I not look at and acknowledge the bags of struggle and burden and worry and suffering that they carry and continue to watch them kick them down the street without offering to carry one of them, if only for a few steps, if only together to lighten the load for a moment so that they can catch their breath?
Suddenly I heard a voice. “Do you want some help?” A man was running towards me. Not waking. Not avoiding. He was running to help.
“Yes! Yes, please help me. Thank you so much!”
He lifted one of the bags and we walked the remaining 5-10 minutes to my car. Then, after offloading the bags he disappeared just as quickly as he had appeared. Vanishing into the wintery darkness of the city.
Why had it taken me to the point of complete desperation to accept help? Why had I not accepted help when it was first offered? Why had I not avoided the unnecessary, and yet blatantly obvious, anticipation of suffering.
I knew those bags were too heavy to carry even before the bags had broken and yet I had turned down the offer of moving my car. I knew that I needed help the whole journey when the first bag broke and yet I had turned down the help of someone carrying one of the bags for me the whole way. Only when it had reached the point of impossibility did I accept help. Only when I had become so desperate that I could hardly find the strength to take another step on my own did I accept help. Only at the point where I would have willingly left those packages on the street, surrendering them to the throws of the night rather than take another step in pain did I finally accept help.
Why must I burden myself with unnecessary suffering? Why must I refuse to let the love and support in? Why do I add to my burden in this way? Why do any of us? Why do we struggle on when we can say “excuse me, please can you help me carry this load, just for a few steps, I need help, I need to catch my breath, this has become too much for me, I am struggling, I know you have struggled too and I know you can see my pain, please carry my load with me, if just for a little while…”
But instead we persevere, instead I persevere, I battle on.
And worse still is the reflection of this notion of us seeing one another’s loads and not helping. Of acknowledging the pain and suffering of others but being so caught up in our own that we can’t carry another person’s burdens with them.
But what if we all just helped each other?
What if we all came together with our burdens and put them on a huge fucking trolley and pushed that fucker through the city streets together laughing and joking and jesting at the ease at which this trolley moves when we work together and not try to kick our bags of burdens down the streets on our own without the acceptance of help or love or support?
What would life be like then if I could look at another human and say “I know you are struggling, I am struggling too, shall we help each other carry our bags together? If only for a little while. If only for a few steps, so that we know we are not alone, so that we know we are supported, so that we know we are not only seen but we are also deeply cared for.”
Kindness is the greatest gift we have to give to the word. Being kind (and my ‘random acts of kindness’) have been my greatest teacher. But so too is the willingness to accept kindness. So too is the willingness to surrender to the need for love and support from our fellow humans.
In a world where we have the great permission to be anything and anyone we want, I chose to be the person who will run down the street to help someone but I also now chose to be the person who will gracefully accept that help when it is placed before me and know that it is a great act of love and compassion and not an indication that I am weak or that even if it is that this is not necessarily a bad thing because I deeply accept that struggle is a necessary part of the human experience and if I want to live a human life then this is what I asked for.
In ‘Eat Pray Love’ Liz Gilbert says to her friend (something along the lines of and I am sorry I am indeed paraphrasing because I do not have the text to hand…) ‘But do you feel my love? Do you feel me being there for you?’ and I wonder now, do the people in my life feel my love, my support, my wiliness to carry the load with them? Do they feel my love or do they see me seeing them in pain and not offering to carry the load because I am too scared that my offer will give them permission to help carry my load too and that notion terrifies me?
I am still reflecting but, meanwhile, I now know two things to be true.
Firstly, when in the depth of struggle, when I feel I can’t go on, when the burden is too much to carry alone I can chose to cry or I can chose to laugh.
And, secondly, there is no weakness in accepting kindness, love or support, there is only strength and connection.
That is what I want most from life just now. I deep willingness to let people in and a deep ability to go to others, to see them in their strength and vulnerability and to extend my hand and say, “let me take that bag for you, if only for a few steps until you get round this corner and, if you need it, I will carry the bag with you all the way home as we laugh and we joke and we look up at stars wondering why we would ever try to carry this load alone in the first place.”
With immense love and gratitude, Fi xx