I think each person has a fault line. A crack-line under the skin. Maybe you remember the day it appeared to you, and it became visible to others. Perhaps it shows itself after an unexpected event. Like a death. Or a diagnosis, for example.
I observe your eyes glossing over when I try to explain the medical terms. It’s an attempt not so much to explain the facts, but to implore you not to walk away and slip out silently.
I’ve adopted a new vocabulary recently, to make sense of some microbes that wreak havoc on our lives, that destroy the intricate organs wrought in secret before we were born. An attacker is on the loose and it invaded the body of someone very close to me. If I had known, if something could have been done, I would have been ready with a sword to fight.
I know you feel sympathy, but perhaps do not know what to say. It’s easier to resort to platitudes, which quite frankly, now make me want to run. Getting angry would be taking it out on the wrong person, so I would nod and listen, but now I try to avoid these conversations. You mean well, you have good intentions. But it’s the collective group of you, of us, the Church.
We absorbed these platitudes organically, through some sort of osmosis. By-attending-church-for-many-years-and-speaking-Christianese for so long, we didn’t realize how foreign it sounded to even those among us.
We conform to a Sunday language and automatically offer platitudes perhaps because we think these conform to the idea of “words we feel we must say to sound Christian” and “that will solve everything”, including the grief of a brother or sister at this very moment.
I hear the words of sympathy and the platitudes and nod my head. It is not that I do not believe you.
One day, a friend who claimed she truly cared actually told me she did not have time to call.
So you must forgive me if now I carry an imaginary Richter scale under my skin. It appeared a number of years ago, when the platitudes unveiled themselves to be nothing but a bit of chaff. I feel the scale shivering and rumbling when I happen to run into you, and you ask for an update.
I have spent hours writing and sharing the narrative of this illness for numerous doctors. I have spent late nights reading whatever I could find to read. I see this dear one and witness firsthand a different kind of destruction that cannot be seen by looking on the outside. I know the details, but I do not know how to respond to You without eliciting another robotic platitude.
My mind quickly tries to think about a summary, about how to present the story to you: I decide to share the facts with no distracting emotion.
I know you want to hear something positive.
So do I.
And if it isn’t positive, I fear the platitude launching mechanism is ready to fire.
Despite the risk, I do not sugarcoat the answer. With each well-intentioned question, I attempt to share the truth of a destruction I’m trying to name and to understand.
My answer may be baffling, because I am not simply saying, “It’s all fine.” I allow the fault lines to become visible to you. Is it too much of a stretch to say I can believe there is an ultimate good, but that this circumstance, this illness, does not feel particularly good?
I sink deeper into research. I’m yearning for a revelation, for a crystal clear river of truth to cut its way through the mountainous, sharp sides of disease, for a forceful wind to push me in a certain direction. But it’s a hodgepodge of a map, a maze of lines and circuitous routes, with me at the beginning, and a cure somewhere outside of the tangles. No one knows the way out of this labyrinth.
I sink to my knees. I often don’t have any words left. Except four-letter ones. And other four-letter ones, like “help” or “show”.
I desire a harvest. Of many kinds. Of words, of healing, of understanding.
I stand on all those lines of wanting.
When an earthquake comes, I do not want you to be running from me, and I do not want to be running away from you.
Maybe the better way is the silent way; maybe the best we can do is stand together, bearing the tremors together, silent and crying.
Prasanta Verma is a writer and poet. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills in the south, she now lives in the Midwest. Prasanta is a regular contributor at The Contemplative Writer and has been published at (in)courage, Perennial Gen, Relief Journal, Barren Magazine, Exhale Journal, The Redbud Post, and more. Connect with her on Twitter @pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer or her site https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/