Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Little Perspective

Earlier this week I stumbled through a video of Chinese orphans answering questions about adoption and what they hoped for in a family, if they ever get one. Later that day, I cried through a homemade video of a dad talking to his three young babies who had just passed away that morning. The internet is awful in a lot of ways, but you know what I've finally realized? It IS good for a little perspective.

We live in an overly dramatic and self-centered culture. One night of watching reality television illustrates only too well the art of overreaction, self-pity, and self-focus that we are being cultivated to understand as the normal, default way of functioning today. Look at my problems. Listen to what so-and-so had the nerve to say to me. It's all about me, after all. Let me be as nasty as I want to be without repercussions.

For years, my knee-jerk reaction to any tendency toward the dramatic was stoicism. Don't tell, even if asked. Smile when it hurts. Be thankful in all things. Never let 'em see you cry or, better yet, don't cry at all. The biggest insult I could have ever received would have been to be termed a "drama queen." Call me nerd, dork, whatever. (And, to be quite honest, many people did.) But as long as I was emotionally in control, I was golden. Responsible. Dependable. Solid.

These last five years have made me seriously doubt the merits of this particular overcompensation. I have delved into the world of counseling, I have used my "feelings" worksheet and attempted to articulate when things have been hard and when they've been good. I have had my own dramatic moments, where it felt too hard to hope anymore or too painful to understand what greater good might have been going on or bigger perspective there was to be gained.

A friend of mine shared a startling statistic: a high percentage of people dealing with infertility are encumbered by the same levels of depression as very ill cancer patients. This seemed crazy to me. I have never had cancer nor even been close to someone who has but have had dear friends lose parents to this horrible disease. I found the comparison terrifying and freeing all at once. Its normal to be sad, even depressed over this at times. This, too, is loss in our lives that needs grieving.

At the same time, that part of me who shies away from the emotional clings to the need for perspective here. Confession time: on my darkest days of frustration I will watch Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan or some documentary on human slavery or poverty or adpotion that significantly widens my scope of human suffering. I need to. A friend recently told me she thinks it's fine that I do that but that it's ok to be sad, too. Not to diminish my own pain. And she's right. 

The thing is that sadness without perspective tends to lead me, at least, to self-pity. I don't watch those movies or online videos to erase my pain but to remind myself that in the grand scheme of life pain is everywhere. And yes, much of it is far more intolerable or unbelievable than anything I've had to endure in my incredibly privileged life. Keeping perspective helps prevents the sadness form insulating my world, makes my lens to those around me clear so I can see their pain, too, and reminds me that justice is actually an anomaly in today's world. That the forces of evil and brokennness are hungrily at work, snatching away babies, dreams, freedom and hope from people all over the globe. That my story is not singled out in an otherwise perfect world. This may seem obvious. But in a culture that tells me that it's ok to focus on myself all the time, I need this reminder. It enables me to keep on with much more humility, grace and hope than I would otherwise muster on my own. Maybe to some this reminder would cause despair or hopelessness, but the idea that I am a part of a humanity that is searching for hope in the midst of pain makes me deeply grateful for those beautiful moments of justice, the many gifts I have been given in this life, those days when hope is ever-present and birds are singing and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that no matter how my story ends, I am not alone in it.

That, my friends, is perspective. None of this is about me, after all. Any suffering of my own is a drop in a much larger bucket. Any tendency to want to have a Jersey Shore kind of day and blame my problems on someone else is just a fruitless, selfish endeavor.

Suffering with perspective allows me to enter into the suffering of Jesus himself and further understand what he has done for me, into the suffering of friends and family and love them better, to not be indifferent to the suffering of the world. It teaches me what not to say to someone in times of grief and that, in fact, there is very little that needs to be said at all that can possibly be more meaningful than mourning quietly alongside someone. It shows me that the power of transparency and honesty is about a lot more than self-revelation and inner peace, that it's about giving others' suffering a voice and a space to grieve, too.

This morning I watched a video of a woman who was about to have a double mastectomy holding a dance party in the OR. I don't know her. I don't know what transformed a situation that was probably full of solemnity, fear and anger into a moment of audacious hope and laughter. This was a sweet and painful moment of perspective for me.

For today, a woman chose to dance in the face of suffering. And so I am going to get off my computer and turn on a little Michael Jackson and have myself a dance party, too. I am going to laugh and cry and keep hoping. Life is short, after all. I'd rather be dancing than sighing.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. It's such a balance between letting yourself feel the fullness of the sad emotions while keeping things in perspective and continuing to hope. And for the record, for the past few weeks, the Eddins house has been enjoying some dance parties to Thriller. LOVE it! :-)