We are all experiencing pain of one type or another during most of the days of our lives. This includes the physical aches or irritations and emotional or psychological pain. As a recipient of both, I often ponder methods of dealing with pain. At the same time, I attempt to identify strategies for helping with the agony of others.
Sadly, the older we become, the more difficult it is to alleviate those things that distress us. In the classroom, a cartoon-covered bandaid will magically eradicate tears and tenderness. But for the girl who is suddenly despondent because she hasn’t seen her brother in two years, the solutions are much more elusive.
One of my fiercest determinations is not to discuss any pain from which I am suffering. This includes physical and emotional burdens, large or small. There are two main reasons for this decision. The first is that talking about pain rarely alleviates it. Secondly, I know that many people share my sadness at discovering that someone they love is suffering. Put most concisely, why cause someone to feel sorrow because of my condition?
On the very bright side, I have discovered along my life’s path that asking others to relate their pain or unhappiness often brings them a form of relief. While telling me about your ache may not make the hurt go away, there is some sort of comfort associated with knowing that someone else cares. When one of my students reports a headache or stomach distress, I always say that I am sorry. They frequently look at me quizzically, asking why I’m sorry. My response is always that I am sorry that they are hurting.
Does this constitute hypocrisy that I don’t share my pain but I ask others to do so? I don’t think so. My pain is such that it will not go away. As a result, sharing it would be a daily event, difficult for all involved.
My conclusion is that empathy or sympathy are powerful resources when sincerely launched. Perhaps, if I tell you that I am so very sorry for your loss, that loss may be reduced, if only minutely. Trying to make major changes in the universe is much too large a task to undertake. But if I can let you know that I care about your distress, both of us will feel a bit enriched. Shalom.