It laughs me, this does. Here I am with a pulled muscle in my back for no good reason at all. I was not grabbing a ewe, or is it ‘an’ ewe, who planned to hurtle away from me with half her yet unborn lamb swinging like a water bomb from beneath her tail; I was not hefting half a tree from A to B; I was not saving someone from drowning. No. I just rose gently from the outside bench to move elsewhere. Elsewhere has a lot to answer for, let me tell you. That was five days back and still the muscle is playing games with my walking, my sleep and my patience. I mentioned it to someone. Twice. Two different Someones. I said, I tweaked a muscle in my back the other day. The other day being anywhere from two days ago to last month. Neither person asked me how. Instead they both, in their different ways, told me of their mishaps with muscles. I hurt my back too, said one, again, and smiled such a lovely smile I could almost see myself leading him centre stage. Oh? I said. and the polite woman in me invited more. He gave it, blow by blow and then he left. I stood, gobsmacked for as long as it took for the next frickin hail storm to hit, and then returned into my home with the full description of how I tweaked my own back still held behind my teeth. The second scenario went much the same. I got full description of how her particular muscle had let her down and how she couldn’t sleep and how painful it was and so on and on and on. Gobsmacked was I, once again. Neither of them have a scooby about which muscle is hurting me, nor of my sleeplessness, nor of my pain. This is what laughs me.
As I reflect on these encounters, I swing from fury to empathy, to understanding, to compassion. Perhaps a therapist might tell me this is the wrong order but they might just get a punch for saying so. When a person tells you, or me, of their pain, whether it be emotional, historical or muscular, there is, and I admit it, a desire to counter their story with a better one. Oh, let me tell you…..I know how your feel (no you don’t), because my mother’s late sister’s aunt had the same thing. What…..in 1948? Seriously? But, the polite woman in me will stand there, inviting more, feeling-compassion-fury and kindness. I won’t hold up my hand and confront. I am just not that person, even if I wish I sometimes was. And, let’s be honest, I have done this myself, this “I have a better story” thing. Where I wanted someone just to listen to my whole story, they could not and who could blame them because it would probably have gone like this:-
Well, so (two utterly unnecessary pre-responsive words) I was sitting on the outside bench (as if I had an inside one) drinking tea with my friend Sarah, no, not Sarah, it was Helen, yes Helen (who is Sarah?) and she had just brought me my birthday present of – oh such a lovely bag of gifts and so thoughtful. Well (unnecessary) there was herbal tea bags, dips, crackers, chocolate and flowers! No, wait, were there flowers…..? Oh I can’t remember. Anyway (unnecessary) where was I? Oh, yes, the bench and Helen. Well (!) we were sitting in the sunshine and it was warm (is sunshine ever cold?) and we were chatting about this and that and I just got up to go elsewhere for some reason I twisted at the same time and ping! that was it. The pain began and it hasn’t stopped no matter how much I tell it it is not helpful to me right now.
But nobody ever heard that. We just don’t listen. But I get it, I have done this myself. The impulse to counter and to win over another’s story is within us all. My pain is bigger than your pain. My dad is bigger than your dad. My life is tougher than yours is. It seems to be natural within us. How to change that is what I am loving learning. Noticing how my instant and thoughtless responses rise in me with such power as if they just know they are right, is intriguing. Makes me curious. These responses are from my brain and my brain is a computer and I am the pilot. I am in control. Easy as it may be to believe that what my brain tells me is the truth, I would be a fool to attend that class. No. I am one of those, expelled from school, expelled from college, sacked from my first job. I am a corridor walker. I move in between and initially it was not a conscious decision. I just knew I was not one of the mob, the shoal, the pack. It was, I admit, a very lonely place but with age and experiential learning I have come to celebrate the ones I meet in corridors. They look like lurkers to the pack, but not to me. Once I realised I needed guides to show me who I really am at my core, I found them. In books, mostly and I was hungry for them. They showed me how to notice, how to step back, how to allow, to stay quiet, to understand the human need for recognition and love. I won’t say it was a doddle because I fight it still, but it makes such sense to me that I cannot give up this path.
There are many broken people out there, me included, but I have learned to celebrate my brokenness and to turn it into flight and sight and light. To all of you who know what I am talking about……I’m waving.