I see you

28 02 2013

I’ve been told countless times how strong I am.

It is universally meant as a compliment.  I think.

There are reasons I no longer tell anyone how strong they are.  The times when you’d say that are the times when that person is struggling, when they doubt their ability to keep the many balls in the air.  Or more likely, they’re pretty certain that some of the balls are going to hit the floor here pretty soon, and they’re trying to decide which ones to sacrifice.  Or the balls have already hit the floor and they’re standing in the shattered mess that they couldn’t stop.

Strong is as strong does.  And strong does as strong has to.

I once told a friend in college how strong she was, thinking that I was being comforting and supportive.  As the tears flowed down her face, she told me she was strong because she had to be, because there wasn’t a choice.  I heard her, but I didn’t understand her until my father died my junior year.  I missed a week of classes and then went right back to it like nothing had changed.  Because I had to.  I heard an awful lot about how strong I was being through all of it. It wasn’t some kind of choice I made.  I did what had to be done.  I don’t know if it was good or bad.  It just was.  You learn some skills that way – you learn that denial is actually a decent coping mechanism in the short term.  You learn that it’s less decent long term.

I don’t tell anyone how strong they are any more.  At least not in the diffuse “You’re such a strong person” way.  Now I’ll tell them how brave they were in a frightening situation, how long they held up under grinding stress, how much grace they’ve shown in awful situations.  I tell them so that they know someone sees them.  Notices them.  Witnesses their struggle, is moved by it, learns from it.

No more for me the generic “You’re so strong.”  No more of the message that says I don’t have to care about your struggle because you’re strong and you’ll manage.  That I don’t have to face your tears because you’re strong and they’ll pass.  That I don’t have to exist with your pain, your fear, your vulnerability.  That I don’t have to actually see all of you.

I see you.
I see your pain and it hurts me.
I am so sorry.
I’ll stay here with you if you want.
I don’t know what you need, but I am here.
I see you.
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