It’s referred to as compassion overload.
Sad to say but there are times in my life when it feels like we’re so caught up in just hanging on by our fingertips – while so many dear friends are also locked in deadly combat with Life- that individual tragedies are no longer quite so upsetting. In the words of my foreman at Swanson River: “When you are up to you’re a** in alligators it is hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp”
I wish I’d have ignored some of those alligators when I recently found out Janice Young had passed away.
I had called another friend to check on Jan’s phone number only to find that she had passed away almost a year ago. I carried on with the conversation, sharing a memory or two then rang off and:
- finished my lesson plan for the next day’s class at the college
- checked back on the crew scheduled to remove a fallen tree
- paid some bills on-line
… then collapsed into my chair and broke down completely.
Jan was gone.
It was the winter of 1975 when I first Jan and her family while I was serving as a missionary in Skowhegan Maine. Her husband Dale had recently retired from the Navy and friendship developed as I talked with him about his career – I was forever looking to connect with sailors that may have served with my own father during his 20 years afloat. As I would visit there were times when Jan wouldn’t move from her chair or her hands would be wrapped, actions that I first took to be unique measures to fight the legendary Down East winter temperature but later learned were therapeutic measures in her battle against the pain and limitations of advanced arthritis.
I also learned that Jan was smart. She had a highly developed insight into human behavior and consequences more commonly found in elderly people with a long lifetime of experience and knowledge to drawn upon. More than once I found myself on the phone seeking her guidance after a “people problem” had blown up in my face.
My time in Skowhegan came to an end much too quickly but thankfully my friendship with Janice and her family stayed on. Despite too many years, too few visits and too few telephone conversations Jan and her family stayed in my life. I came to especially treasure those occasional phone calls that Janice insisted were for her benefit but were in fact my own pleas for help when once again I was drowning in a sea of human chaos and complexity.
…and now the phone calls are over.
There are too few “Jan’s” in my life now – people that maintain a measure of kindness and sanity around them. Instead I am surrounded by bubble wrap, albeit a verbal variety of bubble wrap that emotionally insulates and does little other than clutter up my life in the same way that the tangible polyethylene version clutters up my studio after I’ve opened a package.
- “C’mon, nothing can hurt that bad”
- “Are you sure this isn’t a subconscious ploy to get meds?”
- “When the going gets tough the tough get going”
- “If you really wanted to get better you’d try to have more faith
- “Good people don’t use pain medication”
Empty useless prattle as useless as the other plastic stuff is after my grandson Jayden has popped all the bubbles. Thoughtless words that emotionally fester in my isolation just as a splinter can fester in a finger if left unremoved.
Eliminating those toxic comments can be as difficult as disposing of or recycling the aforementioned polyethylene packing material. I am left to find relief in doing my best to not make those same kinds of thoughtless comments, but rather to have kind words for those around me who are fighting their own battles.
…just like Jan did.