“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.” Robert Brault
On the occasion of learning of another person’s misfortune, it is curious that the same sad words always seem to be what people use to those afflicted. It is not necessarily the words that appear fraught with redundancy but the feeling that one must, by virtue of the fact that the luckless individual in distress is known to them, say something of comfort. There are, regrettably, only so many ways to express an opinion or thought.
The limits on rhetoric are few to the adept wordologist, or, only regulated within the restrictions one puts on the need to be informed. It is a reality that the artful discipline of ignorance where it comes to the use of expressive terminology is, most assuredly one of choice rather than unawareness, inexperience, or illiteracy. WE, as a modern nation of some 300,000, have abandoned the written word for the ease and comfort of the visual image.
This in and of itself is not necessarily the harbinger of devastation and destruction for our reality, but only the sorrowful actuality we find ourselves in. Yes, there are vast numbers of citizens who read avidly, fed by those tireless scribes who provide the fodder that is the intellectual stimulation for these masses of bibliophiles. Unfortunately there is little in the way of soft words to ease the pain of misfortune. We have delegated that duty to the Hallmark Card Company.
Admittedly, it is a tough row to hoe when confronted with the unreasonableness of death, disease, or dire circumstances. What is there really to say? “Sorry for your loss”, “Whatever I can do…” or perhaps the standard “We’ll be praying for you,” all standard and seemingly necessary statements that have little or no effect on the outcome of any ominous occurrence.
It is a frightful truth that bad things happen and do so at what seems like the speed of light. If but the pleasant in life were to outweigh the grave, there would be little reason for the page currently in front of the reader. The author has the experience of both the benign and the malignant within recent history. As such, the platitudes presented for consideration were many and heartfelt. What seemed to be lacking was true action to relieve the burden. What if that served as the focus? Instead of clichés, and inanities, perhaps the action most fulfilling would be to see to some part of the aggrieved individual’s life that has been neglected in the face of more pressing concerns. Walk the dog, water the flowerbed, or mow the lawn, maybe pick the kids up from school are all acceptable methods of expressing concern that would not leave an empty, useless feeling.
Chief amongst the perpetrators of ill will within one’s self where it comes to unfortunate incident must assuredly be the hospital visit. Pragmatically there is little use in visiting someone in the hospital unless their presence is voluntary. Plastic Surgery to better enhance one’s image, or some similar and unnecessary procedure where the outcome will, hopefully, be positive is not too injurious. Walking into the room of a terminal patient who has not requested your presence can be depressing and devastating. What is there truly to say to someone facing the Ultimate Circumstance? Our knowledge of the afterlife, if there is an afterlife is woefully limited and without having faced a similar situation it is impossible to display any level of empathy, sympathy, or identification, leaving empty air in the room filled with “Sorry for your loss”, “Whatever I can do…” or “We’ll be praying for you.” What happens when the individual in the hospital bed does not believe in a Divine Being, or prayer? What if they have made ready the end of their lives and have no need for anyone to do anything? How can you feel sorry for someone who has not yet lost the thing that you are about to regret?
So why even worry about the vagaries of social convention where it comes to expressing distress over the tribulations of others? It might be the powerlessness one feels when confronted with the tragic or ruinous realities of life. In truth, everyone seeks the easier, softer path to life, and the crooked road going up a mountain might just prove to be optimal. Life is most assuredly about the learning of lessons and the route taken towards enlightenment is as important as the attainment of said contentment. Along the way, we have to face adversity and the method in which we confront the beast matters much more then reaching the destination. The ends never justify the means.
Having said that and, hopefully meaning it, where does that leave one who still faces the conundrum of comforting the forlorn? Sadly back at the very beginning. The platitudes, “Sorry for your loss”, “Whatever I can do…” or “We’ll be praying for you” are all we have. Until we can get those dreary axioms out, there is little left to do. Once having spoken these adages, though, we have the opportunity to put these same watchwords to some use. Now, one has the opportunity to actually answer the “What can I do” question with some action. Real sorrow can be expressed in appropriate ways such as displaying affection and concern that are more than just the statement of the obvious and done so by sitting with the person, or relieving them to go and take care of personal business being neglected due to the situation. One can actually go and pray real prayers that involve physical effort such as going to church and starting a prayer chain, or arranging a priest or minister to visit the distressed. And sometimes it might mean that you leave the aggrieved alone to work out, on their own, what they must do.