When my children are adults, when the sippy cups and night nappies are long gone, when the back seat of my car is not a hiding place for Barbeque Shapes and a breeding ground for hair ties, when I am no longer enduring the torturous melodies of ABC4Kids, I hope I can reflect on my parenting and high five my fine self (whilst admiring my surgically refurbished boobs and stroking the handsomely aging face of my husband, Chris Hemsworth). I hope my children grow to be happy adults who know the value of community, and who aren’t afraid to learn about themselves in the scary-deep way. But mostly, my desperate hope for my children is that they have empathy for others.
In this world of instant gratification and superficial online contact (which we actually call social media – rant for another day), we are becoming increasingly isolated from each other and insular in our thoughts, and even conversations. I have been blessed with incredible friendships with wonderful men and women who inspire, comfort, challenge and save me regularly, but more and more I hear judgmental malarkey that is beginning to fire me up.
We all live with some damage. Sometimes it’s the burdens of previous relationships, a perpetual ache for people we miss, or a dark cloud we wear from the things we’ve experienced. It’s inevitable, and while some of this damage actually helps us to be super awesomesauce peeps who smash life in the face with our sheer brilliance, sometimes these moments change us forever, and not always in a good way.
Surviving Bazz’s illness and death have damaged me. And while I’m still in the healing phase, I expect that I will always be scarred. And I’m ok with that, scars are the least he deserves. There are some things that will sting less over time, but I know I will never be the same me as I was before. I couldn’t possibly be.
I remember, with blinding clarity, the gush of freezing cold air as the morgue door opened when I chaperoned Bazz to his temporary resting place. Icy fingers of air snaked their way up my legs, threatening to shatter my limbs into a million pieces of brokenness onto the floor. I was so sure I couldn’t leave him there at that place. It was so cold. The memory of it literally chills me at times. Sometimes it’s a jolting flashback other times it’s a gust of wind that slides up under my dress exactly the way it did that night, and all of a sudden I’m overwhelmed with sensory input and I can virtually see his wrapped body in front of me. I am off with the pixies in those moments, I am incapable of giving a shit about you in those moments. In those moments, I am using all my energy to keep myself upright. I know I will get better at this, or, maybe I won’t and some of these left over feels will remind me for the rest of my life just how bad it sucked and ignite my empathy forever. But in that moment, the damage I live with, the stuff that usually gets kept inside leaks out, and I might not see you wave at me, or I might walk right by you, or I might not reply to your message. You might think I’m rude or hard to read or too much work, but in those moments, be kind to me, because I’m doing my best. And I am living with damage.
You know that woman who pulled out in front of you today, the one you rolled your eyes at, well she had just had a call that her dad had a stroke, she was on the way to the hospital. I bet if you knew that you would have slowed down to let her in. She didn’t mean to be so forthright. Be kind to her, she is living with damage.
Remember that man at the supermarket, the really rude one who pushed passed you and barely bothered to acknowledge you? He was a solider in Vietnam, his best friend and two of his brothers were killed, one right in front of him by a 16 year old boy who shook like a leaf. Sometimes he is overwhelmed with the crushing memory of it all, in those moments you don’t even exist and he didn’t mean to be rude. Be kind to him, he is living with damage.
Oh, and that teenager at the café, the one who spilt your coffee and over-charged you? She’s not incompetent, her uncle has been sexually abusing her since she was three and she is drowning in fear and shame. I bet if you knew that you’d smile at her and tell her she did great. Be kind to her, she is living with damage.
And that mum at the park who barely looked up from her phone for an hour while her kids ran ragged and called her name eleventy billion times, and drove all the other parents nuts. She is in severe financial hardship and is about to lose her house. She just needs to work a few things out while the kids are occupied. She is so scared. I reckon you would have pushed her kids on the swings if you had’ve known how much she needed a little bit of help. Be kind to her, she is living with damage.
You get my point (and for the record I’ve used extreme examples). Living with damage isn’t a free ticket to be an asshole, it’s just that, well, you have no idea what kind of damage someone is living with, and in 99 cases out of 100, no one has intended to inflict their damage onto you. In fact, I’m betting that if my fictional characters are anything like me, they would much rather that their damage was an invisible cloak rather than a noticeable shadow they cast. They would much rather their damage didn’t exist at all.
We all have damage. The regret of a past decision. The eternal ache of a miscarriage. The burden of an alcoholic parent. The breathtaking helplessness of a very ill child. An abusive partner. Unemployment. Financial distress. Failed business. Unrealised dreams. Broken nail. Parking ticket. No milk for your coffee. Hole in your tights. Chris Hemsworth taking out a restraining order on you. It doesn’t matter what the damage is, and it’s not for us to judge if another’s damage is epic or trivial, it’s all relative, it all adds up. It’s all damage that we live with.
Bazz used to say I wore rose coloured glasses, permanently. While I’ll admit that my position on the cynicism scale has risen somewhat since he got sick, for the most part he’s still right. I’m not the only widow in the world, I’m not the only single mum in the world, I’m hardly unique on the sorrow register, plenty of others have had far more epic lives than I have, but I do live with the damage of so much more than just the death of my husband, and so does everyone else.
Can’t we just be kind? Isn’t it easier to just be kind? Can’t we all just default to assuming that people are worthy and deserving of our kindness? We could change the world with kindness! Empathy is the new black, please believe this. Doing something nice for someone and posting on Facebook with #randomactofkindess doesn’t count. Don’t make kindness random, make it deliberate, make it glorious and wonderful and sit in silence with the buzzing peace it gives you to know that you did something good, just because you could.
It hurts, every day on some level, it hurts to have watched my husband die. They say grief is finding ways to include your lost person into your life in a new way, rather than learning to live without them. Small difference. But when my children are grown and no longer make me pick the sultanas out of their raisin toast (#wtf), their kindness and empathy will be the beacon of shining evidence that makes me believe that damage is okay, it’s even necessary, and the things we have experienced actually can add up to something beautiful.