Thursday, June 03, 2010

Perspective 4: Your Blues Ain't Like Mine

**With apologies to Bebe Moore Campbell, who is heartbreaking and brilliant.

Ed looked up from his salad and stammered.

"I...well, I almost feel embarrassed even talking about this. I mean, compared to what you've been through, this seems really trivial, but..."

I can't tell you how many times over the last six months friends and acquaintances have started conversations this way. Not a single tragedy is described, except as preceded by the caveat that the story I was about to hear could not, in any way, begin to compare with the pain I've experienced in losing my little girl.

And in some ways, it's true. In my experience, there is very little any of them can describe that can be as heartbreaking...for me. But just because my experience has been tragic and awful, doesn't mean that they don't have legitimate heartaches, setbacks and disappointments.

"Ed, your problems are real. Don't discount them because they're different from my problems."

"But you've been though the worst thing that can possibly happen."

"Ed", I said, "I'll tell you something. Three weeks after Kiersten died, my mom told me a story about her co-worker. Her 20-year-old son was a heroin addict. After the third time he dropped out of the rehab center, he hung himself off the backyard swing set. I don't know; given a choice, losing a happy, innocent child instantly doesn't sound so bad."

I wasn't trying to be flippant. We each live our own experiences; we each define pain based on those experiences. I can see how much my friends are devastated by divorces, job changes, lost homes, illnesses. They are overwhelmed by the gulf oil spill, or local drilling for natural gas, or illegal dumping of waste.

For each of them, this pain is real. My personal loss doesn't lessen that for any of them. Likewise, knowing that my mom's co-worker suffered a more difficult loss than I did doesn't at all diminish what I have gone through over the last six months. I won't miss my daughter any less because she lost her son so terribly.

Some of us will gain perspective at one level, some at another. But we cannot pretend to judge the experiences of another based on our own joys and heartaches. If you've never lost an arm, that paper cut can hurt pretty bad. If you've never lost a spouse, the breakup of a 6-month relationship can feel like the end of the world. And we cannot diminish our own pain because it is different from that of another. There will always be someone worse off. There will always be a story of another that takes our breath away.

As humans, we need to treat each other, and ourselves, with compassion.

So Ed, and the rest of you. Don't apologize. Your blues ain't like mine. But they're still your blues.