Someone told me a sad story. And I can't shake it off. Her face appears in my mind, unbidden, and I see the pain etched there. She's barely holding it in. She's barely getting through the days. She has marinated in hurt, it's seeped into her eyes, the tone of her voice is tinged around the edge, even her feet have no spring when she walks.
For four or five minutes after she told me, I sit quiet. My mind has to unfold several times to be large enough to understand what she has told me. What happened to her is so big, so horrible, so unsurvivable that I've never even conceived it. Finally when I grasp what she says, I can't feel empathy for her - a pain that intense is terrifying even from a distance. "I'd get burned, I'd not manage," I tell myself and then refuse, absolutely refuse, to feel more.
Someone told me a sad story. And I can't shake it off. I woke last night, over and over again, with the images that her words made forming in my dreams. I became fearful of sleep. "It didn't happen to me, it didn't happen to me, it didn't happen to me," a mantra in the night to keep back fear. I picture the moment she came to speak to me, I could tell that she was carrying a burden, she shared it with me to validate what I was saying. To let me know that what I was teaching was real, to keep it up. She was telling me because I think she thought that I would be in the unique position of fully understanding the horror of her situation.
I'm still shaken.
All I could say to her was, "Are you alright?" A silly question, an impossible question. But even though I didn't know her, I wanted her to lie to me, to tell me that she was managing. She said that she was getting by. And then I said, "That shouldn't have happened to you." I could see something much like gratitude in her eyes. She knew I meant it, she knew that I wished that it hadn't happened and even though my wish had no power it had, at least, authenticity.
The only thing I could give her was a moment to listen and a wish that she had been spared. And now I am carrying a wee bit of her pain. I pray it makes her burden lighter - even for a moment or two.
Someone told me a sad story.
And I can't tell you, it's a unique story, a story that would identify her, and I won't expose her. I'm only hoping that she's reading this and knowing, that I get it, that understanding has seeped it. Because sometimes it helps to know that you aren't crazy, that you have a right to howl in the night, that the it's possible to hurt but not bleed.
Last night, in particular, I was with you.
I hope you felt less alone.