The Wilder Life: March 2016
03/08/2016 08:25AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier
It’s Not Ok
By Amanda Jean Harris
It’s not OK. Sometimes it’s not OK. One of my favorite songs has a line that says, “It’s OK to not be OK. This is a safe place.”
I am divorced. It’s not something I thought I would ever say. And yet, it’s not something I regret. It just is. Wilder has a home with me. And one with his dad. It just is. It’s not easy. I don’t want to say it’s hard. And I don’t want to say, “it’s going to be OK.” People like to say that. A lot. Well-meaning people. People of faith. People with none. People who know you well. Those who don’t know you at all.
And Wilder has taught me it’s a terrible thing to say. And I’m stopping. I’ve stopped saying “It’s OK. It’s going to be OK.”
Because here’s the truth: Even if it’s true, It’s pretty much always the wrong thing to say to the person you feel compelled to say it to.
I thank Wilder for teaching me this. When he stubs his toe. When he smacks his funny bone. When he trips and falls and is not going to die or need to go to the ER or even really need a Band-Aid and is screaming as though he’s a Civil War soldier having a bullet removed with nothing but a leather strap to bite down on … I grab him and love on him and say this most offensive of things: “It’s OK. Baby, it’s OK! But, it’s OK. It’s alright. Momma is here. It’s OK!”
At some point in his little person language he screamed and cried and wailed back at me in most dramatic fashion: “Is not OK! It hurts so so sososososososo sooooooooo bad!”
(And there are tears and a lot of snot everywhere.)
I looked at his offended little tear-streaking face and realized I wasn’t helping. It took a few times of this happening before it clicked. And now I see myself and watch other people do it all the time.
“I lost my job.” It’s going to be OK. You’re so talented someone will snatch you up.
“The baby … I miscarried.” It’s going to be OK. At least you know you can probably get pregnant again.
“It’s cancer.” It’s going to be OK. They have so many treatments now.
And maybe it is going to be okay. Maybe there’s a better job. Maybe that friend can easily and healthfully get pregnant later. Maybe the cancer can be treated so easily and never return. But, you don’t know. And more importantly, they don’t know.
Right now, it’s not OK. It doesn’t feel OK. And you watching their pain and denying it’s depth with a Band-Aid when they may feel like they need an organ transplant doesn’t help.
When I would tell people I was getting a divorce or was divorced the responses ran the gamut.
But, some of the most offensive ones were “it’s OK.” No one who has been divorced said that to me. They usually did the thing where they looked at you with the knowing look and said, “I’ve been there.” They maybe said they were sorry and they moved past it after acknowledging it.
And that’s, I think, the right thing to do.
Pain makes us uncomfortable. When we’re in it, to be sure. But, to see other people in pain? We don’t like it. (If you do, you should seek professional help.) We want to fix it. We want it to go away. We want it to be OK.
Loving people well doesn’t mean saying the perfect thing. It means being there. And making it clear that you are, in fact, there. Whether you’re there for the conversation or for the long haul. You are present. And that’s what people want. To do this thing that’s not OK with someone else. (Especially those who act like they don’t want someone else to do it with them.)
And so now when Wilder falls and when he fails and when the WORLD IS GOING TO END. I grab him and I hug him and I say this: “I know it hurts! Oh, my how it hurts! I can just imagine how it must hurt. I love you and I am here. I am right here. And now what can we do?”
It works for adults, as well. I would suggest not grabbing them and smashing their face against yours. But, a firm hug is often warranted at a time like this. Imagine how it would feel if the next time your friend said, “I think my marriage is over.” Or “I think my daughter needs to go to rehab.” Or “I got passed over for that promotion. Again.” What if we said this: “I know that hurts. I don’t know what that feels like. But, I am here. Right here. Tell me what I can do? I love you. I am here.”
It feels like you’re doing far less — you’re not solving grand problems and you’re not putting on a Band-Aid (or silver lining it). You’re not giving them hope that it will all work out. But, most people don’t need those things. They need to be heard. Not fixed. And if they do need fixing … they always and above all must first be heard.
Sometimes we just need to know it’s OK that we aren’t OK.