'This is not fun,' I thought. But we kept walking because we had no choice. As we wound through the meadows and blackened trees, I remember I stopped hearing what Carl was talking to me about and had a distinct glow of gratitude. Not gratitude for nature, or for family vacations, but gratitude because Carl was allowing me to be strong. He had just spent weeks in the Nevada mountains literally climbing up and down mountains gathering rock samples for his research. He is a good hiker, and full of stamina. I don't know if it was a conscious decision he made to let me carry Remy in the heat, or even if it was something I insisted on, (which is more likely the case), but either way, Carl did not object to, nor interfere with my sacred moment of both suffering and total joy at doing something hard by taking Remy from me.
I didn't mention the moment then, and I don't know that I have since, but I think about it often. It has become a useful metaphor for me. I remember in that moment having access to greater empathy and understanding of people I had previously not. It was brief, and still incomparable, but real for me. If you know me, you know that I mention pioneer women often, because I think about them at least a few times a week. How did pregnant women walk across the plains?! with other children!? lots of other children!? without toothpaste?! or good shoes?! etc....it blows my mind, and then I usually conclude that I either feel terrible for them and/or I would never be able to do something like that myself.
In that moment on our hot, dusty hike though, I did have a small glimpse of what they might have felt, or what all sufferers might feel in some way. Hard things are hard, and not fun, but they connect us to each other, and to ourselves. Terryl Givens says, "There is solace in the solidarity of the desolate." The hot hike liberated my sense of belonging and built my confidence so that I felt I might have greater capacity to connect to people i want to understand and love. I am grateful that Carl believed in my ability to be strong.
Relative to 98% of the world, I know so little about suffering, and so I don't want to downplay or make light of what it is for other individuals, but I do know that in my own minute bouts of suffering, I am not left to simply suffer for very long. I find the weight of suffering to be woven with rich threads of the sacred.
I once hurt a friend by my actions, and not just a friend, but a very close friend, probably the closest friend I've ever had. I hurt her in a way that she didn't want to talk to me or see me, and yet, I felt this intense need to fix things, to mend her myself. I spent a lot of time praying about what I should do, and each time I felt so strongly that she was taken care of and that it wasn't my place to take away the sacredness of her personal strife. I sensed that although maybe I could have found a way to fix things in a jiffy, I would be robbing her of something far more important by doing so. I would have robbed her of the opportunity to become stronger. And the same went for me. It was a terrible, crushing time for me. I lived with a knot in my stomach. I literally thought I would be crushed under the weight of a new life in the which things would not be the same as they were before. But I did live through it, and I recognize distinct ways in which I am a better person for having been allowed to suffer as well. I don't think this is the right response in every situation, but I've learned over the years that not all difficulty is bad, some is, and we should do what we can to help, but I suppose I'm thinking more of the quotidian difficulties. I'm grateful that a super mom hero does not swoop down into my house every time I think I can't handle being a mom anymore. I'm grateful that Remy doesn't go away, but continues to be right next to me (literally, my house is small), and allows me to work through things, his presence asks me to be strong. It seems then, that an important part of being allowed to be strong, is the opportunity to acknowledge that something is hard. In Mormon Culture, we are an optimistic and faith-filled people, and it is sometimes easy to say that a trial is a 'blessing' or that there 'must be something we need to learn.' I don't doubt those things, and I think they are true, but I believe we also need space to say that something is hard, because how can we know we are strong, if we don't acknowledge its difficulty?
I used to try and be a fixer of everything and everyone. I wanted to make everything right always, no matter the cost. As I've grown older, and I hope not less loving, I've made peace with allowing people to be strong out of a love for them. I've also come to realize this is not easy, but still, I'd want them to do the same for me.