Sunday, January 3, 2016

Choosing Softness

      Supposedly there are a bunch of stages of grief that everyone experiences at some point after their diagnosis. I never consciously considered this as I attempted to process what was medically happening to me, but I don't think it is the worst theory in the world. However, I have never (or very rarely) experienced the second stage, anger, as a result of my health.

      I certainly think it is normal to feel angry when something tragic happens. I do think that illness is tragic, especially when it is severe and when it forces major lifestyle changes. Of course, I know that anger is the result of many other types of tragedies as well. I think it is okay to be angry, and I am not condemning anyone who is. You are allowed to be angry, and no one has the right to be upset with you for it. Anger is a healthy part of life, and to be as cliché as possible even Jesus flipped some tables.

      I feel like I have never really been prone to anger. I rarely go beyond the point of frustration. When someone else does something or says something that is really, truly awful, I feel much more sad than I do angry. More than anything, I feel disappointed and confused. I wonder why people do hateful things and my heart breaks at the complex injustices that exist in this broken world. In many ways, my hesitance to become angry is a flaw of mine. Sometimes it causes me to blame myself too much, and sometimes my anger would be justified, and sometimes the result of my sadness is to avoid everything instead of confronting it. There is no question in my mind that anger is holy, and I wish that I used anger more to make noise about the problems I witness. I wish that when I overheard insensitive jokes in my Spanish class or in the media I could get mad inside, a righteous sort of fury that would lead me to call people out more than I do. I wish that when people said things that upset me I could yell instead of cry. But I can't. I am just not programmed that way. The millions of cells in my body flock to sadness in their reactivity much more easily than they claw their way to anger.

      Sickness scares me. I fear what arthritis is doing to my body. I fear swollen joints, the outcome of medications, and too many blood draws. The thought of still having to see a rheumatologist every three months when I am fifty horrifies me. I do not feel prepared to fight this battle. I don't even feel like I'm fighting a battle, because honestly all of this war rhetoric just seems like a glorification of what is actually just the immune system of one petite girl from North Carolina going awry. When I see people older than me dealing with similar conditions, I am grateful for their presence but I simultaneously feel overwhelmed by the challenges I will likely face in the future. It is not the end of the world, and I do not plan on stopping anything because of my health, but I am scared nevertheless.

     I fear what arthritis is doing to my body, but I fear even more what it might do to my mind. I fear losing friends when I am going through a flare, and I fear that people will treat me differently once they know about my illness. I fear that the pain will drive me to insanity, and I fear becoming bitter and angry.

     I fear becoming angry.

     I would rather be soft than tough. I would rather weep than scream. I would rather dissolve into tears than be numb to what happens inside and outside of me. I would rather hurt terribly than shut out the world. I am actively choosing softness, because I do not want to be cold and hard and bitter. Choosing softness is difficult a lot of the time, but I genuinely believe that it is worth it. The process of desensitization is one I actively fight against. Being soft, and feeling intense sympathy for the people around me, is what motivates me to make the changes I feel our society so desperately needs.

      This year, I am working on an independent study at school (basically a class that I design one-on-one with a teacher adviser) entitled, "Religion and the Holocaust." Every B day, I read about the lives stolen by German fascism, and I fear that the statistics about the number of deaths in each camp and the videos of starving prisoners walking to the barracks soon will not startle me the same way. In some ways, I think that the most important part of my study is feeling the pain every time I encounter it instead of creating a callus in my mind. I knew from the moment I decided to take the course, which was in a hotel room in Poland after visiting Auschwitz, that I was going to be as soft as possible the whole way through, and that I would never allow myself to speak of the Holocaust nonchalantly or impersonally.
Wilted Flowers
Photo taken by Kayla R-P

     I suppose my determination to choose softness is one of the things that compels me to work as a chaplain at some point. A few weeks ago I heard a few people talking about the death penalty in a very cruel and inhumane way, and just a few nights ago my friend told me about jokes regarding AIDs that were made in a play she went to see. When I hear things about people being imprisoned, whether it is by a flawed legal system or by their failing health, my heart breaks. Except that's the thing; it doesn't exactly break. It does not feel like it is in a million pieces that I must rush to put back together. My heart wilts. It droops and feels lifeless and wonders what it will have to do to stand back up again.

     Maybe I am feeling way more pain than is necessary by choosing softness, but for now I will keep weeping and dissolving and being an obnoxiously mushy person. After all, it is what makes me human.

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