We are all healers of the world. Rachel Naomi Remen
During an interview on OnBeing with Krista Tippett, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen recounts the story of the birthday of the world, a story her grandfather told her when she was a little girl. The story begins when there was only “holy darkness” until the “world of a thousand thousand things emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light.” But the vessel containing the light of the world broke, and the light was scattered into a “thousand thousand fragments” and fell into all events and all people.
Dr. Remen goes on to talk about the meaning of the story and the idea that we “heal the world one heart at a time”. She believes that every one of us is a healer, and that it is our wounds and our suffering that enable us to help others.
I’ve written before about perfectionism and and the way it causes those of us who grieve and those who love us added pain, that search for those mythic “perfect words” and the spurious idea that finding those words will help us heal. I’ve never liked the articles that purport to know what shouldn’t be said to those who grieve. The list of hurtful phrases would be different for each of us, I imagine, plus I wonder how hard it is for someone to come up with what to say when all you can think of is what you shouldn’t.
What’s helped me heal is not much about what people say and almost completely about people showing up. Sitting with me when I cry, letting me talk about Jimmy or my mom or the unfairness of it all. That’s the real gift. Presence. Listening. Saying his name. Letting it matter, as Heather Jackson says.
Sometimes I think we make this grief stuff too complicated. We want so badly to stop feeling broken that we buy into the notion that our family and friends can and should fix our pain. That saying and doing has more power than it does.
Last week, I went to my first grief support group*. I didn’t think I was going for me. I thought I was going because my friend, David, was facilitating it. But I was wrong. Both the talking and the listening was powerful and healing, and being there very quickly became about me.
We gathered the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Most of us were doing something new or different because the rituals and traditions were too painful with that empty chair at the table. The day was dark, and it was pouring rain. Yet there was so much light in that room. I was reminded of the way that story heals. The way it offers us hope, a path forward, the possibility of something new and the way it reminds us that we are not alone. We were different ages and had suffered different losses under different circumstances. Yet loss is a powerful unifier, and coming together matters, especially in a place where you can openly share your wounds and cry and laugh and find just enough light to go on.
*The group meets every Wednesday from 4:00-6:00 pm at the First United Methodist Church, 6414 Brace Road, Loomis, California and is facilitated by David Woods Bartley.
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