There are two types of people: those who get it, and those who don't.
Yes, this obvious truism could be applied to all walks of life. But since I'm holding the pen (metaphorically, of course—pens are so 1987), I'm going to apply it to the suffering and hardship that each of us will inevitably go through.
There are people who have been through exactly what you're going through, and can empathize, as well as people who haven't, but can still sympathize and be there in your time of need. And then? There are those who, through some pitifully inadequate analogy, try to make you think that they understand, and in the process point focus directly back on themselves. We'll call this group of people Group FT, which stands for a word I'd rather not type here. Use your imagination.
Saturday night neatly summed up the dichotomy between these two groups.
The scene: Radio Room, one of my favorite lounges in Portland, located on Alberta Street. Around 9, I rolled in on my knee scooter (that's just how I roll these days) to meet up with a couple good friends. We engaged in some meaningful conversation, only to be briefly interrupted by not one, but two, obnoxiously loud, yet surprisingly melodic, renditions of “Happy Birthday.” After awhile, our server stopped back by, motioned in the direction of a table of birthday partiers, and said that the gentleman in the blue shirt would like to buy me a drink.
Typically, when a man (especially one in a blue shirt) buys me a drink, it's because they assume that I play for the other team, or at the very least, they think that they can convince me to briefly make a guest appearance for the other team. I take this as a compliment, but politely decline. Due to my injury, though, I'm unemployed, and am in no place to turn down complimentary beverages.
I accepted his offer.
Naturally, I went over to the birthday table to thank my benefactor. Turns out, he had no romantic intentions. He had just gotten off of a knee scooter and crutches himself, due to a broken leg that had kept him out of the world of the walking for five months. “I feel your pain,” he said. And he had.
Not only that, it was his birthday. The birthday boy himself was so empathetic, so able to relate to my pain, that other people were all he could think about on a day that was supposed to be about him.
Not five minutes later, the drink had run its course, and I headed for the men's room. There, at the urinal next to me, a guy looked over, assessed my injury, and said, “I feel you, man. We're both in the injured camp. I tweaked my hip this morning, and it's been kinda hurting all day when I walk.”
This guy was definitely an FT.
What I wanted to say? “With all due respect, I'm sorry that you hurt your hip. But, guess what? You're walking. Just fine, from the looks of it. I haven't walked in a month, and there's a chance I may never walk normally again. Not only that, but my Achilles hurts me 24 hours a day. When I'm laying down, elevating it, sitting up, riding in the car, taking a shower, trying to do mundane chores around the house without capsizing on my knee scooter...it hurts. All. The. Time. Man up, you FT.”
What I actually said? “That's too bad, man. Hope you feel better.”
Don't tell this guy that a loved one or close friend just died. He'll come back with a story about Goldy, his late pet goldfish, that will rip your heart out.
Don't take this the wrong way, but unless you've been a very active person and then suffered a debilitating injury that not only kept you from walking for months, but also changed the course of the rest of your life, you have no idea what I'm going through.
A month ago today, my life went from sixty to zero with the snap of a tendon.
I can't work. I can't walk. Something as mundane as trying to put dishes in the dishwasher is an absolute ordeal.
Doctors have told me I'll never play basketball, tennis, or volleyball again; may never again be able to climb mountains; will likely tear my Achilles again at some point down the road; will suffer pain and tightness in my leg for the rest of my life. This is not some minor setback. An Achilles tear is considered one of the most difficult injuries to fully recover from.
Furthermore, surgery isn't an option, according to every orthopedic physician I've seen. Most Achilles tendons tear close to the ankle, and surgery is as simple as suturing the two halves of the tendon back together. Recovery time is shortened, and you have a much slimmer chance of re-tearing your Achilles, when the surgical route is taken. In my situation, though, my tendon ripped completely off of my calf muscle, and it simply can't be reattached to the muscle.
So, I wait, leg immobilized, for my tendon to somehow find its way back to my calf like a long-lost friend and reattach. Best case scenario? I'm walking, albeit in a walking boot, two months from now, and through long, painful months of physical therapy, I'll regain most of the function of my leg. Worst case scenario? I may never walk normally again.
Sixty to zero.
In the year before my injury, I ran one full and one half marathon, climbed Kilimanjaro and Rainier, visited four continents, toured 27 states as a solo artist, and hiked in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and more. In the year following my injury, I'll be lucky to take a few painful steps on any given day.
If you haven't been here, you don't understand.
I didn't understand until February 3. I took walking for granted every second of my waking life.
Likewise, I don't understand what you're going through. I know there are events and struggles and trials in your life that I can't relate to, because I haven't been there. You've been through things that I may never have to endure, and my heart goes out to you. At the same time, I don't have to pretend to understand, and don't have to relate and equate your hardships to much more trivial events in my own life. I simply say a genuine “I'm sorry” and ask if there is anything tangible I can do to help.
We all will face pain in life, whether physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. We all will go through situations that test what we're made of. If the hard times haven't reared their ugly heads in your life yet, just wait. They will. I'm no solitary, heroic martyr here; billions of people before and after me will suffer injuries and setbacks that will change the course of the rest of their lives.
So what happens when someone in some sphere of yours is going through their Waterloo? Be someone who gets it. Even if you haven't walked in their shoes, be there for them. Be genuine. Don't make it about yourself. Find tangible ways to help get them back on their feet, both literally and figuratively.
James puts it this way in chapter 2 of his book: "Do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you say all the right words but never do anything? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup--where does that get you?" (The Message)
Regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof, this is sound advice. True friendship and true love don't consist of words alone; they consist of actions.
Don't sit at home simply praying for someone if you can be the answer to their prayer. Don't send someone an e-Card and never take the time to visit. Don't put off till tomorrow helping those who are in need today.
I'm grateful for the people in my life who get it. I want to pay it forward; to make a tangible difference in others' lives the way my friends and family have done in mine. I fail at this more often than I'd care to admit, and tend to focus on my own needs, especially in the wake of my injury. I need to remind myself that although my leg may be in disrepair, my heart still works just fine.
I'm unable to do most of the activities that bring me happiness. However, this just means that maybe it's time for me to wake up, to find ways to bring others happiness.
I want to be someone who gets it. Are you with me?