I knew of a friend who is what some call a pain top, or as many in the general culture might say, a dom. We’ll call him Pan. We were acquaintances but not very close when I reached out and asked, “How would you feel about beating me?” almost as casually as I might ask a neighbor for a cup of sugar. It was one of those moments where I internally thought, “Am I really doing this?” Going over to his apartment the first time, he began — very intensely. I had to interject, asking for a “warm-up.” I also realized I probably should give him some more info about why I wanted to be beaten, to experience deliberate physical pain in the form of floggers, canes, and other such tools of the trade.
Next time you notice yourself waiting, in whatever form it takes place, pay close attention to yourself, your feelings, your breath, and your body. Take note of your thoughts and what effect they have on you. Think about your support system: how are the people you love and who love you waiting alongside you? What strength do they offer, and what gifts do you give in return? Here's the thing: waiting is a universal experience.
Most often, when people experience a loss, their minds go to one of two places initially: either they start to wrestle with the what-ifs of a situation or they jump right into the details of the what's-next. In the moment of pain, crisis, and loss, it's hard for most of us to sit in that pain and bear it. To do so would be to accept that change is coming, whether we like it or not. It is often the job (and privilege) of those of us on the periphery to help contain the questions that surface. We don't have to offer answers. We just need to show up.
When I first heard of seasonal affective disorder, something inside me clicked into place. Winter has never been easy for me, especially since moving to the Chicago region over a decade ago. I can handle the cold—to some extent, at least. I can even enjoy the snow. But the darkness... that's what gets to me. After the time change, my heart sinks. 4 p.m. is too early for it to be getting dark, and yet we cannot escape it. Darkness is a natural part of life's cycle, of life's order.
One professor, one I trust as a friend and mentor, noticed this and decided that I needed something different. I needed space: space in which to experience respite from fighting against something. He felt that, in all my efforts of fighting against, I'd been afforded little time to discover what it was I've been fighting for, or more importantly, what I've been standing on.
We all have grief, but sadly we live in a culture that is terribly grief-avoidant. We don't talk about death until it happens, and when it does, we try to get the conversation over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. We find the lingering grief of someone who has suffered a terrible loss awkward, and instead of sitting with that person, risking the upsurge of our own pain and past, we respond out of anxiety and fear, forcing them into a painful fortress of solitude, left to face their grief alone.
Since that deep place in you where your identity as a child of God is rooted has been unknown to you for a long time, those who were able to touch you there had a sudden and often overwhelming power over you. They became part of your identity. You could no longer live without them. But they could not fulfill that divine role, so they left you and you felt abandoned. But it is precisely that experience of abandonment that called you back to your true identity as a child of God.
If I want tolerance, I know plenty of places where I could have such an experience. Sadly, more than any other place that comes to mind, there is the Church. Granted, I'm not talking about congregations belonging to those denominations that are typically thought of as being more "progressive." I'm talking about faith communities where the emphasis is overly placed on personal holiness and where the necessity for justice is almost completely overlooked.
When I was growing up, I remember countless funerals where people would remark on the current state of the person being mourned. "She's with her Savior." "God called her home." "She's not in pain anymore." "It was her time." Back then, blanket statements used to bring me comfort. When your grandmother was one of fifteen siblings, and the generation before had almost as many, you went to a lot of funerals. Back then, I didn't ask questions.