Riding from the airport in a taxi cab with a driver who did not know or understand English, I wondered how long the meter would run before I actually got to my desired destination. Visiting friends in a third-world country where I would spend a week in poverty-ridden housing, open-air meat markets and other visible signs of filth, I immediately began to dismiss my own personal hurt and loss that I had brought with me on this trip. As I awoke each day to the realities of “real loss” in this war-torn part of the world, I discovered that a familiar rumination was re-visiting my mind: “You should be ashamed of yourself for complaining about what you have been dealing with back in the States. Why, after seeing this, you should go home, kiss the American soil and suck it up and be glad you don’t live in these boots.” It is a familiar way of reasoning and an optimistic approach to pull myself out of the doldrums from time to time. However, within a short time of vacillating back and forth with these ponderings, I realized that I strongly believe that every person’s hurt, struggles and loss are as significant as someone else’s. The more I contemplated about my own emotional loss and weighed it against what I was seeing in this country five thousand miles from home, it felt as though my pain was illegitimate. Somehow, to agree with the idea of “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” only intensified my struggles and I realized I was powerless to do what the voices in my head were screaming. I came away from this experience knowing that there really is loss, hurt and pain in other places that are heart-wrenching. I also became keenly aware that in context of my personal world, my pain is as legitimate and worthy of acknowledgment as another’s. While looking at the positive, optimistic side of things can be encouraging to one’s own soul, it can also cheaply dismiss real pain that needs to be acknowledged and faced head on. Whether a mother covered from head to toe in loose clothing or one in a sleeveless shirt with fashionable sandals, they both represent their own private pain and struggles and both deserve to see the legitimacy of those losses.
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