On this rainy Sunday morning in 2011, I have friends who are fighting cancer, custody battles, divorces, job loss, economic ruin, addiction and mid-life crises of various forms. The only thing they have in common is a fairly typical desire to isolate their pain from the rest of the people in their lives. In one way or another, every single one of them has said to me – and others around them – “I don’t want to be a burden to you.”
Every time I hear that, I just want to scream. “You’re not a burden, you’re a HUMAN!”
Humans are social creatures, and it’s not just because beer tastes better with friends or sex is more fun with a partner. It’s because our “selves” literally develop as a result of interactions with other people. Complex interactions, not just joy. Pain, sadness and struggle help us develop our own compassion, perspective and strength that we need to navigate the tricky waters of life as a human. We need it all, we need a balanced diet of experiences, connections and feelings in order to become whole.
And we can’t do it alone. We just can’t.
When you feel weak and allow someone to help you, you help them realize they are strong. Further, you show them that in a moment of weakness, it is okay to ask for help. They’ll need that at some point.
When you are in a mess and allow someone to help you sort it out, you help them learn strategies that they may be able to use in their own lives. Further, you show them that in a moment of chaos, it’s okay to ask for help. They’ll need that at some point.
When you are sick and allow them to help, you help them realize the preciousness of their own health and vitality, and they’ll be more aware of their own joy. Further, you show them that in a moment of illness, it’s okay to ask for help. They’ll need that at some point.
When you allow someone to see you as fully human – good and bad, strong and weak, healthy and sick, brave and scared – you let them know that it’s okay for them to be fully human too. That lessens the burdens of fear and shame that hold us back. It shows us that we can be loved for our humanity rather than rejected and shunned for it.
Hoarding your humanity is a selfish act, when you realize the gift that it is for others.
Seriously, why do you think Tuseday’s with Morrie was a best-seller? Not because Morrie was cute, but because that insight into frail humanity and the power of caring changed people’s lives. We can do that for each other, without needing a book deal.
Why do you think that The Last Lecture of Randy Pausch sparked an international phenomenon? Not because he was smart, but because he showed us what it’s like to connect compassionately in a time of crisis, and get through it together. We can do that for each other, without a lecture tour.
For all my friends who are fighting cancer, custody battles, divorces, job loss, economic ruin, addiction and mid-life crises of various forms, YOU ARE A GIFT! You are not a burden.
Don’t wait until you have everything figured out to reach out and share what you think are the good bits. (That day, for the record, is never coming. The time will never be “right,” because there will always be something else.) Reach out now, from the shit, and let those who care about you discover the good they have in themselves, just waiting for a chance to come out.
What’s worse, when you don’t let us in to the bad parts, you’re telling us that you didn’t think we could be trusted with them. And you make that knowledge the cause of your greater suffering. You let us increase your pain by not letting us share it. Is that really what you want to do? Tell us you don’t trust as and let us become something that increases your pain? I doubt it. I bet you hate that idea, so think of it that way. Because that’s what it is. We will second guess things that we could have, should have, would have done, if only you’d been honest.
You are not a burden. You are a human. You are a flawed and fabulous multi-faceted thing and when I say that I love you unconditionally, that means ALL OF IT.
You are like a fine wine, with subtle undertones of joy and misery, curiosity and hope, creativity and solitude. You are getting better with age and with wear. So stop fucking hoarding all the delicious humanity and share it with the people who love you.