“What Dreams May Come” (1998) is perhaps the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen. Like for so many, the scene that still brings me to tears is when Robin Williams (Chris) says goodbye to his son, only to walk back to join his wife in hell for eternity. The act of joining his wife where she was, literally in hell, ultimately saved them both.
As a social worker, helping developing professionals to grow both the courage and the patience to “join” someone is one of my most cherished roles. It’s tough. It’s hard to sit with someone and see them in a lot of pain, feel the helplessness that comes with it, and resist the impulse to fix it. We try a lot of strategies in our “fix-it” culture. We offer solutions, often regardless of whether they are requested. We offer a silver lining. We rush folks through their pain by assigning it as “God’s will” or perhaps telling folks how they “ought” to feel. We then blame folks for their own plight when our efforts don’t work. Yet, simply accepting someone where they are, with no judgment and no rush, is hard.
I think it’s because seeing someone in a lot of distress triggers our own, and we are a culture that values comfort.
I’m reminded of this today as both a social worker and a mom. Today, there’s a lot I can’t fix. There are some folks at work that we’re worried about, and I’m trying to help my staff sit with the angst and worry of not being able to fix it. My son is having a really tough time with a friend of his at school, who seems to be acting out in some mean ways. I can listen to my son, hold him, and beg him to not judge his friend too harshly, as being a kid is so very hard and kids do many things they later regret. But, I can’t take away his disappointment and his worry.
I fantasize about having my own invisibility cloak. I remember in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince how Dumbledore shared with Harry how the true gift of the cloak was in its ability to shield and protect others as well as the owner. If I was entrusted with such a treasure, I imagine I would run around wanting to shield everyone from pain, insecurity and grief. In our world as it is, I would be a busy little superhero, though I would barely scratch the surface.
Yet there are things we can all do, if we abandon the need to fix it. We can all join each other, even in hell. We live in a world that is often cruel and heartless. We don’t need to know how important it is to keep our chin up or to move on. We’re giving ourselves enough of those shaming messages already. We need someone willing to pull up a chair, hold out a hand, sit down by our side, remember a box of tissue, and just be there. For our kids, it teaches them that our emotions are real, valid, important, won’t last forever and won’t kill us. For adults, well, it teaches us many of those very same things.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.