“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.” A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.” Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on” Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
This story, written by Aaron Sorkin for The West Wing, never fails to bring an enormous lump to my throat. Human beings have a tremendous capacity for kindness and empathy. We are at our best when we jump into the hole knowing the way out.
Chances are that unless you sleep upon 20 mattresses stacked to the ceiling, something unpleasant has happened in your life at some point. Life happens to us, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse. It’s what we do with the worse that makes us better. If we are wise and fortunate we have strong connections to others. These people may have not been in the same hole, but they know how to hold a hand and make a cup of tea. That often can be more than enough.
There are some circumstances however that cry out for a hole guide. Illness, addiction, bereavement, and violence can result in a trauma that benefits from others’ past experiences. Support groups (and some chat rooms) are built on this premise. During the blinding vortex of trauma (that feels anything but temporary) there’s great comfort in hearing; “Me too.” The ideal gathering will include those who have found their way out of the vortex of trauma. They stand at the top of the hole, torch in hand. We may not take the exact steps they did to reach to top. We may have to stop at times, or even slide backwards. But we keep our eyes on their torch and commit to putting one foot in front of the other.
There is power in reaching out; to comfort or in search of comfort. It takes courage to continue to ask for help (after having bits of paper tossed upon your head.) It takes compassion and a touch of bravery to jump down back into the hole after finding one’s way out. It’s us humans at our very best.
*Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship (1987)