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Put Your Hand In My Hand*

“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)

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Well-Being

 

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The Human Race

I am often brought to my emotional knees by displays of humanity, specifically in the form of unity or support.  I have learned to choose my eye make-up carefully when attending the Heritage of Pride parade every July.  The marching NYPD and FDNY always destroy me as I know my history and recognize the gravity of the solidarity.  This summer I was brought down by the mother riding on the back of her daughter’s motorcycle while holding a sign proclaiming her pride in her daughter.  Humans supporting humans, be it strangers, family or friends, just plucks at my heartstrings.  Yet knowing this somehow did not fully prepare me for the emotional avalanche of watching the NYC Marathon at the finish line.

I think that it is safe to assume that for every runner, there is a story.  No one runs a marathon on a whim.  I certainly expected the city flair which was on display with running; chickens, Elvis, superheros, inflatable sumo wrestler suits, ballerinas, clowns, Blues Brothers and the like.  But the degree to which runners were being bolstered (physically and spiritually) by strangers, friends, and partners was surprising.  I stood next to a man who shouted words of encouragement to every person who ran past him with a name written on their shirt.  He did this for an hour.  “You can do it Amy.”  “You’re almost there big Sal.”  “Dig deep Carl, dig deep.”  I lost count of the couples holding hands as they walked/stumbled and dragged each other to the end.  There were many “teams” running together and more often than not, there was one member being held up while others slowed their pace in order to stay together.  One man collapsed with an injured leg and could no longer walk.  Marathon volunteers picked him up and carried him to the finish line.  I saw a young woman holding a rope tied to an old man.  I saw runner guides leading disabled runners.  I lost count of how many pairs of runners had their arms around one another’s waist.  There was a military “no one gets left behind” determination on their faces.  As the sun set and the crowds of spectators thinned, a race organizer took to the microphone and yelled inspirational messages (in a good way.)  She told the runners that they were just a block away from the moment they’ve been waiting for and one that they’ll never forget.  She did this for hours.  In the dark.

It was a moving and inspirational day for this non-marathoner.  I tried not to focus on the anomaly of the outpouring of support and instead simply revel in it.  Parades, marathons, snowstorms, disaster, they bring out our best.  It’s not that we choose to not be our best everyday, it’s that most of us simply don’t have that kind of stamina.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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