“How have you been?” It was hard to tell at first if my friend was genuinely asking. We hadn’t seen each other in months, and these passing interactions don’t typically go beyond the surface.
Grief makes it difficult to answer questions like this, especially as you try to interpret the intention behind them in real-time. Do they actually want to know? The ever-changing complexity of how I’m doing doesn’t really line up with the routine response people are usually looking for.
All the initial signs of our conversation seemed to indicate that this would be just another polite and scripted exchange. No depth. No risk of discomfort. Just the standard “I’m alright, you?” would suffice so we could carry on with our days.
But before I could answer, he asked another question that defied our culture’s trite pleasantries. “Do you mind if I sit?”
Again, he didn’t wait for my response. He moved my bag off the chair across from me before I could answer. This all led to the final move that would reveal his intentions.
He sat down.
The space he made at my table and in his schedule left no room for misinterpretation. He was going to stick around to hear my honest response to his initial question. He wanted to know how I was doing, no matter how complicated and uncomfortable it might be to listen.
Though these successive gestures only lasted a few seconds, they were overflowing with genuine care. His invasive grace was a clear display of loving friendship. And it led to a long and helpful conversation that provided me with the sort of release that grief continually requires.
It takes a unique type of courage to let your day be disrupted by someone else’s grief, especially the cruel realities of a horror like childloss.
This is the posture of compassion. It sits down. It descends into the unsettling darkness. And it risks being slowed down and struck by someone else’s sorrow.