Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dear Abby

Since I was thirteen years old, I have been someone others turn to when they are in need of sympathy. It's always been "my thing", though I have never really understood why. I don't know what ever happened that started the tendency, I don't know why people were drawn to me in such a capacity before I really began cultivating and considering this aspect of myself (which wasn't until I was at least thirty, really).

I'm not a nicey-nice person in the sense that my sweetness would seem to be much of a draw (shut up, ALL of you who know me personally ...). I am certainly kind, but my generosity and general sweetness are NOT central character traits, and in fact I tend pretty much to resist the latter (the former takes incredible effort on my part, but I swing it from time to time). Nobody I've ever known has thought of me as the sort of person who gives of herself first and foremost, not if they are honest.

But I do have some sort of innate charisma for people in need. I've always drawn them, and presumably been drawn to them. I have a streak of melancholy, that may be some part of it. And I do, regardless of how precious my personality tends to be, have an enormous depth of interest in people's wellbeing.

When I was younger, it often included people I didn't know very well. I remember, after I dated the guy who went to rehab, literally *years* of acquaintances who came to me to worry about their various addictive or unhealthy choices. I was The Straight Girl, and those who felt bent under the weight of whatever their issues saw me as some sort of guide.

I've also always the girl who didn't date boys who mistreated her. The girl who wasn't promiscuous, or unhappy, or abused, or (unusually) confused about guys.

I was no paragon, and I claim no special behavior on my own part. But compared to the drama of some kids I knew, I (a) came to stupid behavior fairly late, and (b) tried to get over most of my stupid behavior when I felt how ugly it really was. So I didn't suffer what some women I knew did when they were very young, and what I did "suffer" I took a lot of responsibility for and tried to change.

But all my life, people have come to me because something about me offers, if not peace nor resolution, at least some sort of relief.

When I needed my mom's sympathy last week, I realized that mom's first response to other people's pain is to try to fix it.

For whatever reason, I have always known: that is the last thing people want when they're in pain.

Sympathy comes first. Retreat from it. Otherwise there is no way to regroup TO deal with things practically.

Mom said to me, "I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do."

That is the thing. Sympathy is not about saying, nor doing anything. I have long known somehow that the only possible thing you can do for someone in acute pain is to distract them from it. You can't hope to relieve it, nor cure it, by focusing ON it. You have to deflect, draw away. Coax someone's attention onto irrelevancies, and slowly, somewhere altogether else.

I can make the angriest people laugh. This astounds me. I don't understand it, really. I don't understand why people turn toward me, nor how I am or can be helpful. But I do understand that, in most situations, I get there. I figure out how to wrest someone out of the hole. I don't think I do much to fix, to "help" - as is my mom's instinct. But I can help turn down the static, if little else. Even mom herself has turned to me. Which is humbling.

It's also perhaps the sole interpersonal skill I have in excess of her. To fix is a marvelous impulse. But it is not always (not even usually) possible, or may not be in a sympathizer's reach. But to participate with someone emotionally - to, trite as it is, "be there" for them - is always there. And most often the only thing desired.

I'm not very nice. But my need to see those I love and care for ... well ... at ease ... is fundamental to me. I *am* kind. In that context, I would give all the time someone's need requires. My ears have bottomless depth to listen, and my arms are capacious to hold on, hold up, smack you on the back. Reach out.

This was supposed to have been a worthwhile post some way or another - but it's turned out to be a prancing "look how great I am" little mess. Hm. I had something to say, but managed to distract myself from it.

Typical, really. And this is a blog, after all. Ah well. Let it stand, then.


Wolfmammy said...

I don't see it as bragging at all *sugar pie*!


I feel at a loss dealing with other people's grief because all I can think to do is 'be there' with no fancy words or deflecting talks. I guess huggign is always good, though? Sorry I'm commenting on your blog so much. Hope you don't mind. And don't go telling me it's 'okay' if you do mind!

DLM said...

Wolfie, if I didn't want comments, they'd be closed! I'm flattered - and I'd missed you, so this is extra nice.

And of course "being there" is the response people want the most out of us.

You might like some of the posts if you peek at the "feminism" tag. Or just look at whatever you like! I write this thing as if it has nobody reading, but it's kind of nice thinking that isn't the case.