We sat. For hours. Her struggling with herself. Me there, just there, supplying tissues and hugs as needed, and accompanying. It was the beginning of a longer road we walked together - I continued to accompany her as she struggled onward toward the faint glimmer of light on the outside edge of her darkness. There was no fix for this darkness, only the journey through it.
Throughout the years, I’ve accompanied many people: family, friends, colleagues, students, and even strangers. I continue to find it one of the most needed and powerful things we can do for each other. When things get tough and we struggle, many people will show up in our lives as problem solvers, unendingly seeking and suggesting solutions for our predicament. Yet most times there is no solution. There is only a journey of wrestling and grappling and scrambling until we reach a culminating spot or event. In these sorts of journeys, we do not need the problem solver. We need the accompanier. While we might wish for a magic wand or Easy Button, what we really need is someone to walk alongside us through our struggle.
When I think about times I’ve struggled, one of the most important elements that impacts absolutely everything is who was with me. Who accompanied me through that effort? We weren’t meant to strive alone and it’s not possible to fix our friends’ problems as they fight their battles. Instead, we were meant to journey together. To accompany each other in support and reassurance. To be sparring partners. To sit with the pain and discomfort and despair and whisper encouragement into the din. To never give up on our friends - not even when they give up on themselves. How do we prepare ourselves to do that? Parker Palmer writes in a post for On Being:
“None of us can “mend” another person’s life, no matter how much the other may need it, no matter how much we may want to do it.
Mending is inner work that everyone must do for him or herself. When we fail to embrace that truth the result is heartbreak for all concerned.
What we can do is walk alongside the people we care about, offering simple companionship and compassion. And if we want to do that, we must save the only life we can save, our own.
Only when I'm in possession of my own heart can I be present for another in a healing, encouraging, empowering way. Then I have a gift to offer, the best gift I possess — the gift of a self that is whole, that stands in the world on its own two feet.”
And I couldn’t agree more. To take care of others, to walk with them through this journey called life, we must take care of ourselves. It is not an afterthought, it is an imperative.