A Plea for Gentleness

Saturday, June 7, 2014

we have all hurt someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. we have all loved someone tremendously, whether by intent or accident. it is an intrinsic human trait, and a deep responsibility, i think, to be an organ and a blade. but, learning to forgive ourselves and others because we have not chosen wisely is what makes us most human. we make horrible mistakes. it’s how we learn. we breathe love. it’s how we learn. and it is inevitable. -- nayirrah waheed

A lovely friend sent me this quote over text, and I want to consume it.

I am not always myself. When I put words to the page, I find myself transported to another place where some combination of images (thoughts, memories) have formed a world I've never experienced. I usually call this a gift.

But the gift became a problem a lot more publicly when I was in high school and it felt like everyone around me was at some stage of collapse – we’d come from abusive homes, were abusing drugs, or just had general anxieties about being futureless. High school is hardest when you’re not taught any coping mechanisms. You either learn to hide it well or you don’t. Then that expression of emotion puts you into a compromised situation – do you want to see the counselor or the detention hall? I have the privilege now of knowing many people trying to resist that narrative, in schools and in the broader justice system.

Being able to so clearly imagine someone else's grief can sometimes go way beyond empathy. It becomes your own suffering. You are consumed by it. My domestic violence training would call it vicarious trauma. It sounds serious, and it is serious, but it is also something that is routine amongst care providers. Burnout tastes sweet when you know you’ve done exactly what you’ve learned to: give your all to the person or people in crisis.

I admit that I’m not always so vigilant about keeping boundaries between myself and the people I care about. It doesn’t mean that I want to care about them any less, but it means that I have to learn to take exquisite care of myself in order to do it, as I have been the past week. I’m sure that there are many who have called for this before me, but this is a plea for gentleness. For ourselves and others. Too often I blame myself for emotional expression, wanting to move on from it, but more often those are the moments I need to pay attention to for my own growth.

I’ve been working on a poem about violence. For the first time in a long time, I’ve been reading again. It’s nice to hear other voices in my head besides my own.

I've found Maya Angelou's interview in The Paris Review and her reading to be very nourishing: