Pain and Trust

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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The room was small, stuffy . . . crowded with stale air. Two beads of perspiration traveled in rivulets from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. To the forty women crammed into the Salvation Army shelter, I was one more do-gooder. Many of them had just recently been released from prison.

As I spoke, I walked the room. Half of the faces avoided my eyes. The women had been forced to listen to my talk. They had already decided that I would lie, offer platitudes like all the others.

“Look,” I told them, “your pain is real. Life deals uneven hands, and yours have been relentlessly difficult. I have no answers. I don’t know why. But I know pain is not the greatest power.”

“Yeah, then what is?” someone challenged. She didn’t want a response. She wanted a fight, and the other women waited.

“An open heart,” I answered. The words had spilled out. They weren’t mine. But as soon as they were spoken, the room shifted. We all felt it.

I took a woman’s hand. “I know loss,” I said softly. “At age twenty-seven, when they lowered my husband and child into a grave, I wanted to die.”

More eyes were on me. “But I had to deal with my pain. Otherwise it would have transmitted to everything I touched.”

“How?” Every eye now.

“Through my hardness,” I said. “Through my fear, my anger, my mask, my running away.”

“I don’t want to die angry,” a voice said sobbing. Every head turned to a large woman hunched by the back wall. “I don’t want to die with this pain. I want . . . I want more than this. I’m not mean. I’m scared.”

Her words tore into the room. Eyes glazed with tears, and hands shot into the air. Everyone wanted to speak. Story after story came out. “My God,” someone finally said, “we are alike. And we’ve been living here, on top of one another, feeling alone. Why don’t we reach out to each other? This feels good. I’m desperate for this. Without it I’ll die.”

For the next three hours, nothing existed outside that room, a living picture of trust, courage, and longing. Finally a woman named Theresa spoke, “I can’t wear a mask any more. I won’t. Whether the system harms me or my mistakes haunt me, something in me is larger than pain. I felt it tonight. I won’t lose it again.”

And she spoke for all of us.