“It’s at this point that people in the midst of difficulty begin to feel a call. They are not masters of the situation, but neither are they helpless. They can’t determine the course of their pain, but they can participate in responding to it. They often feel an overwhelming moral responsibility to respond well to it. People who seek this proper rejoinder to ordeal sense that they are at a deeper level than the level of happiness and individual utility. They don’t say, “Well, I’m feeling a lot of pain over the loss of my child. I should try to balance my hedonic account by going to a lot of parties and whooping it up.”
The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. I don’t even mean that in a purely religious sense. It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred. Parents who’ve lost a child start foundations. Lincoln sacrificed himself for the Union. Prisoners in the concentration camp with psychologist Viktor Frankl rededicated themselves to living up to the hopes and expectations of their loved ones, even though those loved ones might themselves already be dead.
Recovering from suffering is not like recovering from a disease. Many people don’t come out healed; they come out different. They crash through the logic of individual utility and behave paradoxically. Instead of recoiling from the sorts of loving commitments that almost always involve suffering, they throw themselves more deeply into them. Even while experiencing the worst and most lacerating consequences, some people double down on vulnerability. They hurl themselves deeper and gratefully into their art, loved ones and commitments.
The suffering involved in their tasks becomes a fearful gift and very different than that equal and other gift, happiness, conventionally defined.” David Brooks from What Suffering Does
I highly recommend reading this short but incredible piece. A friend of mine sent me part of this in a text to me about a year ago. While searching for something in my messages, it popped up in one of those serendipitous moments of “you need to see this”.
I’m dreading Valentine’s day or, rather, I was. Rather than mope and dread and cry, I reached out. I doubled down into my loved ones. I reactivated my facebook and posted a status asking folks to send me their address and, in return, I would send them a valentine. 19 people took me up on the offer – from North Carolina to New Zealand to San Francisco to Kentucky. I sent one to anyone and everyone who replied. It was incredible and it helped me more than it could have ever helped them. I wrote letters to each with quotes that I thought might best fit them. I reconnected with friends I haven’t spoken to in 4 years. I re-grounded myself and I was able to send out some love in the process. About a month ago I posted about wondering how my suffering would transform – this valentine’s day adventure proved that it already has started to.
I decided yesterday that I want to try to write a book. I know it sounds nuts but I want to document my experience as a surrogate baby. I mainly want to because I don’t fully understand it and I can feel fragments of my being desperately wanting to be addressed as a result. A quick search on Google Books and most of the book seem to be about the parents. The parents are just a small part of this story though albeit obviously an important one. As a psychologist in this field told me once, “the story is the parents until the baby is born – then it is theirs”. I’d like to tell that story even if I’m not the best writer in the world.
I don’t have a timeframe for when I want to complete this book – I doubt I’ll actually publish it or get beyond 30 pages. If I do, I should probably just put it on github 😉 My hope is that since I’m traveling a ton over the next couple of months by myself that I can bust out a good bit of writing. Having something to hone my energy into that’s not work or working out related will be a wonderful way to double down rather than shut down. There’s so much more to do that it’s hard not to be excited.
One response to “Double down on vulnerability”
I’ll read your book!