Yesterday morning I was looking down into the watery bottom of a hotel’s oatmeal container. A man beside me, with leather loafers and tanned ankles, started telling a female hotel guest how to use the toaster oven so that it didn’t spark like that.
I turned in alarm toward the toaster oven (my sensitive nose was overwhelmed with burnt toast). I was surprised there wasn’t any visible smoke. It sure smelled like raging fire. But that’s just my overdrive-sense-of-smell (common in sexual abuse survivors). What did surprise me was the girth underneath the man’s large t-shirt and athletic shorts. His feet and legs had seemed average-sized. But I didn’t want my shock to show and thereby cause someone to feel shame. So I just laughed along with the others about the quirky toaster oven, hoping he hadn’t seen the look on my face before I forced it away.
He followed behind me as I found a seat in the breakfast room. Then he sat down across from my line of vision. His chair creaked and the cushion let out air. The wood lathes on the bottom swayed. I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to see that chair break. I didn’t know what to do. He moved forward and the wooden legs seemed to visibly shake. I didn’t want to be in that room if that man landed on the ground. I gulped the oatmeal and went back to my room in haste.
On the elevator God peeled another layer on the onion. Did you see that? What you just did there? Could it be that no one really knows what to do when people break?
Is that why so many people fled from my life when I broke?
Maybe they weren’t mean. Or dumb. Or uncaring. Or ‘pedestrian in their understanding of life’. Or not good Christians. And maybe they weren’t rejecting me.
Maybe fleeing was their way of caring for me. Because they didn’t want me to feel any further shame. Or they may have been reacting as I just had. They simply didn’t know what to do and were self-preserving themselves.
Until that moment in the elevator, I hadn’t even realized how much resentment I was holding onto. Resentment at feeling stigmatized and misunderstood and unsupported by the people in my life who disappeared when I was at my worst with PTSD. I am owning it now and forgiving it. And, obviously, there is a stigma which remains toward all mental health issues. There are also abusive people who prey on people who have just fallen on their butts. It’s just that something about seeing that man nearly break that chair made me wonder how many people just don’t know what to do when we witness someone breaking– or about to break.
What would I have done had that chair broken under that man? Offered to help? Walked away pretending I hadn’t seen it happen? Asked him if he was ok? What would I want done?
There is a scripture about not breaking a bruised reed. Walking away pretending you didn’t even see the reed getting bruised can be hurtful–at least to me. I would want someone to inquire after me or offer to help me up. I would see the backs of those who were walking away in haste. That shunning would hurt me as much as the fall. But, that’s me. I don’t know what others want in such moments.
With other bruised reeds, perhaps they’d prefer you did just that–walk away pretending you didn’t see them in their broken state. My BHH is one who likes to suffer through physical maladies alone; without witnesses or offers of help. That is tough for me to honor as I’m the opposite.
As in many things, so much comes down to strong relationships and knowing the people in your life. Asking them those questions before they actually walk headfirst into a light pole. (A friend did that and got a concussion and she was further troubled when nobody who witnessed it offered to help her or even asked her if she was ok–meanwhile my BHH told her that he would have been glad that no one acted like that had just happened).
Another scripture also comes to mind: When the woman was caught in adultery. Abusive religious leaders used her to try and trap Jesus (and it seems they let the man who with her entirely off the hook.) Meanwhile, Jesus wasn’t at a loss. He stooped down and started writing on the ground. Theologians have all sorts of theories as to what He was writing. But what struck me, and others who wrote about this in some commentary or sermon where I took this insight from, was the simple fact that in bending down like that He was likely avoiding looking directly at the woman. That woman was probably naked or half dressed or hastily trying to cover herself up in some manner (since she was ‘caught in the act’).
It stands to reason that Jesus was respecting her by stooping down like that; giving her time to compose or cover herself. Yet, He wasn’t avoiding her distressed state nor at a loss over what to do or say. He was able to draw her out and drive off those who tried to bind her up with shame. He stooped but He also stood and leveled with both her accusers, and with her.
Likewise with me. When I break He gives me a moment to compose and cover myself; without judging my nakedness. And then He levels; with both my abusers and accusers and with me. People rarely do this well. They either want to exploit your shame further, stand and gape at your mess, or run away as fast as they can.
I’m accepting that. I have done it myself. It is time to forgive it.