When Silence is All We Can Give
A few days ago I was listening to someone describe experiences that no person should ever have to endure. Experiences that ripped my heart out. Experiences that made me sick.
As I was torn apart by this person’s pain, I felt like my words were useless to make anything better.
And because of this, silence was all I could give to that person in that moment.
In the aftermath of hearing these awful, intimate details of someone else’s life, I wished I could somehow make things better for that person. But I knew there was nothing I could do.
In that moment, saying things like “I’m sorry,” or “I’m here for you,” simply were not enough. In that moment, wounds were too deep to be healed by words.
And ultimately, when I realized I couldn’t help, it left me feeling uncomfortable.
I was nearly so uncomfortable that I attempted to fill the silence and discomfort with whatever I could find so I didn’t have to face the thought that there might be people in this world who are so broken that nothing short of a time machine can fix them.
But instead of distracting myself from these difficult thoughts, I sat with my silence and it made me feel lost and like everything we think we know is a lie.
As uncomfortable as it was for me to do this and as much as I wished I had something helpful to say, it was okay to give noting but silence. Because sometimes, silence is all we have to give. Sometimes there is truly nothing that can be said.
Of course, I wanted so badly to say the perfect thing to this person, but there was no perfect thing to say. And this reality was beyond difficult because when we’re growing up we believe that there is always something to say, always something we can do to help.
But unlike movies and TV shows where the characters always know exactly what to say, life is not a movie or a TV show and we are not characters reading off a script.
And this is heartbreaking for about a million different reasons. But perhaps the biggest reason is because in these moments we realize that sometimes we are powerless. Sometimes things happen and these things are cruel and senseless and painful and they force us to ask a lot of difficult questions about life and about the world we inhabit. In my experience, these questions may lead us to a point where there is nothing we can say.
And when we find ourselves in these situations where there is nothing we can say, just listen. When there is nothing we can say, just be there. Just keep showing up. Just keep caring. Just keep hoping.
Because sometimes, even when we do have something to say, these words are not as helpful as just being there. Sometimes nothing is more helpful than just supporting someone else with our presence.
Unfortunately, all of us will probably encounter situations where silence is all we can give in the face of someone else’s pain. And in these situations, sometimes the best thing we can do is sit with that that silence while we listen to everything it’s trying to tell us.