By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
“I took that smile and I put it right where the hole in my chest was. It was better than coffee, or chocolate, or a perfect pirouette. I clutched it and held it tight.”
― Cecil Castellucci, Rose Sees Red
Consolation is a quirky thing. Well, perhaps more correctly, it is the objects of consolation that are quirky.
The situations in our lives that require consolation are as numerous and varied as the individuals who inhabit Planet Earth, as are the reasons one gives or withholds or accepts or rejects the outreach, the personal connection, the support of another Human Being.
Our experience in similar situations often determines our level of willingness to extend or accept consolation. For example, if our reaching out in a time of dire need was met with rejection or callousness, we are wary of turning to others the next time. If we extended comfort and likewise were rejected, it is hard not to take the rejection personally, therefore we, likewise, are wary of offering ourselves to another in the future.
There are times in our lives when we simply are hit too hard by whatever blow was struck us. We dissolve under the weight of the circumstance, throw down any security measures we have instituted for our protection, accepting whatever consolation is available.
As a consoler, these moments are defining moments for our character. More often than not, when we are the person available in the moment that another is struck an unbearable blow, we are caught off guard and not prepared to give of ourselves on such an intense level. Our lives are interrupted, inconvenienced. We must now make a choice. Do we feed our irritation at the intrusion and act accordingly? Or, rather, do we take our eyes off of ourselves and connect with another’s anguish? Do we endure the suffering of someone else as something to be gotten over, like the flu? Or do we push the world aside and enter into the relationship fully for however long it takes to restore solace and bring the needed relief?
During my teenage years (which were, naturally, turbulent), there were many times when my mother gave me permission not to attend the wake or funeral of various family acquaintances in order spare me some anguish. Shamefully, more often than I care to admit, I accepted this permission to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation, to not have to get dressed up and go out just before dinner. I have since realized that whether or not the situation means anything to me, my presence means a great deal to the grieving person because my presence shows him or her that he or she matters, is not invisible, is worthy and important enough to make an effort for. In fact, by extending myself to another in pain, my own pain is lessened and often healed.
My experience has shown me that oftentimes all it takes is a genuine smile, a smile that connects on a personal level, that touches the other person’s soul and lifts it from the mire. People want to be noticed, to be known, to be invisible no longer.
My experience has also taught me that the more fully and freely I enter into a person’s situation, the more I receive from the experience – be it anonymously from the other end of the subway car or alone in the room with a dear friend who receives devastating news. Instead of viewing the need to be present to someone as and annoyance, I now embrace the opportunity to make a difference in the world one lonely soul at a time.