At least! At least!! At least!!!By Emma Pearson
January 30, 2023
20th January 2019 – Writing Prompt from Megan Devine
Image by Julia Grace
“In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth — only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”
~ C.S Lewis
“It can be hard to accept that we often have little or no control over what happens to us. But when I compare the idea that “Yeah, sometimes life sucks, and I have to deal with it as best I can” with the idea that “an immensely powerful being is fucking with me on purpose and won’t tell me why” I, for one, find the first idea much more comforting. I don’t have to torture myself with guilt over how I must have angered my god or screwed up my karma, with that guilt piling onto the trauma I’m already going through. And would the glib cliché that “everything happens for a reason” really give this shitstorm more meaning?
~ Greta Christina
There is no easy comfort inside grief. There’s no cosmic answer that will make that knot of pain release. But there is comfort. Right? Fleeting, uneasy, comfort…. somewhere. For a moment. I often say that acknowledgment of the truth is a relief. Is relief the same as comfort?
This week, writers, tell us about comfort. Start with any of the passages above: argue with them, agree with them. Have you found, as CS Lewis wrote, comfort in a truth?
Where I find Comfort or Relief (or Release) is in speaking, hearing or writing MY Truth, MY Words, MY Language, MY Perspective, MY Take, My World View. As opposed to anyone else’s Truth, Words, Language, Perspective, Take, World View.
Early on, just days or weeks after Mike died, I noticed how I recoiled, as though slapped or spat at, when people uttered sentences beginning, “At least….”. How I raged and gritted my teeth and jutted out my jaw as the sound waves landed in my being. How I bit my tongue and flashed my eyes at the profound ignorance… no… the callous indifference, shaming, and hand-washing of that sentence starter and the person behind it.
And yet… had I not been consoling myself with those very same words? I had been saying repeatedly, almost manically: “At least I have three healthy children”. “At least Mike and I were together as long as we were”. At least I am able to maintain a source of income”. “At least I haven’t got tiny babies”. “At least I have some kids at home still”. “At least the kids will remember their dad”. “At least we were happy together”. “At least I was loved”. “At least Mike knows he was loved”.
A clutching at straws of gratitude, or fragile sunbeams of light and hope. Grasping at anything to bring some tiny measure of comfort. Some relief. Some release.
Why then the rage when someone else says those words? Because it’s dismissive – of me, of my reality. Because it’s an attempt to shoot a tranquiliser into the pain. Because it’s an indirect message to “Get over yourself – move on!” Because it demands a response, an affirmative, “yeah – you’re right – it’s not so bad really that Mike died”.
Just because I can feel gratitude and genuine relief at aspects of my life, does not mean that one iota of the pain is lessened. Just because I can feel gratitude and genuine joy doesn’t mean that that gratitude and joy isn’t wrapped with dull, achy and numb, or even chillingly fearsome pain.
There is no lessening of the pain. Only acknowledging and tending to it.
Noticing it. Respecting it. Being with it.
Dismissing my world view is what adds pain to the pain. And it’s not that acknowledgement lessens it, exactly. But it feels that way because I am so used to steeling myself, hardening my belly and stiffening my shoulders to face a barrage of, “At leasts…” from others, that when I don’t get them, when someone does say, “I am here with you, for you”, the subsequent softening of my belly and lowering of my shoulders feels like the most cocooning embrace. It can feel like Relief. Comfort.
THAT is bearing witness. THAT is acknowledgement. THAT is presence. THAT is being seen.
Acknowledging it’s all utter crap – yes, still, after almost two years. Often getting worse, if you can imagine.
And instead holding and tending to your own discomfort and pain of being with me (and all the losses – however big or small you have had in your life); rather than dismissing any of it – yours or mine.
That is what brings me comfort.