we are saved together
Today I visited my bereaved friend Cindy in Chicago. All we did today was eat lunch with her parents in their kitchen, in the house where she grew up, then drive over to her sister’s home and sit on a blanket in the tidy, manicured, pleasant back yard, under a tree. We talked the entire afternoon, drank cold water from glasses, and ate some very ripe, sweet cantaloupe cut into cubes. Esme practiced standing up, both holding on to my knees and balancing tenuously with her hands in the air.
Cindy told me that my presence was soothing to her, which I found highly complimentary, but also surprising and funny, since I am not always very accomplished at soothing myself. No, in fact I excel at keeping myself awake at night with an over-active mind and have a knack for absorbing anxiety into my shoulders, where I often acquire knots that might come out if only I could afford a thrice-weekly massage.
In the baby books I’ve read, many authors talk about “self-soothing skills” in infants. Supposedly, infants under three months do not have any self-soothing skills, which is why they can’t be expected to simply put themselves to sleep, but later, they supposedly are capable of developing such skills. I read this with a twinge of chagrin, wondering if I, at age twenty-nine, possess these purported self-soothing skills, and, deciding to the contrary, I wondered how it is that I missed out on this developmental milestone. I was also a bit skeptical about the whole idea of skills so named.
If there are such things as self-soothing skills, and perhaps there are, it seems to me that they can only go so far in bringing peace to a troubled mind. I suppose that when I am upset, I can do things to make myself feel better, like rest, read, journal, exercise, take a bath, or whatever. But I lean toward the teaching that the only thing you can truly do 100% alone is go to hell, and, to take it further, I believe in a certain definition of hell as simply “ontological oneness,” a horrible, self-chosen separation from God and others. We are saved and helped together, with our personalities in conjunction, not able to see ourselves unless we are seen or know ourselves unless we are known.
I drove out of the Chicago traffic, back into the sparser land of Indiana after the sun had set, chewing on this ironical, fact: that I can’t manage the simple task of soothing myself, but I somehow have the power to soothe another just by being physically near. And others, who may not even realize their great gift, have the power to soothe me too.