“It was a mess—my whole life just sort of ended.” I hear this as I pour the woman another cup of tea. She’s not talking to me, but to another woman. I am just the server, but I overhear their conversation. “I couldn’t take care of the kids, my husband’s job wouldn’t let up.”
Pam hosts small retreats in our home, and I always help—sometimes by speaking, but often just by tending the fire in the pizza oven or helping serve a meal. Today we are hosting a group of thirteen women in a cancer support group.
“My face looked, I don’t know—shrunken. The chemo just drained every cell in my body….” I pour some tea and keep moving.
All day like this.
“My hands and feet hurt so bad I couldn’t plant my garden back then. But now my hands and feet feel so much better. Grateful for this.”
Some conversations I overhear, some I am invited to share, but always the level of candor, courage, and resilience moves me. There were some tears, but mostly laughter—funny, fiery women who were living now on some kind of alternative energy. They’d all done the look-death-in-the-face thing and were free to speak accordingly.
At lunch I was drawn into a circle where a Black woman said, “I just wanted to see my two kids graduate from college. That’s all. And this May they will both walk across that stage—they’re twins.” She named the two impressive schools. “I did it!” Those of us in the circle smiled and raised our arms with her in triumph.
When the thirteen left, I thought how honest and true the conversations had been. Most of us leave dinner parties and social gatherings lamenting the shallowness of it all. Did anyone say anything gutty or real?
This is why it is important to join a club to which you do not wish to belong. People in recovery groups have joined a club like that, so have cancer survivors. But you don’t have to be an addict or face a mortal illness to join a circle of honesty. This is what church is meant to be. “Just as I am, without one plea.” Some people find it in a book group or a poetry circle, others in an accountability group. Some few find it in marriage.
The irony of our search for happiness is that the good life eventually feels shallow, empty. The standard blueprint for happiness designs a life that evades suffering. Who wouldn’t follow that design? The only problem is, eventually we run into trouble. Then the big question becomes, how do I process my pain? Very quickly we realize that pain is not a welcome guest in any circle we sit in.
So, join that club.