One of my favorite authors featured a short video on her Instagram last week and I cannot stop thinking about it. In an interview, Kate Bowler speaks about her initial steps into the bewildering and scary journey of stage four cancer and she highlights an interaction with one of her nurses, Meg. At the time, Kate was struggling with the horror of her reality as a young Mom with late-stage cancer. Terrified, exhausted, and frustrated, she watched Meg walk in and out of her hospital room with her “short pixie Anne Hathaway haircut” and though they were the same age, Kate felt the distance between them: one fine life and one that was decidedly not fine. Kate says that one day Meg crouched down low beside her and spoke four words that changed everything: “I lost a baby.” Kate says this was the time she understood that Meg was on her side, that she too knew what it was like for the world to end.
It got me thinking about my own four words. I have them. And I bet you do, too, or else you will one day. And no, I’m not cursing you. I wish you the very best life there could be, but the plain fact is that none of us get through this life without facing something that matters so deeply to us over which we have zero control. Maybe it’s loss or illness or redirection, betrayal or profound disappointment. Or maybe it’s not a thing that happens at all, but a state of being we must finally own and accept. Either way, it changes us forever. This utter derailment from ‘what we thought’ to ‘what we got’ is our graduate-level course in humanity, and we’ll all enroll at some point, whether we like it or not.
As you are reading, are your four words floating to the surface? I knew mine immediately, and I would share them with you if we were sitting across the table from one another. Maybe I already have. Sharing the words that reflect the pivot point of our deepest pain is how we walk one another through this hard life. It’s the literal definition of compassion, empathy, and friendship. Yet so many of us hide those things, even from ourselves. Certainly I’ve known lots of people whose pretend-perfect lives make it impossible to admit this kind of pain, the kind that changes everything. If you’re reading all of this and shaking your head in disagreement, it’s completely possible that your pivot point came and went without your making good use of it. I hope not, as there is so much to learn in that place. Maybe your life has been super easy so far, and if so, yay!, but my guess is that there are more of you nodding in agreement than shaking your heads.
What happens in the brave sharing of those four words, and the stories that go along with them is sacred, literal holy ground no matter where they’re said. The four words are hard to say, as they’re commonly mixed with shame or anger or suffering and these aren’t colors we’re used to wearing out in public. But there’s freedom on the other side of the speaking and the hearing, the knowledge that we’re truly not alone, a gift of one trembling heart extended to another and finding a home.
If you’ve experienced something that shifted everything that may crystallize into one four-word sentence, there are two things to be done. The first is to learn. As hard as it is, you’ve received an invitation to question everything you thought you believed and learn more about you, the people around you, and God than you ever thought possible. It’s an accelerated course, so take advantage. And the second thing, after the wounds have turned to scars, is to share it. After all, pretending perfection never helped anybody. As Ram Dass said, we’re all just walking each other home. When we share our fragility with absolutely no advice attached to it, we’re doing exactly that. And maybe we’ll hear back the warmest words there ever were: “You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Watch Kate Bowler’s beautiful video here, follow her on Instagram @katecbowler, read her amazing books especially Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved, join her book club and all the things. Kate is a treasure.
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Meg couldn't have known how big of an impact these 4 words would have on me. In a health system that can unbelievably abrasive and impossible to navigate, it is interactions like these, from kind people like Meg that make a world of difference. Thank you to the healthcare professionals that put empathy as a priority. Thank you, Meg.