A small boy has scraped his knee, and comes up to me howling. We sit together in the long grass as he sobs, trailing tears and snot all over my knee. I ask if he wants me to rub his back and he nods, so I do that for some time. Around us a thin breeze moves the grass. Bugs fly up and birds circle in the distance. Eventually his breathing calms. He gets up and, without a glance, walks away.
It is hard sometimes to witness the pain of someone else, without judgment or impatience. It is often easier to distract them with amusements, or tell them to dust themselves off and get on with things. Both are ways to hurry them through this moment of difficulty, and both approaches ignore something rather difficult for us to accept.
Pain, whether physical or emotional, can be beautiful. There’s a reason why we listen to sad songs, watch tragic films, pick at our scabs. Pain is part of a life lived real and full. Children are curious about it, when the feeling strikes them. It can be accepted, rather than fought against or hurried through. Realizing that, no matter our age or injury, can be beautiful too.
It’s a natural instinct, to want to save children from hurt. It’s understandable that our discomfort, in being unable to protect them from life’s bumps, can manifest in adulteration. But, if it seems to be wanted in the moment, we can offer a compassionate presence instead. We can help ‘hold’ a space for their experience, uninterrupted until they choose for it to be over. We can be a witness, to some of a person’s most vulnerable moments, and show that they’re accepted in their sorrow and their joy.