Friday, May 15, 2009

Falling Down a Hole

There is a story I love that goes like this. A guy's walking down the street and without warning, falls into a big hole. The walls are so high and steep he can't climb out, so he begins to call for help. A priest happens by and he shouts, "Hey, Father, can you help me? I'm stuck down here!" The priest stops, writes out a prayer, drops it down the hole and walks on.

The next person by is a doctor and our guy calls out, "Hey, Doc, can you help me? I'm stuck in this hole." The doctor stops, writes out a prescription, drops it in the hole and walks on. Finally a friend comes along and the guy says, "Hey, Joe, it's me -- can you help me out?" Joe stops and jumps into the hole. Our guy says, "Oh, this is great, now we're both stuck!"

Joe replies, "Yeah, but that's okay because I've been down here before and I know the way out."

I've always felt a little sheepish as a minister and future doctor that both my career paths fail to "get it" in this tale. And of course, the story is intended to demonstrate that isn't our social role, but the consciousness of our own vulnerability, that makes us healers. I may have mentioned this in a previous post and if so, forgive me for repeating myself -- my friends will tell you I do that from time to time -- C. G. Jung said, "Only the wounded healer heals."

What he meant was, it's the conscious awareness of our own pain that renders us effective with others. In a culture that values strength, capability, and invulnerability, this is ironic, yet, true. One of my closest friends reminds me, "You can't really be a good grief counselor until you've lost a parent." I can't speak for anyone else, but I know my own effectiveness as a therapist increased exponentially following the death of my father.

It's not always what we know or who, but where we've been and what we've been through, that counts. More importantly, that we don't try to hide who we are and what we've experienced. I'm not suggesting we should wear our lives on our sleeves. We all know someone who's far more interested in being noticed for their pain than helping anyone with theirs. But between avoidance and flamboyance lies the quiet memory of what it was like down in the hole. If that doesn't motivate us to grasp someone else's hand, nothing will.

(Reference: Story paraphrased from The West Wing, Episode 32 "Noel," written by Peter Parnell)

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