Do you want to talk about it?
"The owner of the bistro brought their breakfasts of omelettes, fresh fruit and a croissant each."
“Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Ruth Zardo stared at each other.It felt like a cage match. Only one would emerge alive. Not for the first time in Ruth’s company, Beauvoir felt an unpleasant retraction below his belt.
“What do you want?” Ruth demanded.
“I want to talk,” snapped Beauvoir.
“Can’t it wait, asshole?”
“No, it can’t, you lunatic.” He paused. “Do you like me?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I think you’re anal, idiotic, cruel and perhaps slightly retarded.”
“And I think the same of you,” he said, relieved. It was as he thought, as he’d hoped.“Well, glad we got that straight. Thank you for coming by, now, nighty night.” Ruth reached for the doorknob.“Wait,” Beauvoir said, his hand out, almost touching her withered arm. “Wait,” he said again, almost in a whisper. And Ruth did.”
No one likes to be pitied.
“Ruth sat across from him, a pot of watery tea on the white pre-formed table, and one cup. Her thin arms were strapped across her chest, as though trying to keep her innards in. But not her heart, Beauvoir knew. That had escaped years before, like the duck. In time all things fled Ruth.He needed to talk to someone, but someone without a heart, without compassion. Someone who didn’t care.”
“Lila, I know I’ve said this any number of times. But people do talk to me. About all sorts of things. Sometimes it helps. At least that’s what they tell me.
She said, “Then for the rest of their life you’re gonna think about it. Every time you look at them. Hear their name even.”“True.”“Well, I spose it would have to be true, wouldn’t it. The worse it was, the more you’d remember. Maybe I don’t want you looking at me that way.”“Fine,” he said. “Whatever you say.”“I don’t know how those people go on living in the same town with you.”“A few of them do leave the church. Maybe because they’ve told me more than they meant to. I’ve suspected that was part of it. In some cases.” (Lila – Marilynne Robinson)
Sometimes it's easier to share with a stranger. Or, according to Beauvoir's logic, with someone who doesn't care. Maybe that's part of why professional therapists, healthcare workers, religious leaders, and people who respond to crisis end up being on the listening end of so many conversations. If a person isn't personally involved, then their judgement, their forgiveness, and the remainder of their lives (after the conversation takes place) doesn't matter as much to you.
"There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding. [...] If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace." (Home - M. Robinson)
While sharing with a stranger, or a professional, or a neutral party can be cathartic, there is a special kind of redemption and pardon to be had when you feel like you are heard, seen, understood, and loved by someone who cares. Someone who has their own version of events, but is still willing to put themselves in your shoes and try to understand your side of the story. That is the magic of empathy. Empathy is willing to understand someone else's "truth", even when it doesn't match their own.
"I told him almost everything, and when I was done he said, 'You are a good man.' Imagine that."(Home - M. Robinson)
A couple of weeks later I felt better. I was back to wanting to know what made people tick and feeling rewarded when I knew I’d made a positive impact – no matter how small – on someone else’s life. Nevertheless, my previous words cannot be retracted. While being heard had been priceless, it had also made the listener aware of the fact that there are in fact more emotional demands in my life than perhaps he had previously realized. It made the listener aware, even as I was, that people call me, all the time, with their problems, their pain, their doubts, their expectations, their needs. It made the listener wish to shield me. Spare me.
“Gamache took a deep breath and looked down at the table, his lips tight.Émile paused. “Do you want to talk about it?”Armand Gamache looked up. “I can’t. Not yet. But thank you.”“When you’re ready.” Émile smiled, took a sip of strong, aromatic coffee, and picked up Renaud’s diary again.”
“I never even thought of telling anybody what was on my mind all those years. Not Doll, not any of ‘em. I don’t even think I knew people did that.” (Lila – Marilynne Robinson)
“She hated to remember how swept up in it all she had been, how ridiculous she would have seemed to anyone who knew what she’d been thinking. That’s one good thing about the way life is, that no one can know you if you don’t let them.” (Lila – Marilynne Robinson)
“That was loneliness. When you’re scalded, touch hurts, it makes no difference if it’s kindly meant. Now he could comfort her with a look. And what would she do without him. What would she do.” (Lila – Marilynne Robinson)
I hope you have people you can trust. People who are willing to listen, even if (or maybe because) they are unconventional like Ruth. People who respect your timing as did Émile. I hope you have a chance to show your vulnerabilities. I also hope that the "mirror" of the listener reflects you as stronger than you thought. I hope we can all learn to be the kind of confidant others need. I hope I can learn to be the confidant those around me need.