Melyngoch and I were talking the other day about how we hate talking to our bishops about our problems. Not even in a confessional way, we just hate having to burden them with whatever isn’t going right in our lives – the sins and cares of an entire ward seems like a lot to carry, and one hates to further burden them. Probably this is the wrong attitude. Probably they are given the strength to handle it somehow, although I think I’d hate to be in such a position.
Of course, it occurs to me that I don’t feel unreasonably burdened by hearing about my friends’ problems. I can call or visit Melyngoch and we can talk for a couple of hours and both of us can talk about what’s hard in our lives right now, and I think we both come away feeling better, overall. So it’s clearly not a zero sum endeavor.
But I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve, and I can only share my problems with a very few, close friends. It’s just natural reticence – half a desire not to seem like I’m whining or complaining and half a genuine wish not to have most people know what’s going on in my life. You may genuinely want to help or be a sympathetic ear, but I’ll actually be happier if only a small group knows what’s troubling me at any given moment – your sympathetic looks will only remind me that I’m to be pitied and cause me even more pain. Or, worse, you will turn out to have very little patience for actual problems behind your caring facade.
* * *
I wondered, idly, what life would be like if we could all see each other’s burdens. I pictured them like brightly colored marbles in a glass jar. Would the cashier at the lunch counter be kinder to the girl who’d cried herself to sleep the night before? Would I be less jealous of the gorgeous girl with an eating disorder? Would we be surprised to see doubt in the minds of those we thought were firm, or fear in those we thought were brave? Would we find solace in seeing others with our same problems, or despair in seeing weakness in everyone? Would we be better off, or would it be too much to handle? Would we avoid acknowledging people with problems the way we ignore the homeless and wear sunglasses to avoid making eye contact with anyone?
I think some people genuinely do have a gift of seeing the problems of others, and maybe a gift of offering empathy or wise counsel. And I think that anyone who’s been through a particular trial is more sensitive and better able to recognize others who are going through the same thing, whether it be the quiet pain in an infertile woman’s eyes or the sad resignation of a recently broken heart.
Maybe heaven will be like my glass jar of marbles, for better or for worse.