First of all, I want to offer an apology to a dear friend of mine. Yesterday you posted a copy-and-paste status to your Facebook and you unfortunately got a knee-jerk reaction from me. It was not fair of me and I didn't articulate myself well at all. So today, I'd like to offer my apologies for acting before thinking. It would have been better for me to keep my temper in check. Second, I'd like to offer a better explanation than what I was able to give yesterday.
Anyone who has used social media has seen the copy-and-paste statuses for such-and-such cause or in memory of fill-in-the-blank disease/issue. I see them constantly and honestly, I never repost them because I personally don't like them. Half the time, I don't even finish reading them all the way. For myself, I don't see how they help. If I'm going to post about a cause/disease/issue whatever, I'm going to use my own words. I know not everyone is comfortable doing things that way and for them perhaps a simple copy-and-paste works better. And that is okay. But for me, that is not how I do things. It's my personal choice. I will use my own words to express my thoughts and it is a rare thing when I use a copy-and-paste. Generally if I do, it's something fun like "post one word of how we met" or "give me a number and I'll tell you that many unique things about me".
It seems that about 75% of the copy-and-paste statuses I've seen recently are about cancer. They take up a lot of the memes I see too. And I understand why. Cancer is prevalent in our society and there are very few lives that haven't been touched in some way by it.
Which leads to my knee-jerk reaction yesterday. A friend posted a copy-and-paste status which I normally scroll past. But this phrase caught my eye:
" I know many of you do not give a damn about this message because of course, the cancer has not touched you."
I hardly saw the rest of the post because then I was seeing red. And unfortunately I took it out on the wrong person. Now that I've been able to collect my thoughts a little better, let me try to explain why this angers me so much.
My entire life I've been told that I'm a deeply empathetic person. It is probably why I can write about things I have little to no experience with and still make it sound believable. It is why I was often told I should become a therapist. I mean, seriously, if I had a nickel for every time someone had said that to me, my husband and I could retire early to the Bahamas. I haven't experienced everything in life, but I have experienced a lot. And I listen to people and allow their troubles into my heart and I begin to feel an inkling of what they do. Do I understand them completely? No, perhaps not. But I do understand enough to be a supportive shoulder to cry on and a listening ear when they just need to talk. And I'm not the only person with this attribute. I have met many people who though they haven't personally experienced something have been able to lend comfort, strength and counsel to someone who has.
Even without that, making the assumption that someone doesn't care because cancer hasn't affected them is brash and rude. More than that, it is juvenile. It is just as juvenile as the teenager who tells his parents they're too old to understand what he's going through. Because the reality is, almost anyone you meet has been in some way affected by cancer. Whether directly or indirectly, it has affected us all. Even my four-year-old has been touched. A wonderful woman in our congregation recently passed away after battling cancer. When this woman started doing chemotherapy, I gently explained to my son why her hair was gone. He made a point to find her on Sundays and say hi to her. She patiently and lovingly listened to him as he prattled on about whatever fascinating subject he'd come up with for the day. She always had a smile and a hug for him. This fall I had to sit him down and explain that she wouldn't be at church on Sundays anymore because she had passed away. While it led to a wonderful lesson about heaven and how much our Heavenly Father loves us and loves her, his tears broke my heart. Yes, he has been touched by cancer. He has felt its loss. And so have I. I have watched a friend become cancer-free only to years later have it come back. She is still fighting. I watched my grandmother fight breast cancer and am so grateful she is now cancer-free. I lost a cousin to a brain tumor, leaving his wife and young family behind. Perhaps hardest of all, I lost my grandfather to pancreatic cancer. I know you shouldn't have favorites, but I'm honest enough to admit that Grandpa Boardman has always been mine.
Each of these experiences have touched me and affected my life dramatically. But the pain I felt when my grandfather passed was different than the pain my mother, his daughter, felt. It was different than what my grandmother felt. And I am sure that the pain she felt at his passing was different than the pain my cousin's widow felt when Mark died. They're both widows, but it was a different experience for each of them. No one can fully understand what one person feels because we are all different and our experiences in life and how we react to them vary so much. But the stark reality is that in this day and age, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who has honestly never been affected by cancer.
One of my favorite scenes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is when Bilbo attempts to return to the Shire and is stopped by Bofur. They then have this conversation:
Bofur - "You're homesick. I understand..."
Bilbo - "No, you don't! You're a dwarf. You're used to living like this, to never settling in one place, to not belonging anywhere!"
Bilbo immediately stops when he sees Bofur's face and realizes he's just stuck his foot in it. He tries to apologize and Bofur stops him. But let's think about it for a second. In his own pain and loneliness, Bilbo had lashed out at someone who was the very embodiment of homesick. All Bofur wanted was a place to settle in, a place to belong where he wouldn't be looked down on any longer. Bofur desired this so desperately he was willing to go on a life-threatening quest to gain someplace to call home. Isn't this exactly what being homesick is like? Wanting to be in that place you belong so badly that you will do anything to get there?
When we blind ourselves with our own sorrows and pains, we can become like Bilbo. We can inadvertently push away people who do know, sometimes more keenly than we do, what it means and what it feels like. While each person will experience it somewhat differently, certain elements can be felt by all.
It is frustrating to see posts that make the claim that you only care if you've been affected. It is even more frustrating to see posts claiming that no one else understands because no one else has been touched. Now, you can say all you want that I'm being too sensitive, and perhaps you're right. I'm one of those wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve people. But I also tend to be very private when I'm struggling through something. I suppose because I always want to be available to others, I have a bad habit of keeping my own worries and heartaches to myself. And I've always been that way. As a young girl, my dad was probably the only person who really knew all the things that were bothering and upsetting me because he was the only one I talked to about them. As I got older, I added Mom into my confidence. When my youngest brother was born and he and Mom were in the hospital for 10 days, probably the only two people with any clue how terrified I really was were my dad and our bishop. I put a brave face on for my siblings because I knew they needed to see that I was still optimistic and believed that everything would be fine. I put a brave face on for the members of our congregation who came with meals and to check how we were doing. It's what I do. At this stage in my life, my husband is the one who gets to see and hear all my woes. And I still rely heavily on my parents. But I don't often put things out in public. And I know many of my friends are the same way. I can't even begin to claim to know everything that has happened in any of their lives. I don't know all the battles they have fought or might still be fighting. All I know is that I want to be there to support them in whatever way I can. And I would hope they know that.
This is why I don't like the posts stating, "you don't care because you haven't been there." I don't know if you've been there or not. And it would be extremely insensitive of me to say it, particularly if you've been secretly fighting that battle. I don't want to be the one to throw salt in an open wound. I'm sure sometimes I've done it without trying to. And I apologize for any times I may have blinded myself to someone else's pain. I think we all have times when we're like Bilbo. But I hope most of the time, I can be more like Bofur.
I am not opposed to copy-and-paste statuses. And I normally don't become offended by them. I'm not going to make some excuse about yesterday being a bad day, because it wasn't. I won't even try to tell you I got upset because I was tired, because I really wasn't. I got upset because even though I knew the post was not directed at me specifically, that's how I read it. And I let my temper get the better of me. I am all for people sharing support and raising awareness for the causes dearest to them. I believe you should reach out to and remember those who have battled or battle still with cancer, mental illness, bullying, or any of the other myriad problems faced by our society. But please don't tell me that I don't understand or that I don't care. Just because you haven't seen my battle, doesn't mean I haven't fought it.
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius