Common Threads: A Story On Suffering
Monday April 29, 2019: Steampunk Cafe
The table next to mine was a kaleidoscope of suffering. As I wrote in my journal, music filling my ears, I could still catch snippets of conversation as their words floated from their table over to mine.
I don’t know how many times that table turned over in the hours I spent sitting in that coffee shop, but I was amazed and grounded in the commonality between that table’s changing guests, me, and every human to have ever exist.
In one form or another, they suffered. Their worries, fears, grief, struggles...all creating a heaviness in their voices as they shared their stories with one another. You could feel the weight of their words, burdened, sometimes spoken with a vocal tremor, sometimes spoken with resignation, sometimes trailing off with an unspoken question mark because who really knows what’s going to happen?
No one. Control and certainty about the future are pure illusion.
One was starting chemotherapy again on Friday. Stated without too much emotion, but her eyes turned down to the table, vision no longer seeing her friends, haunted.
One didn’t know why her aging husband was giving away all his possessions, but she could guess and the darkness of that guess was unspoken but implied. You could hear the fear and sorrow in her shaking voice.
Another could relate, having seen the same signs in another.
One woman, brave in her vulnerability, shared that many years ago she used to judge her mother for spending money on a face lift but now, having experienced the effects of time and gravity herself, feeling the frailty as her life draws closer to the other end of the spectrum, she understood. It is not easy watching your body change in ways that are beyond control, all signs of your mortality.
Someone had just lost someone to stomach cancer. “Why couldn’t he see the signs? Surely there were signs.” Yes, the mountain of questions that accompanies grief, I know that well.
Illness, loss, aging, change beyond control, the struggles of this world...
Every conversation revolved around this theme of suffering. Each person, unique in their own way, but the threads of similarity and shared experience wove their way through every person in that room, invisibly connecting us all.
It is for this very reason that I continue to feel baffled at the way humans treat one another. As if we are so different from each other. Sure, our skin tones and physical characteristics are wide and varied, our inner attributes falling across a vast spectrum, but I have always seen us as more of the same than different. Because on the levels that matter, we are the same. We all have stories, we all suffer, we all love, we all fall, we all want acceptance or validation, we all dream to some extent, we all lose people. Yes, there may be those who are true exceptions to these. But we all, indisputably, bleed. We all must learn to navigate this world and this life without truly having a clue. And in the end, we all die. I felt so grateful to be in the presence of these unknowing visitors. To witness their humanity and be reminded of mine. To see the connections as if these invisible threads weren’t so invisible after all. They sparkled in the sunlight and spanned from one heart to the next, to mine, to every person beyond the walls of the coffee shop. I just wish more people could see these threads.