I have often wished into being a peaceful place for those who experience difficult lives. Perhaps a clearing in woods, a waterfall replenishing a quiet pond, a soft breeze always blowing through it. I wish for the scent of grass damp from morning dew and the perfume of assorted flowers coloring the ground around it.
Listening to the pain of those individuals is a privileged role. It’s not often an easy one. Not often a comfortable one. And not always a satisfying one. Still a privileged one, when someone shares their burdens and challenges.
As an educator and counselor in a clinic serving women, most of whom were in their teens and early 20s, I spent hours as a listener. Several times a day, I found myself sitting across from someone stressed, angry, weeping, hopeless. Often, I could provide some small measure of useful information. Often, I could only listen.
A well-dressed high school student wore a blank look as she related how she no longer had a place to live. We connected her with resources to find one. I wanted to take her home with me.
A 16-year-old girl traced the lines of her initials that she carved into her skin. Her mother’s boyfriend had assaulted her. Her mother took his side and forced her out of their home. The case was reported, as required, and I connected her with resources. The girl went on her way leaving behind that image of her scar tattooed into my memory, along with anger at her mother’s selfish actions.
I listened to the despair of a young woman who suffered from the agony of the aftermath of pelvic infections that left scarring. She shifted from anger into resignation after I explained the source of her pain. Only surgery could fix the problem—I could not fix her, the nurse could not fix her, but when we both assured her that the pain wasn’t just in her head, she managed a smile.
One morning on the way to work I listened to Joan Osborne singing, “What if God was One of Us?” A stranger on the bus trying to make his way home. Or a young woman struggling with addiction, exclusion, eviction, rejection. In the parking lot, I stayed in the car crying for a few moments before leaving it to start the day.
Some moments reminded me it was worth it. The woman I barely remember, beaming, who made a point of coming to tell me that she’d left her abusive boyfriend and had turned her life around because of my help. The teenager who didn’t care if she got pregnant who later requested birth control from the nurse after I asked her to put herself in the place of any baby she might conceive. And then there was the day that Tiffany showed up at the clinic, clear-eyed, in recovery, and employed outside of the sex industry. Smiling. A new woman.
I wanted to draw their pain from them, send it hurling through space to dash against a passing asteroid. At times, their stories feed mine. When I wrote of a girl who had to grow up too soon, I created an entire island for her to be a child again. When I wrote of a girl with an expansive imagination and a mother suffering from a serious illness, I gave her a starry sky and a quiet children’s garden in the midst of the city and a group of mentors and supportive friends.
I can only wish with an oasis for all the women I had the privilege to know. A place for them to feel safe, a place for quiet among the tumult of their lives. And even though I can’t make it for them, I send that wish out into the universe of quiet places.