Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So Calm and Collected

Generally, we wander around in a state of unilateral self-perception, but every once in a while you get a glimpse into how other people see you. Last Sunday, the Relief Society teacher asked for stories of when someone was there for us when we needed them. This has only really happened once in my life, as I generally make a point of independence. When I shared it, I blinked back the tears (the real feminine curse!) to see a look of mild shock on her face. "You are always so self-possessed, so calm and collected. It goes to show how important it is for us to be there for the one in the crowd. . . ." and she turned the lesson back to the topic.

I was rather confused. My life has been in a state of mild to severe chaos since moving into this ward. I have felt anything but calm and collected. I thought for sure my distress was embarrassingly evident. Although I see myself as a consummate actress on the stage of life, I thought my persona had completely shattered along with my life's dreams not so long ago. Apparently, I was wrong.

I mention this not solely for the purpose of public self-reflection, but also to show how vital it is to develop empathy. I have always been hyper-aware of others' feelings, almost to the point of catatonia when I have upset someone. (Hence the great acting abilities. I learned to carry on the semblance of normal life when I'm panicking inside.) Almost in defense, I have become quite the opposite—a person unable to show my concern or to comfort those in need of comfort. I feel awkward and inept when faced with the need to empathize, precisely because I feel too much.

Despite being so unskilled, I know it is vital for me to use this gift of the Spirit. I need to open myself to fear, pain and panic in order to make of myself a place where the beloved of the Lord might dwell in safety. This, I believe, is the core of the gospel. This is what it all means.

Christ suffered unimaginable pain to give us comfort. He has been my haven countless times, when there was no one else to turn to. It is the least we can do to emulate Him as much as we are able. All things in the gospel point to this. When we do missionary work, we must do it through embarrassment and pain because we love and wish to bless. When we go to Church, we do it to bless despite the possible discomfort of not feeling that sense of belonging. When we struggle with certain aspects of policy and doctrine, we turn our fears and hearts to the Lord, despite the terror this action may inspire. Faith in Christ, hope, repentance, sharing the Gospel, temple work, paying tithing, obeying the word of wisdom, all aspects of the Gospel must be centered around this charity.

Perhaps, when we learn this great lesson, we will be opened to the further light and knowledge we long for. Perhaps we shall be able to understand the power in the Priesthood. Perhaps we shall be like Him. And, perhaps, we will be able to see through the veneer of self-possession on others, and see clearly to their hearts.

And, then, we can be there for them when they need us.


  1. “I see myself as a consummate actress on the stage of life…great acting abilities”
    “When I shared it, I blinked back the tears”

    So, for a brief moment you were caught in the act of not acting? Being genuine?

  2. When it comes to tears, yes, I was "caught being genuine". I categorically HATE crying in front of people—at least about things so personal.

  3. Well there must be other things you dislike being genuine about or you wouldn’t be doing so much acting.

    Men cry, women cry more. Why do you hate crying?

  4. This was beautiful, friend. Thanks.

  5. m&m is right, this is beautiful…and genuine.

  6. Howard—You can be a good actor without constantly acting. That's part of what makes you good. You pick the things you cover. I used to have more to hide. I think that goes with the teenage territory.

    I hate public crying mostly because I don't cry prettily. Scandinavian skin does that to a person—you get all blotchy and red. Plus, afterwards your sinuses are clogged up for hours. NOT a pleasant experience, all things considered.

    Beyond all the superficial reasons, I hate showing most emotions because they are usually too much for another person to handle. The negative emotions, especially, are not things I want to share with others any more than I'd want to share other less pleasant realities of life. I feel things passionately—too passionately. I have suffered for sharing that passion with others. I have learned my acting by painful experience. Plus, I possess a very German desire to not look ridiculous.

    M&M—thank you. I appreciate your comment.

  7. SR, thanks for explaining. Your posts always seem so genuine I was surprised to learn about your acting.

  8. Thank you. This resonates with me, especially: "I have always been hyper-aware of others' feelings, almost to the point of catatonia when I have upset someone...I feel too much." Reading your words reminds me of who I was about a decade ago.
    I'm telling you it is worth the risk to press onward in charity. Although it may seem more than you can bear, somehow you gain emotional strength and stability. And instead of walling off emotional situations you will slowly be able to help others, come to their aid with your unique abilities and experiences.

  9. I thought my persona had completely shattered along with my life's dreams not so long ago. Apparently, I was wrong.

    I hope that your life's dreams return.

    I've really enjoyed your comments.

  10. Howard—Thank you. I do think it easier to share emotions via the written word. It provides a bit of a buffer.

    Jendoop—I must be moving extra slowly, then, because you can't possibly be a decade older than I! Thank you for your words of encouragement. I appreciate hearing about the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Stephen—Herzlichen Dank! (I don't think there is an English phrase that quite means what I needed it to. A simple "thank you" isn't enough.) The amazing and delicate thing about the Atonement is that righteous life dreams do come back. Perhaps they are a little matured, a little more developed, but they always return, richer and wiser than before.


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