The red couch inside Café Solstice is a gathering place for people who are looking to bare their hearts to one another. Along the back of the couch, there is a wall of privacy screens, which divides the café from the main store of Dancing Cranes Imports and provides a false sense of security and… well… privacy. What most people miss is that the wall is created with bamboo and paper.
I have caught snippets of many conversations over the years that I have done readings at the Crane. There is literally only bamboo, paper, and a couple inches of space between the couch and me, but the occupants are usually oblivious to my presence and pour out their tales, believing they are alone there on the red couch. Because of this – and because I tend to be a stickler for respecting the privacy of others – I have learned to block out the bulk of words being spoken through the paper wall. Every once in a while, though, the words catch my attention…
“The things you said and did really hurt me,” she said, obviously emotional. The nasally congestion of her words, accompanied by sniffles between her sentences, made it easy to imagine she had tears running down her face.
“Well, as we both know,” the other woman said, “How you feel is your choice. If you’re hurting, that is about you, not me.”
There was a long pause and I heard the sound of strangled crying. The first woman was trying to hold in her emotions, I imagined; they were, after all, in public.
“Yes, I know,” the first woman said, clearing her throat and speaking with forced emotional control. “I know that how I feel is my choice. However, I also know that my experience of pain was something that I didn’t choose. While I know I get to choose how I behave and how I feel from here on out, that initial pain was not a choice. It was a response to something that was hurting me. You really hurt me.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” the second woman responded, “Your pain is your perception of the experience. I have my own perception, which is very different than yours.”
I heard someone sigh and then the first woman tried again, “I think, if we could just talk it through, I could underst…”
“I don’t see how talking about this will help,” the second woman interrupted. “You’ve already made up your mind that I was mean to you. Your pain is yours, not mine, to figure out.”
I don’t know who the two women were or what their relationship was, but the coldness of the second woman’s declaration was a little startling to me. Pain, similar to the sensation of being punched in the gut, rippled into the atmosphere. I wanted to move away from the screen, possibly go to the other side of the store for a few minutes.
“That’s all you’re going to give me?” The first woman asked, anger edging into her voice now. “After all these years, you’re going to throw consciousness clichés at me as a means of shutting me up? That is what you think about our relationship?”
I heard some rustling. The couch bumped against the paper screen, causing it to tremble for a second. There was a jangling of keys and then, the first woman spoke again, her voice coming from an entirely different angle. I imagined she was now standing; the source of all the noise and movement.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice sharp, “for being so clear about what our relationship means to you. Thank you for being really clear about how much you care that I am in pain. And thank you, once again, for showing me just how faultless you believe yourself to be.”
The sound of footsteps retreated and disappeared. Then there was a muttered string of expletives and a sigh from the couch, but she didn’t move.
There are many ways to respond when someone says, “YOU hurt me.” You can point out how their experience is their own and that your experience was different. You can listen and say nothing. You can pretend you’re listening. You can say something like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” These are all examples of unloving ways to receive another who is in pain.
However, if this relationship means something to you, it’s important to find the most loving way to hear, respect, and support the person you’ve hurt. Whether you believe you didn’t hurt them and even if their pain was not your intention, if this is someone you cherish and someone you want in your life, one of the most loving declarations is, “I am sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.”
It’s true; another’s pain is not your responsibility, even if you’re the source of that pain. And, yes, their experience of pain or abuse is theirs and theirs alone. However, if someone you love is telling you that you hurt them, why in the world would you not want to clean that up? Why wouldn’t you do everything you could to support them in healing it?
If we are ever going to heal humanity, we have got to be willing to listen to how we have hurt others, be accountable for that, stop the cycle of pain, and clean up our own end. If one of us is in pain, all of humanity is in pain. It is time, now, to turn ourselves toward our truth: Love. And that begins with you and your relationships.
Love never wants to inflict pain and if it inadvertently happens, Love seeks the healing balm. Every time.
© Angie K. Millgate 2016