When you’re too small

The impetus for me writing about the insane double bind I place myself in when contemplating the notion of interacting with the world was the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Because I wanted to write about it, but how could I possibly have value to add? I know nothing. And, unlike some world events of recent times, I don’t even feel stirred to anger about it, I just feel very sad. And it feels very far away. And I feel very far removed from it. And there is a gratitude and relief I feel for being so far removed. And there is a powerlessness and ineptitude I feel for being so far removed.

Yet there is also this knowing that it wouldn’t take so very much for me to find myself in a very similar situation to the people trying to flee Kabul. It seems a world away, so very inconceivable, but, really, in my lifetime, it could happen to me, and I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that. And if it did happen to me, what would I want the person on the other side, living in a different world, so far removed from my heartbreak and fear and struggle, to do? I don’t know. I know nothing.

I am just one, tiny, inconsequential being. I am nothing against the systems in place. I exist here, in my room, with very few resources to offer and a very limited idea of how I could offer them. I don’t matter in this. But something that soothes me in these moments, when I feel so entirely dwarfed by the magnitude of an issue, is something I learned when I did non-violent direct action training with Greenpeace many moons ago – the concept of ‘bearing witness’.

At the very least – even if we can’t figure out how to help, or how to heal, or how to change what’s wrong – we all have the power to bear witness.

Bearing witness will change you. It will change the way you move through the world. Bit by bit, it will change the world. But it will also share the load. It will spread the word. It will allow the sufferers to breathe, knowing that they are not solely responsible for carrying the burden of their story. That they don’t need to hold it alone. That you bear it too; as much as you are able.

Holding hands

I try to live my life believing that if I do what feels, to me, like the right thing, something good will come of it. It may be invisible, it may be tangential, but it will be; something, somewhere.

That’s not the kind of thing a human like me will ever be able to prove. And it’s not even the kind of thing a human like me can always remember to believe. But it’s a choice I try to make.

One thing that felt right for me to do was to train as a Reiki practitioner. That decision changed the trajectory of my life to the extent that it’s pointless to speculate on whether it was good or bad.

But one specific thing that happened not long after I finished my certification was that my grandad had a stroke.

I got a call from my mother after the last of my night-shifts at a job I’d just quit and she said I should probably come, so I did. He died in the night not long after I arrived, but I got to see him before he left.

And because I’d just done my Reiki certification, I felt empowered to do some Reiki on him. Now, Reiki is Reiki, it’s neither here nor there in this story, because regardless of whether Reiki did anything for my grandad, the important part was that to do the Reiki, I placed my hands on him. I held his hand in one hand, and placed my other hand on his arm. And this felt totally alien to me, and a little bit silly. Because we never really touched in my family. And if I hadn’t become a Reiki practitioner, I probably would never have been bold enough to touch my grandad on his deathbed. And what else can you do, really, to comfort a dying man who’s lost the ability to move or to communicate, whose mind is swimming in chaos as his synapses drown in blood?

My family in the room commented that he seemed to be responding to the Reiki. Maybe he was. Or maybe he was responding to something far less esoteric.

I was watching Me Before You the other night, and a scene where one character is holding another character’s hand in the hospital triggered this memory to bubble up. Because of course they were. Of course that’s what you do. Of course it is a basic human need and a basic human response in scary, sad and perilous times to physically reach for each other.

I wasn’t there for a lot of my grandad’s last days. I didn’t see how the rest of my family behaved in that time. Maybe I missed the parts where they held him or stroked his hair. But what if I didn’t? What if, aside from all the utilitarian stuff, that was pretty much all he got?

I fucking love touching people. It’s probably my favourite love language. But it just wasn’t done in our family. So, watching Me Before You, I had the terrible thought, what if that was all he got?

And what if, trapped in his reeling, disorganised brain, that was the only thing that reached him? What if, lonely, frightened and confused, what he needed more than anything was for someone to hold his hand?

It’s probably best not to wonder. But I’m glad I learned how to do Reiki.