Unbreaking the Circle

“It is really rather foolish to so often feel we have to say something brilliant and enlightening to someone who is suffering. Job makes it clear that simple companionship is what suffering people often crave – not a course in philosophy.”

Kathryn Lindskoog, author and lecturer, Leadership magazine – 1985 “What Do You Say to Job?”

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“Not allowing a person who has experienced a great loss to walk alone is the greatest act of love that heals.”

Pesach Krauss, Why Me?

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“If there were no suffering, would there be compassion? If there were no discipline and hardship, would we ever learn patience and endurance? Construct a universe with no trouble in it and immediately you banish some of the finest qualities in the world.”

James Stewart

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“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve, you don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second law of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. ”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“On the street I saw a small girl cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal. I became angry and said to God, ‘Why did you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?’ For a while God said nothing. That night He replied quite suddenly, ‘I certainly did do something about it, I made you.'”

Unknown

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“In whatever God does in the course of our lives, he gives us, through the experience, some power to help others.”

Elisabeth Elliot

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“At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job.

Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

Fred Rogers

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“When we are certain that the way to accomplish our own wishes is to help others, we have no regrets.”

Sakyong Mipham

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“I needed clothes, and you clothed me.  I was sick and you came to see me.  I was in prison and you came to visit me …

And the King shall answer and say, ‘Truly I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you also did for me.'”

Matthew 25: 36 and 40
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The belfry pictured above is not associated with a church.  It stands, as you can see, in the midst of a cemetery.  This particular cemetery is in County Carlow, Ireland, near the village of Rathanna.

Again, we turn to our imagination and see what it might tell us about this little belfry, and the bell hanging in it.  When would the bell be rung, and why?  I would guess they would ring the bell either before or after a funeral or interment, or perhaps on certain special days when folks nearby would memorialize those laid to rest in that particular cemetery.  Why?  My thought would be that the ringing of the bell would signal a call to the living, to honor and lend aid to those who have suffered loss.  Hearing the bell ringing, knowing where the belfry stands, would thus, just as a church bell ringing on a Sunday morning serves as a call to sinners to come and worship, in this case call anyone available to come and give support to the family and friends of whomever has just passed away.

When you think about it in these terms, it’s really a wonderful idea, to put a bell tower in a graveyard!  I could also see where mounting belfries to the tops of hospitals, homeless shelters, and maybe even jails would also be a great innovation!  Anything that would call us out of our normal day to day routine, alerting us that some fellow human is suffering and in need of help, comfort, support, or our simple respectful presence, would thus be of high value.

Have you read some of the quotes above?   Perhaps you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I’m going with this post.

The idea actually came to me this morning as I was waiting for my grandson Jacob to awaken.  I was reading a psychiatric journal and came across an article summarizing several published research studies.  One of them caught my eye:  Researchers actually completed a study which showed, through “Functional MRI” evidence obtained while people provided physical contact support of others who were receiving electrical shocks, that giving this kind of support was very helpful to the “supporters”.  It was helpful in several ways:  1) It showed greater activity in the ventral striatum, a part of the brain which has long been known to be one of the main “reward centers” of the brain;  2) The MRIs also showed high activation in the septal region of the brain, another “pleasure center”;  3) As a result of the septal region activity, this also lowered activity in both sides of the amygdala, which registers pain and triggers fear reactions.   The study compared people who would sit beside and hold the arm of the person receiving the shocks, versus others who would sit across the table from them and simply squeeze a rubber “stress ball”.  The ball-squeezers received none of the benefits listed above.   (Inagaki TK and Eisenberger NI.  “Neural correlates of giving support to a loved one.”  Psychosomatic Medicine;  2011 Nov. 9;)

Therefore, this study affirms that when people are present with and hold others who are suffering, there are both internal rewards and a lessening of the fear and anxiety the person giving that support might otherwise be feeling.   This is remarkable!  Not only will we feel better when we give direct care and support to those who are going through pain or loss, but we will have less fearfulness and anxiety.  It should also be noted that it has long been established that frequent reductions in amygdala “fear-inducing” activity is associated with living longer.  Thus, being a “people-helper” can help you feel better, feel more at peace, and live a longer life.

When you remind yourself that God designed us this way, it is no wonder that, in my view, we were put on this earth primarily to help one another.  Bad things such as pain, suffering, and loss happen in life primarily to teach us to attend to those who suffer, so that they can later help us when we suffer.  When you then add in this new data that reaching out and lending our presence, time, hugs, and a listening ear to sufferers and strugglers, actually IS its own reward, it lets loose one more bat from the belfry of our mind … the one that falsely tells us that we won’t know what to say or do, or that the cost will be too high, or we’ll just be “in the way”, or an annoyance.  Being there for others in their time of need WILL help them, and it will help us.

Not that we need to be driven by selfish motives … May it never be!  We’re only seeing, though, that our Creator knew that for us to help to “unbreak the circle” while still here on earth would be a very helpful thing for us.  It’s just another reason to rejoice in the amazing symmetry of God’s world, of life, and of the power we have to do good by serving others!

So let’s celebrate and lend our aid!

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“Bridge Over Troubled Water”  (Paul Simon)

“When you’re weary, feeling small.  When tears are in your eyes I will dry them all.
I’m on your side, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found;  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down;  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

When you’re down and out, when you’re on the street, when evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part, when darkness comes, and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down;  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down.

Sail on Silver Girl;  Sail on by.  Your time has come to shine.  All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.  If you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind.  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind;  Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.”

Thanks!

Craig Meek, M.D.

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One comment on “Unbreaking the Circle

  1. terry says:

    Well written brother!

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