“Like a snake is squeezing you, maybe?” I offered. My students are working on a project which requires them to create a symbol for a problem they have overcome. “Lots of people, when they get anxious, have tightness around here,” I gestured around my chest. “I definitely feel it there.”
“Yeah, like I’m being squeezed,” kid said.
“But maybe you have a better idea.”
“No, it’s like that, a snake, around me.” Kid wrote on paper: “Fear of being shot at home” in one box. “Snake wrapped around me” in the other. “I have a therapist now, and we talk about it.”
“I used to be afraid to go into certain rooms, and to walk around the house.”
“Well, yeah, that makes sense.”
“Yeah. We were going to try to move, but we found out that the guy had gotten caught and he was in jail.”
“Oh, it was one guy?” I was sitting at my desk, and kid was sitting in a student desk pulled up to mine.
“Yeah. He’s in jail for a long time. With my cousin. And he’ll be there for a long time.”
“Your cousin knows him?”
“Yeah, he and my cousin got into it, so that’s why he was shooting at our house.”
“Oh,” I said.
The purpose of the students’ project is to process suffering. I’ve completed the assignment many times, assigning symbols to all kinds of frustrations and losses. Paying attention to where and how suffering feels is an important part of the processing. If you don’t feel it, know it and look it in the eyes, it can’t move through you.
Today is Good Friday, Christian holiday to process suffering. We walk around the church and tell this story of an innocent guy who got executed. We light candles, chant, kneel, read Psalms, listen to a cello solo. I thought about my losses. Sometimes I thought about all the ways I feel rejected.
Halfway through the Stations of the Cross, I realized that each time we moved, a different person was stepping up to carry the cross to the new spot. And I thought, oh, I want a turn. Right after that, the cross carrier walked right up to me and gave it to me. She must be psychic.
Sometimes I hoped that returning to things that hurt would make me feel better, then I thought, nah, this is just maintenance. There will be more and different kinds of awful, and also more rest and recovery and gracious encouragement.
“I think I know how to do the rest on my own,” kid said, put stuff into backpack. “I like talking to you.”
“I like talking to you, too,” I said.