by joanie Butman
The first leg of my recent journey was on tour with eleven other women – our only connection being the woman who put the trip together. When I told people I was going away with a group of women I didn’t know, without exception the first response was, “WHY?!” Everyone thought I was crazy, which puzzled me. That was part of the adventure. There is a certain liberty being with strangers – though when you’re together 24/7, you don’t remain strangers long. Regardless, they don’t know any of your baggage yet and have no preconceived expectations of you. You’re given a clean slate. How refreshing. The sad part is that baggage begins to surface pretty quickly because you can leave a lot of stuff behind – but not yourself.
My roommate and I did not have an auspicious beginning, as I entered our room unannounced to surprise her in complete undress. Later that night, buoyed by a couple of glasses of Croatian truth serum, she confided that after our brief pre-departure meeting, she was dreading sharing a room with me. Note to self: work on your first impressions! I won her over by the end of our first date. I’d like to say it was with my vivacious wit, but that would be a gross exaggeration. However, rescuing a person from a near-death experience can endear you to anyone. The rest of the week was one long pajama party, staying up late into the night talking about anything and everything. I felt 13 again.
I nicknamed our little group the ‘hens’ because we were all mothers with empty nests, constantly on the lookout for someone to take under our wing. There was one mother/daughter couple on the trip, and I fear we smothered that poor girl all week. I give her a lot of credit for accepting our unsolicited advice and attention with such good humor and grace. The most notable thing I could say about the week is my take away that the lowest common denominator amongst humans is suffering. It transcends all boundaries: social, racial, generational, economical or geographical.
I know this group of women could boast many accomplishments, but we bonded not over what we’ve achieved, but what we’ve lost: dreams, marriages, homes, waistlines, health, even our youth. It was fascinating to discover how the role of adversity helped shape these women into this strong, courageous, confident, joyful, fun-loving group. Hardship was often the most common topic with our guides as well. Another surprising quote from Bitter Bob was “Put your finger in the sea and you are connected to the world.” I’d say the same about pain.
Coincidentally, one of our last stops in Zagreb was the Museum of Broken Relationships, which further confirmed that people empathize with each other’s pain more than anything else. It was an exhibition of a hodge-podge of photos and artifacts with the coinciding story of the broken relationship it represented. Many made me laugh out loud – particularly the faded photo of a dock on a beautiful lake captioned: “Spot where I saw my first penis in the sunshine.” However, most of them were more tragic – rape, divorce, suicide, cancer, war miseries. Love, loss, suffering, grief. This exhibit was a poignant portrayal of the human condition.
Even with that said, bonding doesn’t happen without authenticity. Over the years, I’ve discovered when you choose to be authentic, people respond in kind no matter where you find yourself. Honesty begets honesty. Choosing to be authentic in our relationships provides a safe haven for others to come for comfort, encouragement and support. There is no greater connector than shared suffering. Like I said, pain respects no boundaries.
I think one of the biblical messages that has helped me most in life is “You are not alone.” Never is this truer than in our suffering. You don’t have to team up with a tour group, start a blog or wear your heart on your sleeve, though I’ve been known to do all three. If that’s not your style, you can always choose to be authentic with God. He wants to heal the broken-hearted and bandage wounds and relationships of every kind, but it’s our choice to humbly seek His company and assistance.