Leslie Palumbo, LCSW
Some Thoughts on Reentry
Updated: May 19, 2020
As with any kind of grief or major life upheaval, people have been challenged to their core these last few months, so it is important to approach everyone with the kind of tenderness, empathy, and compassion that respects the overwhelm and disorientation that we are all feeling to some degree.
Every person we encounter is feeling an exquisite grief of their own regarding these times. We are all SENSITIVE. Because we are ungrounded; because we have different lives than we had before; because a part of the world that we were used to is missing and we are still finding our way around that, we are vulnerable, susceptible, and raw. Each one of us has a wound that feels somewhat open.
Focusing on what is the same about us can be a grounding force as we enter into the bumpy, ongoing process of reentry.
Back in the fall of 2004, on a beautiful Indian summer morning, my mother, startlingly and completely unpredictably, left this world by her own hand. On the surface, we as a family had no warning of anything like this. She had no history of it, and it is a pronounced understatement to say that we were all in complete shock. During the year that followed, my sisters and I took monthly trips to Virginia to be with my father. These were opportunities to support one another in this foreign landscape we had been thrust into. We would eat comfort food, go to a family therapist, and lie around like wounded animals, enjoying the solace of feeling understood- because while we each had lost someone different to us, we had lost the same person in the same way, which brought a gift of shared experience and common memory that provided invaluable consolation.
During one of our trips down there, I was in the airport on layover, and I was suddenly brought full stop, struck deep with the impression that every single person in that airport had a story of their own pain to tell. As I stood in the midst of my fellow strangers, the tears began to fall. I experienced a profound sense of heartfelt connection to each one of them, through the simple fact of their pain. An idea from Plato’s Symposium came into my mind, an existential notion he had to be kind, for every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
No matter our differing beliefs, ethnicity, appearance, or thoughts, we are intimately connected by our humanity. What a beautiful, sacred thing.
The fact that someone else’s pain may be different or worse than ours ought not to be a reason to deprive ourself of care and compassion. It could be a motivator to do exactly what we need, which is to MEET PEOPLE EXACTLY WHERE THEY ARE (INCLUDING US). This requires openness, and a lack of assumption. The only presumption worth making is that the person standing six feet away from us is human just like we are. They have pain receptors that have been set off, each day and each week in the last few months. They feel ungrounded, uncertain, and afraid, just like us. And we are in new territory, together.
Be sensitive, be compassionate, and go slowly with everyone, most especially you.