A study conducted a few years ago had subjects receive a mild shock when certain images appeared on the screen. After a few moments, the participants, in anticipation of what was to come, began to experience rapid heartbeat, the classic sign of fear. Then, they were allowed to hold hands with a loved one. Their breathing calmed; the stress response was markedly diminished. None of us should be surprised by this. We have all been in scary situations where the comforting presence of someone who truly cares for us made a difference.
And this seems to be a universal phenomenon, a human response to stress. In fact, in various cultures around the world, the folks who live the longest are those who have a support system, people who rally around in cooperation. There is a community response to individual tragedy, the casserole brigade that shows up with food and love and a sympathetic ear. It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to bear a personal burden.
Like many westernized countries, we have moved away from that collective mentality. Families no longer live in a home together and are sometimes spread out, relocating to distant places because of work commitments or in search of a more exciting lifestyle. Here in America, we are taught to “mind our own business.” When placed in situations which require compassion, we find it difficult to know what to say, and so we often remain silent, run away, fearful that if we try to reach out we will be misunderstood. And then, there are the folks who worry that trouble is contagious, so they avoid you like the plague. It is a true predicament.
But it also can be difficult to form real, meaningful human bonds, you know, the kind that last. Some of us are blessed to have “first responder friends.” These are the folks who are there when things get messy, who cross the crime scene tape to stand by your side. They stick around, regardless, and you treasure them for they are worth their weight in gold. But those non-romantic soulmates are also rare. Few people love you without a laundry list of conditions. I once read that if you have three true friends, three people whom you can call when you need them, you are indeed fortunate. It raises an interesting question, doesn’t it?
We are told that a burden shared is a burden halved. Makes sense. A good support network is crucial in times of personal crisis, and yet, it can be a challenge to draft an army who is willing to take up their weapons with you and “have your back.” I know that I have certainly learned a lot about my relationships since I have gotten sick. Friendships evaporated into thin air within months of my initial diagnosis, leaving me to mourn our history, as I wondered what I had done wrong. Even some family members have been emotionally distant and unavailable. So yes, those lessons have been difficult, heartbreaking at times. Quite frankly, few people are willing to stay the course and hold your hand when the ever-present threat of a mild shock is there. Perhaps they, too, are afraid. I get it. But there have been others who have stepped in to wipe away my tears and listen to my litany of woes. I am ever so grateful for their loyalty.
There is one fact which remains, however. Most of us understand that f I can make you feel better, I’ll feel better, too. We are biologically wired for empathy, even if it is uncomfortable. And most of us find ourselves compelled to help when we see someone in pain. There is much to be gained from supporting those in need. Perhaps if we remember that, we can begin to make this world a better place.
“Do not fear” appears in the Bible 365 times. Ironic, right? Perhaps we should be reminded daily to be of good courage. Sometimes, the worse things get, the more challenging the experience, the harder it is to feel loved. But if you are really lucky, there are people there for you during those painful times.