Many of us have received that phone call, or that text or email: the one that comes unexpectedly and bears news that we did not want to hear.
The illness, or even the death, of a loved one. The loss of a job by a parent or sibling, or concerns about how shifting government policies will affect them. The end of a relationship in which we had invested our hearts.
The news goes straight to our core, and it leaves us feeling a combination of emptiness, confusion and sadness.
In recent years, I have received that call on more than one occasion. One time it was about a family member’s diagnosis. Another time, just in the last couple of weeks, it was from a former student and dear friend whose mother had just passed away.
Each time, it comes as a surprise, but is not, to be honest, unique. These things actually happen in the background of our lives all the time, and are happening to people around us every day. But often in our driven culture at a place like Georgetown, we overlook them — or try to — as we race on to our next test or class, and we hesitate to give them the space and respect they need.
I am not sure where we get the idea, but we often think that these things, when they come up, need to be kept secret, or they need to be suppressed so that we can stay focused on “important” things like classes and grades. We can see them as an intrusion on our professional and academic activities, and we create an artificial separation between “life” and our work. We often feel alone in facing them. We avoid telling professors, coaches, deans or even roommates, out of some kind of fear that they will think that we are weak or asking for special treatment.
Over my years as a Jesuit and a priest, I have slowly started to realize how sacred the moments are when “things come up.” They are raw times, times when we are vulnerable, but also times when we are most open to being touched at the center of who we are.
They are times we must be present and pay attention to the feelings that we find moving through us: sadness, memory, concern, loss, and surprisingly, even hope and gratitude. In these moments, it is important to recognize that feeling distracted is an integral part of the process, for it shows us just how meaningful our experience is.
It is appropriate, and even necessary, to lose some time in our emotions, lingering with our own sense of incompleteness. In those distractions, we may just find ourselves silently held and cared for by the love of God and the community.
Indeed, these moments are times when we do well to let others in, to share at least with a few friends and trusted people what we are going through. Their support and gentle care can sustain and support us. We do not ever need to be alone when things come up, especially on this campus, even if holing up alone is our first instinct.
In taking the risk to open up, we find an opportunity to be connected with others, and to find life and hope and encouragement in them. We often discover, much to our surprise, that they, too, are facing similar issues and challenges.
And what is true of losses, is also true of so many other things that “come up” in our lives: a sick roommate we had to take to the hospital, a bout of emotions and depression that make us feel paralyzed, an attachment or addiction that has a hold on us, the hurt we have suffered in a relationship or conversation. This is real life, and the time spent addressing it is anything but wasted.
For the true task of our time here at Georgetown is not the grades we achieve or the resumes we compile, but the human beings we become. That becoming happens often when “things come up,” unbidden and unchosen, and when we find ourselves at a loss for words or direction. We lean on one another, and we lean on our God, and together we are lifted up and strengthened. Cura personalis is not just something we extend to others; it is something we often need to receive ourselves.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., is an associate professor in the department of government and the School of Foreign Service, and he currently serves as the director of the Center for Latin American Studies. As This Jesuit Sees It appears every other Tuesday.
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