Thursday, 6 September 2018


I learned so much from my friend Margery, an accomplished artist with, I suspect, undiagnosed Aspergers, and a lifetime's experience of Christian healing ministry. My prayer partner, she died more than a decade ago but still comes so often to mind as the wisdom she shared with me continues to speak with relevance into everyday circumstances.

Something she often used to say to me, when I arrived at her apartment and she brewed up a big dark brown pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, was how many shocks she'd had that week. She was always very precise about this, identifying and enumerating the shocks.

At the time, when she was in her 70s and I in my late 30s, I privately found these observations somewhat amusing. Margery and her shocks. They could be quite small things — some bad news about a relative, an unwelcome change at church, a financial setback — but they affected her adversely and she used to make them a focus for healing prayer.

Now, in my 60s, I understand better the significance of shocks; even small ones — the hurtful email, the colleague who lets you down, the loss of something familiar.

I have become aware that these shocks accrue into an aggregate of grief — a sort of ganglion of effects — that take up residence in my spirit. They develop into a cumulative grief that can be debilitating over time. They don't dissipate; they accumulate. And as Toinette Lippe pointed out in her wonderful book Nothing Left Over, "problems arise where things accumulate". Shocks leave a residue of lumpy scar tissue occluding the flow of peace.

Here's an example. Over time (not all at once) I've experienced in my life some deep hurts, disappointments, humiliations and discouragements. I can't go into specifics because they arise from the interface between my life and other people's, so telling my story involves betraying theirs. But in my church we have some souls of beautiful encouragement — people of real deep-rooted kindness and understanding. There's one couple who consistently (more than they are aware, I think) encourage me; and in so doing they are gradually salving and healing some of the hurts of the past. They say to me some of the kind and affirming things I longed for others to say, who never did. Then recently, the wife of that couple had an accident — just something at home, not huge or life-threatening, but bad enough to need an ambulance. And when I heard what had happened, it gave me such a shock. It reminded me forcibly that all of us are vulnerable, that something can happen to anyone at any time — and suddenly they are gone or impaired, lost to you. If my first thought was concern for her well-being, my close second thought was for my own, I confess. The thought of managing without this friend (even though she wasn't dreadfully ill or anything) made such an impact on me, and shot me into a state of grief that actually belonged to previous hurts that she was gently healing. That's the kind of thing I mean; where a little incident evidently is all tangled up with an accumulation of previous experience. Like the person who stoically soldiers on through the death of a child, a parent, a husband, a friend — then is completely undone by the death of a TV personality or of a bird who flew into a closed window.

I've found a few ways of addressing this matter of shocks; and you may know of more.

  1. Brought up to make light of adversity, my instinct is to ignore and dismiss the impact of shocks, but I've found this is unwise. Even though my shocks may be small fry compared with those experienced by people forced to live in refugee camps or theatres of war, I am learning to bring each one to God and ask his help with them. He is generous with his help, but waits to be asked. Jesus used to say to people in need of healing, "What would you like me to do for you?" So I say to him now, "I feel so shocked by this [minor event]. Please will you help me with it?"
  2. Living simply is very helpful. A minimalist life, by virtue of not having much in it (things, relationships, commitments, events) allow one to perceive and identify shocks as they happen. In a cluttered life one can be quite broadsided and fail to notice, because there's so much going on — like those bruises sustained in the hectic business of moving furniture, that you don't even notice until you get in the bath the next day. If you live simply, you can attend to the shocks when they are small, before they get the chance to clump. Once they accumulate, they can form a quite potent nexus of pain, which adversely affects future interactions in all one's relationships. One becomes touchy.
  3. Rest after a shock is helpful. A warm drink, a comforting place to sit, a cheerful book or television programme — I mean like a cookery show or something, not a nail-biting violent thriller.

Dear Margery. She knew what she was talking about; more than I understood at the time. I guess these things loom larger as one gets older.


Jen Liminal Luminous said...

Hmm, this is one to mull over (like a lot of your posts)...

I used to dismiss everything which upset me, telling mself not to be so stupid, suck it up and get on with it.

I have learnt through getting so ill that actually these thing embed into your body and mind and build up, like you said. So I end up having a meltdown over a teaspoon in the wrong place

Now, now matter how small I am kind to mself and say, it's ok to feel upset about this, let's see how I feel. But I hadn't thought about taking it to God. I'm still learning about God being the first port of call.

Thank you for your wise words Pen

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

bother, forgot to sign up for email follow up comments, doing so now

Jean said...

Just what I needed to hear today, thank you Pen x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Jen — Yes, these things burrow right in if they aren't attended to.

Jean — that's good to hear. May you be peaceful, may you be well.

Anonymous said...

Hello Pen. I am very pleased to think you’re taking care of yourself in this way. I have a friend who likens us all to a small bowl which gets bigger throughout life as we learn to accommodate more and more of life’s pain. We learn to hold it...
I don’t think it ever really goes away, and sometimes the bowl swirls stuff to the surface with a force which is enough to take your breath away, but maybe the recognition of pain and how to deal with it can help. By sitting with it and having no choice but to observe it, perhaps we’re giving ourselves the best chance of growing without bitterness. An imperfect plan I’m sure, but how can we ignore what hurts us.
I also think when you pay attention to the world in a thoughtful and loving way, as you do, that when sad losses or thoughtless things descend it can be an unexpected shock ( of varying intensity), and it needs tending.
A warm shawl seems a comforting response. The night sky and a soft cat too. Take care.

Julie B. said...

You bring insight to things we feel but have never been able to identify. Giving thanks for you today, dear Ember.... xoxo

Kat said...

Isn't that the truth?

We found Hubby broke a tooth during his last grand mal seizure, it was taken out Monday. That same day one of my friends, a police officer, was shot in the head. He's so far surviving but the whole community back in the States is shaken.

I had to quit being friends with a guy, it bothered Hubby too much. He'd text me 4 hours a day and since I have suspected Aspbergers too, I didn't get it was wrong. I am child like in some things :/. Nothing sexual or the like, but it hurt Hubby's feelings. I miss the guy a bunch but figure if he's to be back in my life, that's up to God at some point. It's hard making friends.

I have watched many tv programs and laid on the couch eating chocolate. Not great but it helps me recover from the shocks somewhat. It gets a bit tiring looking around the corner wondering what's next.

Thanks for blogging this, it hit home and helped me :).

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb — What your friend says reminds me somewhat of how I felt after the death of my second husband, which can on the back of a turbulent decade of life-shaking trauma for our whole family. I remember feeling the grief in me then was like a gravity-feed tank in the attic, that could only be drained down little by little as time went on, because to tip the whole lot out at once would flood the house.

Hi Julie B — giving thanks for you, too, my friend. x

Hi Kat — Yes, exactly the kind of things I mean — events and decisions that make a wound which takes time to heal, a reconfiguring of our lives that takes time to process.

greta said...

recent deep shock in our family has sent us reeling. what has helped: my dear husband who has been such a support (thank heaven for good marriages!), much prayer and reflection, a tiny faith community of elderly nuns and one amazing priest, the support of friends, cups of tea, wholesome books and NO TELEVISON. watching those documentaries about the hutterites and the amish have also been helpful. a quiet and peaceable life is an excellent antidote to stress. and you . . . so many times recently (and especially this post) you have said exactly what i needed to hear. thank you.

Pen Wilcock said...

God bless you, Greta — may you find healing, may you receive restoration, may you know peace.

Buzzfloyd said...

Really useful thoughts. I've spent the last two years sitting on the sofa and in bed, playing and not doing any housework. I've felt bad about it, but I couldn't do more than that, because it was an emotional reaction to events in my life that I find hard to process. But then I remember that after one big family shock, I thought I was fine, but then had acute appendicitis. So I think sitting on the sofa is better!

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I remember that day. You went absolutely white, then tried to carry on as normal. It has to go somewhere though, doesn't it.